We often talk to songwriters and instrumentalists who credit their families for their prowess, or at least their interest in music. For tenor sax player Calvin Johnson Jr., a third-generation musician out of New Orleans, music is in his bloodline.
“My paternal grandfather led WPA bands and taught music in schools during the Depression and thereafter,” Johnson explains. “He also had 11 children. He was one of those good NOLA Catholic family men. All his children played music in some form or fashion. Therefore I couldn’t escape it; I was surrounded by music at all times.”
A talented composer and vocalist, Johnson fronts the four-piece funk and soul band Chapter:SOUL. The band comprises Kashonda Bailey on organ, keyboards and synths, Trenton O’Neal and Thomas Glass on drums, Evan Washington on keybass, and Jenelle Rockaforte on bass.
“It’s just amazing,” Johnson muses. “I truly am jealous [of] myself by how amazing my team [is] to work with. . . . They each have their own style and approach, but, when we put it together, it’s like a match made in heaven.”
Chapter:SOUL is preparing to release the third EP of a mixtape series, “The Bible,” as well as a full-length album later this fall. Johnson and company will play their tour’s 20th show at The Whiskey on August 29.
“The current tour has been amazing but at this point the old man is tired and ready to go home,” he quips. “It’s been fun though, spreading the gospel of music and what it is we do. . . . We love meeting fans everywhere we go and hearing their stories.”
Their next EP installment is based upon the music of Bruno Mars, hence its title, “The Bible Book 3: The Book Of Bruno.” “It complements the two prior releases because they drew specific motivation from the band’s direct influences,” Johnson explains. “‘Book 1’ drew upon the band’s roots in funk while ‘Book 2’ drew upon the influences of Kanye and his sampling and production styles.”
Kanye West samplings are featured on “Book 2,” and it revolves around a unique marriage of futuristic synths with hip-hop and R&B sounds. Johnson’s tenor sax remains at the forefront. Because they’ve recorded the series as concentrated music in chapters, each is just as essential as the last, yet distinctly different from the others.
“By the time the band concludes our ‘Bible’ series, our fans will truly get the origins and essence of our genre, which is ‘NOLA future funk,’” Johnson adds. “The band works and records at its own studios, and because of that, we’ve learned a lot over the course of recording three EPs. I feel our entire sound has gotten better within our studio flow. Mic placement: Wow, that’s so important. From a songwriting and orchestration perspective, now, at this point, we’re like mad scientists. We go in!”
Their upcoming full-length album is going to be the culmination of jazz, funk, gospel, pop, sampling, and allow Johnson to show his muscle in lyric-writing, production and more. Chapter:SOUL have leaked a sampler with “Give It Away,” of which they’ve been playing live for six months.
“Our fans have really been digging it,” Johnson observes. “It’s about us as people—as a society and as a culture. It’s about being a champion for who and what you are and stand [for]. The hook says it all: ‘Give it away / we don’t care what you got to say.’”
Johnson’s own writing and composition process usually consists of coming up with the bones of a song for the team to build upon. Oftentimes, songs write themselves from there.
“In moments when they don’t write themselves, that’s when I like to go live with it and start playing music with the band,” he says. “Usually, once we start playing it on the bandstand, the individual personalities get [ahold] of it and bring stylings to it [to] complete [it].”
With Johnson’s bandmates, as well as lyricist Landon Oubre, their respective roles continue to evolve and come alive in the studio—and especially on stage. Since coming together in 2010, Johnson’s learned it’s best for them to work out songs on the bandstand for a more “organic blend.”
“We’ve been doing that on tour with ‘Streetcar Love,’” he divulges of another new track. “The way it sounds now versus the way it sounded at the beginning of the tour is like night and day.”
Folks can follow Chapter:SOUL on social media and listen to their mixtape EPs on Soundcloud.