Chattanooga Times Free Press entertainment reporter Casey Phillips spoke with Aaron Winters, aka Nashville artist Space Capone, about developing a new persona, his drive to educate himself in funk and how he feels singing in falsetto all the time.
CP: You guys are making a second home of Chattanooga lately. You just finished playing a last-minute show at the Riverbend festival last week, and you're coming right back in July.
AW: Yeah, it was spur of the moment, as far as the music industry is concerned. We knew we were playing a couple of weeks in advance. Yeah, this is big for me. Chattanooga has been awesome. You have to understand that we've really just been blowing up in our home community here in Nashville. We've only been playing in front of our peers, young kids, scenesters and hipsters.
Nashville has been a different crowd, completely, so Chattanooga has been like our first experience in actual market. We're playing in front of a huge demographic of people, different people - complete strangers who have become friends.
Every time we've come down to Chattanooga, the crowd hasn't just doubled but grown exponentially. I'm freaking pumped for the July 2 show.
CP: What was the Riverbend show like for you? That's an even wider demographic than you would get at a club gig. How were you received by the audience there?
AW: It was incredible. The sound was great. We chose not to do a sound check at all because we like to keep it fresh like that, plus it's hard to coordinate 13 people on a road trip, so we left Nashville late that day.
It all came together, though, so it was an incredible show. The scenery was incredible; the crowd was incredible. Not just me but the whole band feeds off that energy, that good vibe. That, in turn, makes the show better, obviously. To quote a few of the guys who play for me, it was their favorite show to date.
CP: Does that put any pressure on you to pull out all the stops for the next gig?
AW: Yeah. That's what I get off on. That's why I'm so pumped about July 2. It's kind of like a stepping stone, I guess. It's all my hard work. Being able to see that pay off, pay dividends, when you play for so many people and do a show right after that and see even more people come out - that's what inspires me, for sure.
CP: How did Space Capone originally come together?
AW: Space Capone was an attempt, on my behalf, to try and separate myself from just an average songwriter. I didn't want to be a James Taylor. I knew I had the "being white" thing working against me already, and I just didn't want to be Hall & Oates or a Loggins & Messina.
I needed a stage name, and I wish it were a crazier story. I wish that some huge epiphany occurred or that an angel appeared out of the sky. I wish it was something cool like that, but it wasn't. It (Space Capone) just looked good on paper, and it fit the sound, I thought. That being said, it was me, and then I had to get a few people to play for me.
The common misconception is - and not to discredit everyone who has been playing in my band for a year and a half now, off and on - but it really is an artist, not a band. At the same time, if someone wants to refer to it as a band, I let that slide, because I like the ambiguity.
CP: So this all got started just 18 months ago?
AW: The first record came out Feb. 1, 2008, so two and a half years. I was using the year and a a half because the band I'm playing with now has been a pretty solid unit for a year and a half. The drummer is always different and the keyboard is different every show.
There's all these revolving cast members within the band that backs me up, but we have a couple of guys who have been with us throughout, like the bass player, Drew Wilson, and the two guitarists and the horn players. That's about it.
CP: When you set out to break out of the singer/songwriter mold, once you had the name picked out, what did you do to alter your musical approach?
AW: Well, I had to start writing songs that didn't venture off into some other genre or realm of music, first and foremost. I was an artist here in town from 2000 to 2005. I did a couple of albums under the name of Aaron Winters, and stylistically, those albums were everywhere. They were singer/songwriter albums.
When I committed to being Space Capone, to being that entity, I had to make sure that every song I was writing would be a song you would hear from a character like that. Along with that, you could even say that the way I dressed changed. I immediately delved into this character. I'm not that character at home, but whenever I show up for a show, the ego is switched. Some of my closest friends noticed if off the bat. It was a night-and-day, Jekyll & Hyde kind of thing. I think it was great because it'll help us out in the long run with marketing and maybe even get some comic books in the future.
CP: Did you build up a backing story to explain origins of the Space Capone persona? "Volume II: Arrival, Arousal" comes across as a kind of concept album about Space Capone arriving on Earth. Was that an attempt to develop the character?
AW: Yeah, exactly. It's a loose concept. It's not a rock opera, you know. The first record was called "Transformation" because of the transformation I took as a songwriter and as an artist.
