Brooklyn-based The Immaculates play suited-up, stripped-down soul with a go-for-broke grinding energy. On the heels of their first record release, the four-song EP, Vol. 1, we sat down with bassist Matt Conboy, vocalist Jay Heiselmann, and drummer Cyrus Lubin to talk soul power, Madonna puns, and job openings.
Your website describes you simply as “a soul band from New York, NY.” Considering how everyone’s combining genres into something-slash-something these days, what makes you want to stick to “soul”?
Matt Conby: I think you kind of answered the question, in a way. We’re tired of everyone being a subgenre of a subgenre of something that happened once in 1977 in Germany.
Jay Heiselmann: We were listening to soul, and we were like, ‘let’s play music like this.’ It wasn’t like, ‘Well you know this band is really reinventing this and we can reinvent it further…’ We just thought, ‘This is fun music. Let’s play some fun music!’
What kind of soul music do you listen to?
JH: A lost of Otises
Cyrus Lubin: James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Archie Bell & The Drells…Numero Group compilations are gold mines for us too.
JH: The Who when they were a soul band. People, no the world, should listen to The Who when they were a soul band. It was a pretty cool thing.
When was The Who a soul band?!
CL: Right at the beginning, they played a lot of James Brown covers.
JH: It’s pretty amazing stuff.
Are there any modern soul artists up to your standards?
MC: We’re not into the whole, ‘We’re gonna fuckin’ lay on this shit and everyone else is a fuckin’ poser,’ or whatever. I think there are a lot of people who are doing stuff that’s soul, whether they know it or not.
When I think of retro soul music and the production quality, there’s a certain polish that you guys lack…
JH: [Laughs] Well, you listen to some of those early 45s, even really early Otis Redding stuff, and it’s grungy and sounds really horrible and, like, awesome and like…you don’t know what’s going on ’cause it was recorded right to record in mono. Before soul really became big, it sounded more dirty, maybe just because of how it was being recorded and how lo-fi it was.
Aside from your obvious soul influences, you guys have been compared to everything from The Stooges to Jonathan Richman to Interpol…much rougher stuff. Do these comparisons sit well with you?
JH: I like all of those bands, so…
CL: Yeah, it doesn’t bother us at all. Saying we sound like Jonathan Richman is, like, the biggest compliment I feel like we could get.
JH: When we started this we were like, ‘Okay, let’s play soul!’ And we thought about what that was, but then we got together and just jammed, and we realized that so many bands from the early 70s and classic rock bands, the basis is soul and then they stack other shit on top of it. The Stooges are kind of like that…
So, for you, soul’s not a genre as much as a go-for-glory, rip-your-guts-out emotion behind the music?
JH: I’m kind of like that as a musician, so it works. It’s easy for me, for my part of it, to be like, ‘Okay, I’m just gonna rip it all out and throw it out there,’ but I also want to have fun with it, and I think that soul kind of embodies that. I think it’s cool to make emotional music that’s still fun. And, you know, there’s not a lot of that. We’ve been into a lot of music that’s really emotional, but not necessarily fun.
Let’s talk about new EP…
JH: We just got together and recorded it. It was all pretty much live. We just did it…it was a Saturday or something…We overdubbed, I think, one of the songs, but other than that, most of the vocals were completely live.
CL: We recorded it to tape, and you [Jay] engineered it. We’re actually about to record another one. This is actually the first of three EPs that we’re hoping to put out in the next…chunk of time…[Laughs]
I’m sure you’ve got a ton of other songs you play live, so how do these four songs define your music?
JH: I think they’re a pretty good sampling of what we do.
CL: “Love Dream” is as tender as we get or have gotten —
JH: Yeah, and “I Guess You Found Out” is as, like, raw as we go. We’re writing more stuff, but it’s almost in the middle of that stuff.
MC: Those are maybe the four songs that we were the most confident about at that time. But since then, we’ve written more songs that I think we’re at least as confident if not more confident in.
When are you hoping to release Vol. 2?
MC: We’re shooting for January, sometime in the end of January. And then hopefully Vol. 3 sometime before the summer.
Is Vol. 2 radically different from Vol. 1? Or are you concentrating on cementing your sound?
CL: I think we were figuring out how to do this idea better. I think it’s, on the whole, maybe better, but I think that’s because I haven’t known the songs as long.
JH: I think one of the songs we’re going to have on there is going to be one of the first songs we ever wrote, and then two of the songs are going to be the last two songs we wrote. One of the songs, for me, is definitely the best song we’ve ever written, “Sway.” It’s funky, it’s emotional…I hate that word –
CL: Which word?
Jay: ‘Funky’ [All laugh] It’s a good song! And I want to hear it. I think it’s rare that you want to hear your music and listen to it and be into it like a fan. I truly love that song.
I have to ask…When you’ve recorded all three EPs, will you package them as The Immaculates’ Collection?
JH: I mean, we like and hate that idea, that pun. It’s been discussed.
CL: It comes up.
JH: It definitely comes up. Maybe that’ll be the album. I don’t know. Maybe we’ll release them all together, maybe we’ll re-record them as an album. We’re not sure yet.
For a band with such a clean name, you’ve got some dirty cover art…whose boobs are those?
CL: [Laughs] Our friend Dave Singley made it, and we had gone through a bunch of different versions…
JH: We were were in a Figure What This Band Looks Like on Our First Record phase, which is hard, and looking through his stuff, and we all saw that and were like, ‘Okay, cool.’
Cyrus, you’re the label head at Famous Class. Did that make recording this EP easier or more difficult? Every worry about vanity project status?
CL: It just made everything easier. I have a great relationship with the guys at Brooklyn Phono, but also these guys [Jay and Matt] know everyone there because they do stuff with Death by Audio. We’ve all kind of done this before; we’ve all been in bands before, so I think in that regard, it made it easier.
JH: That’s why [the label] was Death Class. We decided to think Death by Audio and Famous Class and [claps] smush that together.
MC: That’s the genre smashing we did.
JH: [Laughs] Yeah, we’re not garage-rock-revival-hip-hop, but you know, we did stick those labels together…
CL: Two, like, barely labels.
Jay: [Laughs] Yeah we took two barely labels and made them maybe a real label!
The old soul bands were huge, but you have only three members. Ever consider adding more musicians?
CL: We want to add, I think, horns to everything after we’ve recorded the third EP. We want to re-record everything with horns.
JH: We’d love to add horns. We just haven’t found the right people.
MC: In particular, we need a trumpet player.
CL: Yeah, trumpet players out there…what’s our e-mail?
Cyrus: Trumpet players: hit us up!
How about back-up singers? Thinking of adding some girls to your line-up?
MC: I think at this point we’re just barely holding together what we have. I think we’re all happy to have it grow in an organic and fun way.
If you haven’t had the chance to see The Immaculates live yet, plan to celebrate a similarly clean conception with The Immaculates at the Death by Audio Christmas Party, held at Brooklyn’s Secret Project Robot on December 10.
The Immaculates' Vol.1 is out now on Death Class and Whoa Whoa.