Interview: Tomas Doncker and Marla Mase

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True Groove records was created in 2011, and is now considered the fastest rising label in NYC. Founded by acclaimed guitarist, vocalist, producer, and songwriter’ Tomas Doncker, and co founder Marla Mase. The record company is more than a label, it’s a mission, a philosophy, a platform for the best independent artists.

Directly quoted “It is our belief that MUSIC is truly the universal language and has the power to open minds and hearts around the world”.

Louder Than War: This is a very revolutionary idea, what inspired the creation of the label, and how did the others hop aboard?

Tomas: True Groove was born simply out of the need for a legitimate platform to present great artists creating great forward-thinking music. We’re not interested in following the so-called “trends” or ‘bandwagons” that appear on a daily basis in this ever-changing industry.  What we are interested in is in building a supportive environment for artists with a unique voice and spirit.  This “Revolutionary Idea” (thanks for calling it that, we just think it’s the only way to go!!) attracted and continues to attract these kinds of artists to True Groove.

In an age where it’s easy to stream and download songs on line for free,  how can an artist survive?

Tomas: Great art is its own reward.   Great artists, always find a way to survive and thrive.  Having said that, the monetization points and business focus for artists have changed drastically.  We have been blessed to find that by always creating compelling content and presenting it at the highest level possible does open the door to different revenue streams (i.e. composing music for film/theatre) and exciting collaborative possibilities (i.e. our ongoing work with Pulitzer Prize winning poet/New York State Poet Laureate Yusef Komunyakaa.)

I know you had a specific “mission” or missions, or vision, in mind when creating the label, what was the mission or intentions of the label,  and do you feel thus far it has been successful?

Tomas:  As our legendary trumpet player/horn arranger and artist on the label, Mac Gollehon, is often wont to say, “SO FAR SO GOOD.”

Global Soul is:

– the sound of our collective consciousness

–  the unified rhythm of

heart beats creating a positive, spiritually uplifting force for good…

…musically speaking

it is not genre specific

but in fact…genre inclusive

…it is the best of what we have to offer

to each other…

… from Brooklyn to Beyond… and everywhere in between…

Can you explain what you mean by “genre inclusive”?

Tomas: To quote the great Mr. Frank Zappa, “Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom.  Wisdom is not truth.  Truth is not beauty.  Beauty is not love.  Love is not music.  MUSIC IS THE BEST.”  He didn’t say which kind of music – he meant ALL MUSIC. The walls created by the word “Genre” in music must come down. We are all about that.

Can you briefly introduce the members of  “Global Soul”?

Tomas: Actually the name of our crew is The True Groove All-Stars, all of whom are an integral part of our organization.  We are honored to work with:
James Dellatacoma – Chief Engineer, Co-Producer, Guitarist as well as an Artist on the label.
James is also a founding partner of True Groove.
Mark Henry – Saxophone and vocals. Mark is also our associate tech/sound expert. Mark does everything and anything…..and extremely well. He is also a well-respected re-mixer and producer.  Our go-to guy!!
Nick Rolfe – Keyboards and vocals. The consummate musician and team player, Nick has also worked extensively with Nona Hendryx, and most recently with Aretha Franklin.  Along with Mark Henry, they are the two senior members of the band.
Mike Griot – Bass. And lots of it! A well respected concert producer/entrepreneur in his own right, the addition of Mike to the crew has been a blessing, to say the least.
Josh David – Vocals and bass.  Spectacular vocalist, killer bassist, Josh has toured, recorded and written with us extensively and still does when he is not touring the world as the lead singer for The Wailers.
Manu Koch – Keyboards. Manu is also an artist on the label (Filtron M).  His tasteful “other-worldly” keyboard stylings have enhanced our recordings and performances, very often turning the band into an “orchestra”.
Mac Gollehon – Trumpet, trombone, horn arrangements. A living legend, Mac has performed on over 500 Gold/Platinum Records (David Bowie, Rick James, Duran Duran, Lester Bowie, etc etc etc).  Also, an artist on the label, his upcoming release “Mac Gollehon & The Hispanic Mechanics” is already making serious waves and promises to be an instant classic.
James “Whoop” Coley  – Drums, electronics.  “Whoop” is the newest and youngest member of the band.  Simply put, Whoop is a BEAST!!!  A truly kick-ass drummer.
Aurelia Williams – Vocals. Our resident Diva, Aurelia, when not gracing the stages of Broadway with her talents, is bringing her soulful powerhouse vocals to our recordings and shows. There are no words to describe her.  Amazing.
there are also ‘extended Family Members” such as:

Bill Laswell – a man who truly needs no introduction; if you don’t know, ask someone or google him.
Michael Fossenkemper (Turtletone Studio) – multiple Grammy award winning Mastering Engineer, Michael has put the finishing touches on every True Groove Release to date.  The Best!!!
Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton – 2x Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame Inductee.  One of the greatest guitarists who ever walked the face of the earth, without question.
Amp Fiddler – Groundbreaking vocalist, keyboardist, songwriter. Former P-Funk All-Star and a successful solo artist in his own right.

to name a few……

I was totally in love with the power the drama and the spirit of “Church Is Burning Down”, can we expect another solo release from you?

Tomas: Thanks so much!!! “Church is Burning Down” and “The Mess We Made” are very important to me.  We’ve been performing this material and will continue to do so throughout the summer.  We’ve also started to develop a theatrical concert presentation of “The Mess We Made” in a similar vein as Melvin Van Peeble’s classic “Ain’t Supposed To Die A Natural Death”.  Stay tuned.

As far a solo release is concerned, ABSOLUTELY — stay tuned.

What projects are next for the label in 2016 and beyond?

Marla:  “Do you really want to know? There’s a lot going on…..besides a jam-packed schedule of exciting releases (see below), we would like to mention a musical theatre project we’ve been developing over the past year and a half.  It’s called “Diana & Navy & The Golden Tooth” written by emerging playwright Phoebe Nir and Tomás Doncker.  Phoebe wrote the book and lyrics and Tomás wrote the music.  It’s a brilliant piece about two young African American girls/sisters trying to survive in post-apocalyptic America set to a psychedelic Americana/Blues/Roots music score.   We are currently workshopping the play at Black Box Studios in NJ (performance dates June 23-June 30) with phenomenal director Matt Okin in  preparation for an Off-Broadway run in the late Summer or Early Fall at a theatre we cannot yet disclose in Manhattan.  Of course, The True Groove All-Stars are the band in the show!!! Stay tuned!!

How did you become involved with True Groove?

Marla: I was working on a show I wrote called, “A Brief Night Out.” I started to write all these songs for it.  They were just coming to me and I knew I wanted them in the show.  I needed a musician and I needed one fast.  A friend of mine suggested Tomás.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Can you introduce some of the artists on the label’s roster?

Marla: Besides Tomás and I, the artists are:

Mac Gollehon – His upcoming release “Mac Gollehon & The Hispanic Mechanics” out on 5/20/16.
Charlie Funk – Our in-house lyrical ninja and Funkateer just released his debut EP, “Give Me A Groove” in February.
Phoebe Nir – Her debut EP “The Broken Parts” a collection of alternative pop gems to be released sometime this Summer. (Yes, this is the same Phoebe who wrote the “Diana & Navy” musical I mentioned.)
Lael Summer – Sultry, soul-pop.  She has two albums out on True Groove.  Her critically acclaimed debut “Burden to Bear” placed her at the top of many “New Artists To Watch Out For” lists.
Kevin Jenkins – Veteran journeyman musician/singer-songwriter.  He has two releases on True Groove – his most recent release “Til The Story Is Told” is considered a “Black Americana” classic.
Heather Powell – Adult contemporary diva — think Streisand meets Karen Carpenter.  She has two releases out on the label.  Her latest “A Haze of Greys and Blue” is a modern take on Bacharach/Dionne Warwick-era song stylings.  A great singer with great songs.
James Chance & The Contortions  – Legendary No-Wave Icon/The Dean of Downtown.  He gave Tomás his start. Tomás and Mac are both members of The Contortions to this day.  We’ve released two recordings with James:  his cover of James Brown’s “I Don’t Want Nobody” (produced by Tomás and James Dellatacoma) and The Official 25th Anniversary Re-Mastered Edition of his seminal “BUY” album.  We also have plans for a new James Chance release towards the end of this year.
Filtron M – led by True Groove All-Star/Keyboardist Manu Koch, Filtron M is a collective of stellar musicians from around the world.  They have released one EP, “Mandatory Underground” and are slated to release a live recording in the Fall.
Touchy Feely – True Groove’s most elusive and reclusive artist and re-mixer is poised to release his debut EP this Fall.  Get ready to have your minds blown!!!

