If Dinner at the Thompson’s first record was a candlelight dinner for two, the new album is more of a potluck.
“Off the Grid” continues on the same path the duo began with its debut, “Lifetime on Planet Earth,” four year ago – eclectic, psychedelic and organic instrumentation supported by smoky vocals.
“Lifetime on Planet Earth” was essentially France’s Fablive on production and instrumentation, and the voice of New York-by-way-of-California singer Lucille Tee.
Said Tee, translating for Fablive via telephone: “For a long time I wanted to do something like this, to mix the beatmaking in completely with live tracks, like a spiraling of Queen, Donald Byrd, Roy Ayers … an old-school way of playing, like ’60s and ’70s instrumentals mixed with French film scores, with that sort of spirit in mind.”
This time around, Dinner at the Thompson’s rely more heavily on players from the affiliated Magic Bunch, who added their own nuances to music composed by Fablive.
“These are not just studio musicians. These are friends,” Tee translated.
“We’ve been playing together for 15 years, so they understood the spirit we had in mind. They are interested in hip-hop beatmaking and how having instrumentalists in hip-hop opens things up and gives you a wide range of influences to draw from.”
Dinner at the Thompson’s serves up a fusion of influences that blends chilled downtempo electro with soulful jazz and hypnotic hip-hop.
The France-based duo released its sophomore album, “Off the Grid,” in the U.S. in May, following the 16-track studio set’s release in France and Germany in late 2010.
Other guests on “Off the Grid” include Stones Throw rapper Guilty Simpson, who adds gritty verses to the off-kilter rhythm patterns of “Rice ’n’ Beans.” Lee Fields, a leader in the soul renaissance, shows up on the jazzy “Different Beings.”
In the end, Fablive played a heavier role in the production duties on the record as well as the actual songwriting.
He and Tee wrote the majority of the new album on the road while touring the first one, which allowed them to experiment with the songs onstage before taking them into the studio.
“We learned that some tracks worked better on the bus, but not so much live,” Tee said.
“It’s very interesting to have new stuff to try out on our American audiences right away. Because they’re hearing the stuff that hasn’t come out yet, how they respond to it gives us some ideas on which sounds work well and which don’t. We’re already working on our third album while we’re touring the second one.”
Experimentation is largely the allure of Dinner at the Thompson’s. Tee stumbled upon Fablive’s hip-hop band in France, and right away liked being out of her element.
“I went to a Fablive hip-hop show with some friends and family while my band was on holiday in France,” she said. “The band started passing the mike around to a bunch of emcees. I got the mike and sang onstage. …
“We stayed connected after that and I gave him some ideas to try out. We had a couple of sessions and here we are. It’s been an amazing experience. … A live hip-hop band from France and being thrown into that hip-hop scene, as a female it was very exciting.”
When Tee and Fablive were deciding on a name for their new project, they wanted something that described an experience as opposed to an object.
“Rather than the Stones or The Beatles, we wanted something that incorporated both of us without it being a thing,” she said.
“We want this to be like having dinner at my family’s house, where some of them are like gourmet cooks. We want this to be like eating well and having people over for dinner parties.”