Despite a notable presence in Atlanta since 2014, it’s still hard to define InCrowd. Is it simply a record label? Is it a musical cooperative? Or, is it a group of like-minded songwriters with an incessant drive to push one another’s songs to new levels? Even as InCrowd begins to mature as an idea, it’s difficult to distill the organization down to any single facet. However, the heart of InCrowd is good songwriting, evident in the timeless pop gems that cofounders Jonah Swilley and Randy Michael have written for their own projects and for other InCrowd artists.
In many ways it’s an effort which hearkens back to the ’60s, a time when studio freedom meant more than leaving a day to record percussion or throwing effects on the vocals. This refreshing passion for analog is balanced by a thoroughly modern perspective on promotion and a pragmatism wherein the end goal is always catchy tracks and unified albums.
To the uninitiated, InCrowd might seem too ambitious to succeed, but since early on in his musical career, Michael has never been satisfied limiting himself to one project or taking the easy road. From his time in the Booze to his work with Joe Lean & the Jing Jang Jong in London, the rock and roll revivalist has always looked to the future. After coming back to Atlanta and forming Black Linen, creating a production company and artist network from the group up seemed like the next logical step in his musical exploits.
Though InCrowd has faced some struggles funding their records, their commitment to good music, in whatever form it takes, has never wavered, so we talked to Michael via email to get a better understanding of InCrowd and learn about their upcoming Revue Showcase tomorrow at Avondale’s Towne Cinema Theatre.
Tell me about the motivating idea behind InCrowd. How and why did you start it?
InCrowd came about after doing a few stints with Curtis Harding. I’d co-written a few songs on his Soul Power album (“Keep on Shining,” “I Need a Friend,” and “Love is All”). I liked the idea of writing songs and having someone else perform them. During those stints, I met Jonah who was also playing with Curtis. We hit it off. When we returned from the tour, I received a Facebook message from Mattiel. She said she wanted to record a song. She came over and recorded a Donovan song, I called Jonah immediately and we wrote “Send It On Over.” After that we wrote a song a day. Two years later we’re still writing.
From a sonic and aesthetic point of view, what are you trying to accomplish?
We’re just trying to fill the catalogue with great songs, which seems like a lost art in the States. When I lived in London, kids my age were making phenomenal records. We cut everything live here, even the vocalist tracks with the full band to two track tape. Everything is mixed whilst the band’s recording, so once I hit the playback button there it is. We don’t tweak anything after. It’s a very classic process that I feel is lost today. We don’t use any computers in the studio. We use our ears. That’s it. We make the records we want to hear. It’s not just soul. Our musical taste ranges from Lester Young to New Order. We just recorded Wild Bill, a proper country western singer from back in the day. We do it all. We just want a place where songwriters/bands can come and be creative.
In regards to process, do you feel that digital recording and the ease that someone can tweak and edit a track has caused modern music to lose some of its immediacy and spontaneity?
It’s actually harder to go digital if you think about it. It’s easier in the sense that you can fix anything at any time. But it forces you to overthink your process. Typically when you go digital, you sit in the control room with the producer or engineer and he makes you play the same thing 500 times, then he comps the best of what he likes. Because you have so many possibilities you can overthink and try to do too much, and overthinking is a creative person’s deathbed. There’s a day for drums, a day for bass and a day for guitars, vocals, etc.
With us, it forces you to come up with something on the spot and commit to it. Because you have horns, bass, guitar, drums, organ and piano trying not to step on each other, everyone is able to find their space and play what’s right for the song. And we only cut to two tracks, sometimes four but usually, the vocals are on one track and the band is on another. It’s either magic or it’s not.
What are some of the qualities you look for when you are deciding to work with a particular vocalist or artist?
It’s an instant thing for me. I do the East London test. There, certain songs would pop up over the speakers at the pub, anything from the Kinks to Simple Minds and guys would go “CHUNE!” and lose their head. I still apply that to everything we work on here. If they don’t write songs and Jonah and I are writing for any particular artist, we asks ourselves, “Is this person going to be doing this when they’re 70?” Because we know we will be if we live that long. In short, we’re looking for talent and passion.
Do you consider InCrowd to be an artist collective or a production team/company? Or are there elements of both working together?
It’s an element of both. Mattiel, Kelsy Davis, and Ivory Williams are great songwriters. They’re some of the best I’ve ever worked with. And then you have Jonah and myself who are like more like song directors than anything. There’s a lot of “Man that’s a great song, but you know what would be better…” But everyone is versatile and everyone is the best at what they do.
Is there a specific reason why you’re putting on this Revue?
This is the second one. We did the first one at Aisle 5 and it was very successful. This particular revue is to showcase Ivory Williams, and our latest production, her album Too Cool to be Nice. We’ve started to make an album with Kelsy Davis who’s probably the greatest soul/blues singer I’ve ever been in the presence of. The man is truly great. We’ve also got James “The Voice” Fly, who’s a brilliant MC and poet. We’ve just worked hard and we want to share what we’ve been working on. I know the city’s filled with bands but this is new take on an old idea. You get a full on show with captivating artists and phenomenal songs!
What can people except to see and hear at the Revue? Will it be a series of individual performances or can we expect some collaboration?
Without giving too much away, you can expect to see the InCrowd, the band that cuts every record we do. They’re our little Wrecking Crew. They’ll open the show with some James Bond spy shit. These guys are the greatest young players in the city. They play together so much and individually they’re always working, so their chops are impeccable. All I can say is that whoever shows up will not be disappointed. Loads of work went into this and you’ll walk away singing at least half of the set.
Is this a one-off show or do you intend to continue organizing more performances?
I hope that with the outcome of this particular show, Tony at the Cinema will give us some type of residency to where we can do this once a month. We needed a platform and he was cool enough to give us one when no one else would.
What plans does InCrowd have moving forward into 2017?
More records! Jonah and I have been trying for the longest to find investors to help get these records pressed properly, but we’ll probably end up finding a clever way to press these. I mean we could sell some drugs and do it in a week, I don’t know why we’re trying to have dignity. (That’s a joke.) We’ll release Too Cool to be Nice in 2017. I believe in this record, I believe in the InCrowd, I believe in the entire team. We’re truly blessed.
The InCowd Revue takes place tomorrow night at Avondale Towne Cinema. The evening will feature performances from InCrowd artists Ivory Williams, Mattiel, James “The Voice” Fly, Kelsy Davis, and Black Linen. Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission is $10. 18+ to enter.