I feel that as an artist you are very dramatic theatrical, and authentic. What is the label’s involvement in theater productions?

Marla: I come from a writing/theater and performance art background. As I said earlier, that’s how Tomás and I met, so there has always been an interest and a pull towards theater for both Tomás and I.  Since we started working together we have been involved in numerous theatrical productions as writers, composers, actors/performers and producers  – “A Brief Night Out”, “Power of the Trinity”, “Speak”, and “Diablo Love” (these 3 had their World Premieres at NYC Summerstage in 2012/2013.)  Recent productions  include: – “Diana & Navy In Concert” at 54 Below (produced by True Groove, Nov 2015), “Water From The Moon” written by Rosemary Loar – (Tomás played guitar and acted in it, I was The Company Manager), “Fatherless Sons” by renown painter John Ransom Phillips (directed by Khalil Kain and scored by Tomás), “Dick and Jack”, a  feature film by John Ransom Phillips (scored by Tomás and James Dellatacoma).

Moving forward we have a quite a few productions in the pipeline  (some we can mention, some we cannot)
– “Diana & Navy & The Golden Tooth” by Phoebe Nir and Tomás Doncker
and
– “The Pill”
TOMÁS:  Yes, we are VERY EXCITED about “The Pill”.  Marla had a really cool idea to ask all the members of her family to write their impressions about a particular incident in the family’s history.  Well, Marla comes from a family of amazingly talented writers. I mean, all of them.  In fact, Marla’s mother has written the songs that will be included in the show. (As a young woman she was a budding songwriter who actually worked at RCA Victor.) Not unlike, Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” or “The Laramie Project”, “The Pill” explores the concepts of memory, storytelling and most importantly truth. What is the truth? How many truths can there be?  It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s real.  Sort of like “Little Miss Sunshine” meets “Memento” on crack.  James and I will be morphing her mother’s songs into a science fiction undercurrent that will run throughout the show.  It’s being directed by the amazing Ms. Kaye Tuckerman, a visionary director as well as being a well sought-after actress, singer, and artist.  The development process has been thrilling.

How  do you find your independent artists?

Marla: We are always listening for and open to artists with a genuine voice and unique sound.  Sometimes it’s someone we’ve been working with on a theatre project (i.e. Phoebe Nir), sometimes we see someone at a concert who we like and approach them, sometimes it’s someone Tomás has known for a long time and has believed in (Kevin Jenkins, Charlie Funk), sometimes it’s someone I know from my theatre network (Heather Powell) — sometimes they just appear out of the ether — we love artists, we love music and as they say “Love always finds its object”.

What direction do you see the future of True Groove going?

Marla:  It’s going exactly where we want it to be going (although we are always open to surprises along the way) — a growing consortium of artists, theatrical productions, film scoring — We are more than a Record Label – we are Writers, Producers, Performers – we are a Production Company — As Tomás announced to me about 18 months ago, “Marla, we are no longer in the music business. We are in the Art & Culture Business.”  Ever since he said that, we’ve expanded beyond our wildest dreams. Doors that were once closed are flying open.

 I feel like a tour from the label would be like a festival. I know that you have gone on tour, can we expect another?

Marla: I have been saying this very same thing for quite some time. We have such a diverse, eclectic and exciting roster that we could carry an entire stage at any festival – In fact, we are in the process of creating The True Groove Festival.  More on that to come.

Have the two of you recorded anything together, just the 2 of you?

Aha — yes we have.  It’s a secret called “Kong”.  You can find it if you dare.

what is the most difficult thing about running a record label? The most rewarding?

Tomás and Marla:  All of it and all of it!!!!

What’s in the future for you as an artist?

Marla: I have a new album coming out sometime this Summer.  It’s called “Miracles: Lost and Found”.
It will have an accompanying theatrical component.  I also have a play called “The Chocolate Project”  which will be directed by Lisa Milinazzo. We are in the process of developing it right now, and of course, “The Pill”.

If there was any one thing that you would want to express about the label, or the artists, or even about music, what would you want the world to know?

Tomas: Music, Art, Culture – this is the common ground. These are the things that we all understand, that we all feel. Without a doubt, there are our most precious resources, and certainly, the most valuable gifts that we can share with each other. We would hope to think that True Groove can play some sort of small role in the furthering of those ideals. MUSIC IS THE BEST!

Marla: The same question above.

Yup, The Truth is Coming Down!

~

For more information on True Groove Records visit their website. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.

All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.

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