In September 2012, Atlanta’s Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics released its debut album, “It’s About Time.”
It was 10 tracks of soul and funk music that sounded, quite intentionally, like it could’ve been recorded in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Bathed in a decidedly raw, analog-style production, Velle sang with grit and passion while The Soulphonics got into a deep, horn-spiked groove, echoing the sinewy funk of classic Stax Records singles, or perhaps Motown when the strings kicked in.
It was a sound similar to what Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings were doing at the time, even if Velle’s voice was closer to the late Amy Winehouse’s than it was to Jones’, and that throwback soul-revue style helped the Soulphonics become an overnight sensation after nearly a decade of playing live.
The single “My Dear” racked up around 200,000 downloads on iTunes, and the “It’s About Time” album hit the top 30 on the Billboard charts and earned critical raves from The New York Daily News and Paste magazine. That momentum was enough to propel the band onto concert stages with Kendrick Lamar, Gary Clark Jr., and Erykah Badu, among many others.
Most bands riding a wave like that would probably want to head back into the studio quickly to get new material out, but Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics are not most bands. Six years passed between “It’s About Time” and their second album, “State of All Things,” which came out last April.
“We just wanted to make sure that our sophomore effort was something that we could really get behind and be proud of,” Velle says of the long gap between records. “Coming off of the success of ‘It’s About Time,’ it was important that we stayed true to our sound but also explored our influences in a deeper way, and that just takes time. As a band, we’ve always had the mindset that it will happen when it happens. It wasn’t really about anything more than making something we could be proud of.”
The safe move would probably have been to make “It’s About Time, Part Two,” but that’s not what the band did. The soul-revue style is still the foundation of the music on “State of All Things,” but The Soulphonics have expanded their reach significantly. There’s more of a rock ’n’ roll edge on songs such as “Broken Woman” and “Love Less Blind,” and Velle’s vocals take center stage on a couple of gritty, less-is-more ballads: “Way Back When” and “Used Me Again (Now Lose Me Forever).” There’s also a disco-style track that should come with its own spinning mirror-ball (“Overwhelming”) and an epic final number that brings mind-bending psychedelia into the mix (“Call Out My Name”).
It wasn’t a direct sequel, in other words, and that’s just how the band wanted it.
“The first album was a little too close to a retro-inspired sound,” Velle says, “and it put us in this box of playing this soul music from the ’60s and ’70s. I love that sound, and I grew up on that stuff, so I don’t think that was a negative thing, but it gave us less of an ability to explore different sounds. So ‘Shape of All Things’ takes on different genres within the soul spectrum.”
In fact, Velle says she sees it as the band’s responsibility to develop their sound, no matter how well-received their older work has been.
“We as artists are supposed to evolve,” she says. “We’re supposed to meld different sounds together. And I think that’s something we strived to do on ‘State of All Things.’”
Velle and The Soulphonics will be playing many of those new songs when they perform their headlining set on the Iron Hill Brewery stage at BB&T Fall for Greenville on Friday night, and she says that on stage is still the best place to see what the band can do.
“There are moments when I’m onstage just enamored of the musicians I’m surrounded by,” she says. “We’ve always been a band I encourage people to see live, because meticulousness in the studio can be overwhelming. There’s a certain level of celebration when you just get out there onstage and make it happen, and I live for that moment.”
If you go
- What: Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics
- Where: Iron Hill Brewery Stage, BB&T Fall for Greenville
- When: 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12
- Info: https://fallforgreenville.net/