For lack of a better genre label, Anthony Briscoe, the frontman of the Seattle quartet Down North, describes his band’s sound as “soul punk.” It’s a fitting way to classify a rather unclassifiable band, whose music is inspired by everything from Motown and new jack swing to hard rock and pop.
“We’re not even really a soul band, because we don’t have horns. We’re basically rock ‘n’ roll,” Briscoe said. “You know when you see soul singers, and they’re, like, cool and smooth? Yeah, that’s not us. We’re like that old stuff that you see on YouTube, the wild, crazy performances where the dude is sweating within the first song. That’s how we are.”
Down North headlines the second day of this year’s Elkfest, the free music festival that takes over the Browne’s Addition neighborhood every June. The band is frequently touring – Briscoe estimates they played upwards of 150 gigs last year and as many as 250 in 2014 – and they’ve made plenty of stops in Spokane in recent years.
“For a while, Spokane wasn’t giving us the love. We were playing these weird places,” Briscoe said. “Then we played Mootsy’s one time, and it just took off. And that’s still one of my favorite places to play. That and the Big Dipper.”
By Briscoe’s estimation, Down North formed sometime in 2005 or 2006 with a lineup he describes as “seven white dudes playing funky music.”
He joined the group shortly after its original lead singer left in 2007, which is when the music started to veer more into rock- and soul-oriented territory. Along with Briscoe and founding bassist Brandon Storms, the band’s current lineup includes guitarist Nick Quiller and drummer Conrad Real, who has also played with recently reunited hip-hop trio Digable Planets.
“Nick and Brandon are the ones who come up with the musical compositions most of the time,” Briscoe said. “I find the pop in it. They’ll be jamming on something, and I’ll go to Conrad and say, ‘Put this type of pop beat to it.’ ”
Down North has released a few singles and demos, and an older lineup put together an EP several years ago.
“That’s a collector’s item at this point,” Briscoe said, “because even I don’t have a copy of that.”
A debut LP has been recorded, Briscoe says, but the mixing and mastering has taken some time.
“We’re perfectionists, and we have visions in our heads,” Briscoe said. “I want to make a statement when it comes to how the production value (sounds). I want the drums to sound massive on this record. I just want it to sound like a real band, you know?”
Because there’s not much available recorded output at the moment, the best way to experience Down North’s music is in person. Watching live videos of the band on its YouTube channel, you can see that Briscoe works the mic like he’s possessed by the spirit of James Brown, and that his fellow musicians play with the grit and effortlessness of a seasoned bar band running through a set list of old school rock covers.
“We really work on showmanship, so from the beginning to the end, we’re bringing a certain amount of energy to the plate,” Briscoe said. “If the Roots covered a Red Hot Chili Peppers song and they had early James Brown as the frontman, then you’d have us.”
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