The second volume is about my arrival on Earth to change the state of the music world and to bring good vibes through the funky good music. There are even some songs on the record like "A-Rod," which is about the spaceship that we rode in on; "What Do You Call This Rock?" is pretty straight forward, like, "What is this place? How do you get to Motown? That's all we know." Then, there's a few that don't fall within the concept. It'll continue to be a loose concept until the wheels fall off.
CP: Does having established that concept through those albums help you fall more fully into that persona?
AW: Yeah, you could say that. Building off that, it keeps me writing, as far as concept is concerned, really inspired to write about different topics other than just love. Especially with R&B, man, if you sit down to write R&B every day, it's hard not to write R&B songs about love consistently.
It builds the character. The character grows with me. I turn into a different person with every song. If I'm writing a song like, "Booty" off "Volume II," I don't think I'm cool before I write it, but the day after I write it, I'm like, "Man, I'm a pretty hip cat now."
It just adds that extra element, I guess. Today, you can't just sell a record. You have to sell t-shirts and videos. I keep saying comic books because I so want that to happen. It has to be a multifaceted system. It can't just be: record a song and put it in people's ears.
CP: Listening to "Volume II," the loose concept sounds similar to what George Clinton was doing with "Mothership Connection." Was that album a direct inspiration for "Volume II"?
AW: Sure. The lyrics in that specific song were just me rattling off from people who I listen to and study. When I say I came from the mother ship, I mean it. I came from a good five years of just being steeped in only listening to nothing but a bunch of R&B vinyls. I fed my ears consistently with all that stuff.
In essence, it's like me saying I came from Harvard and Yale. It's like, "This is where I'm coming from. This is what I studied." I will continue to do that. Even some of the old cats like James Brown and Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett and all these people were making references to people they listened to. They just happened to be people who were alive and still doing their thing. I love that. I love making references to people who inspire you in your songs.
CP: During the five years of steeping yourself in R&B vinyl, was that a major departure from the music you grew up being influenced by? Did you have two period of influence, one that inspired your singer/songwriter period and another that inspired Space Capone?
AW: When I was younger, it was two sources. It was country music or oldies. I got my oldies fix when I was younger, the '40s, '50s, '60s and a little bit of the '70s. In the past five years or so - maybe seven, at most - I've really been delving into late '70s and
'80s, classic straight up R&B and funk, and that's it. There's nothing I listen to other that because there's so much now. Now that I'm pinpointing what I want to write and know my niche and what Space Capone sounds like, I also know the type of music I need to be studying and consistently need to be finding songs I haven't heard.
CP: What are the challenges to being deeply influenced by older artists and an established sound and making new music that's relevant to modern audiences?
AW: Nothing really, as long as you're not copying melodies. As long as it's a new melody, it's not old anymore. Obviously, there are ways in the production process, but I'm not concentrating on that because I think people want to hear is that classic sound. If anything, I want to keep that classic sound, sonically, alive and let my melodies and songwriting do the rest. There are so many artists out there trying to do what I'm doing, and the only reason why they're failing is because they're writing melodies that are exactly what you heard in the past, so your mind goes, "Oh, that's exactly like something I've heard, so I'll discredit it immediately." The secret is just writing new songs, I think.
CP: When you're singing your vocals are consistently in the Barry Gibb-esque falsetto register. Does that come naturally to you or is it something you have to force?
AW: Oh man, I didn't even start singing until I was 17 or 18, for the most part. It was totally just a "teach yourself to do this" kind of thing. I knew I obviously had it in me because I could write the music on guitar or piano. The falsetto didn't even come into the picture until Space Capone came into the picture. So I wasn't even singing falsetto until 2006 or 2007. I'm still getting better at it. My voice will continue to get better and fall more into that comfort level.
CP: What does your throat feel at the end of the night singing in that range?
AW: I can't tell a difference. I don't know if it's the way I sing. I might sing out of my throat or some other way than most people sing. I might have some note that's there that other people don't have, but it doesn't really affect me at all.
CP: Maybe you really are from outer space.
AW: Who knows, man? I'm still trying to find out if I am. When I know, I'll let you know, too.