Just old-fashioned guys It's all about going back to their roots

October 30, 1992|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

At first glance, Rhythm Syndicate frontmen Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers hardly seem like old-fashioned band guys.

For one thing, the two built their reputations as writer/producers, a studio-savvy team like Jam & Lewis or L. A. & Babyface. Working with everyone from Karyn White to Stephanie Mills to Donnie Osmond (they were the brains behind his comeback hit "Soldier of Love"), they were utterly at home with the equipment-intensive techniques of modern American record-making, an approach Sturken describes as "two guys and a bunch of gear."

And they were good at it, too -- good enough, in fact, to have been offered a deal of their own. But rather than do the obvious thing and build their album around the slick, high-tech sound they were known for, Sturken and Rogers decided that what they really wanted was a band. A band in which musicians interacted, where the groove came not from machines but from the flesh-and-blood chemistry of six guys playing together.

A band like the one they came up in, in other words.

So rather than flesh out their newly formed recording act with studio session players, Sturken and Rogers went back to their roots, and built their Rhythm Syndicate around the guys they started with: drummer Kevin Cloud and bassist John "Noodle" Nevin.

"In the old days, Evan and myself were like the two newer members," Sturken explains, speaking over the phone from a Long Island recording studio. "Kevin and Noodle had been playing together since they were children, and Kevin's brother, Keith, was on keyboards, and Noodle's brother, Dave, was on vocals. It was a family affair, and they had been together since they were really small. We joined up along the way -- the two white guys trying to get funky. That was how I really learned about R&B.

"These guys were still our closest friends," he adds. "Even

though we weren't in a band together anymore, we'd always still hang out together like best friends. So the minute this project was offered to us, we thought of those guys."

Unfortunately, the Syndicate didn't come together as quickly as Sturken and Rogers had hoped, meaning that much of the

group's debut album was cut with Sturken and Rogers relying more on machinery than other musicians. "It wasn't until we went out on tour that we began playing together every day and hanging out together like in the old days, that it all came together," Sturken says. "And then it got a lot better, a lot more solidified."

Not that the group's debut, "Rythm Syndicate," was a flop. "P.A.S.S.I.O.N.," the Syndicate's first single, spent two weeks at No. 2, and a follow-up, "Hey Donna," climbed to No. 13 on the national charts.

Indeed, the only thing that embarrasses Sturken about that first effort is the spelling. Why did they use an "h"-less version of "Rhythm"?

"It was somebody's marketing idea," he groans. "I always felt like, 'What are we doing this for?' During the first album, we got asked about it constantly, and on radio it was always, 'Coming up next, the band that can't spell straight.' Oh, please!"

Still, what lifts the band's new album, "Sex, Life & Love," above its predecessor isn't the improved spelling, but the sharper playing. Cut the old-fashioned way, with a real band live in the studio, it fairly crackles with energy, from the soulful balladry of "I Wanna Make Love to You" to the jangly funk of "Sexitivity." But where the band really shows its stuff is in unexpected flourishes like the rap sequence in "Somebody Call Me a Doctor," where Cloud and Nevin slip into a smooth, swinging jazz cadence.

"What's funny is that that happened by accident," says Sturken. "We were playing the song on the out-chorus, and just going and going until it reached a point where somebody decided, 'OK, we have enough.' And just out of habit, Kevin and Noodle just started swinging. And then, of course, everyone said, 'Ooh, that's cool.' So we kept it."

And it's that kind of chemistry, says Sturken, that gives the Syndicate an edge over many of today's studio-fabricated R&B acts. "Because these are two guys who began playing together right about the same time they picked up their instruments," he ** says. "There's a lot of telepathy there, and that's the kind of stuff that you don't really acquire any other way than by playing night after night. And I think that a lot of music today does miss that, because there aren't that many bands."

92Q Slam Jam What: Concert featuring the Rhythm Syndicate, N2Deep, Sofia Shinas, Lorenzo, Prince Markie Dee, Classic Example and MC Serch benefits the Towson State University Minority Scholarship Fund and the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

When: Tonight, 8

Where: Towson Center, Towson State University.

Tickets: $7.

Call: (410) 481-7328.

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