All Mighty Senators write their own definition of success

Baltimore band breaks out of music business' mold

Music: in concert, CDs

April 10, 2003|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

Like Sun Ra and Parliament/Funkadelic before it, the All Mighty Senators are on a whole 'nother trip. The quartet is not of this time and place. Dig?

You may feel like getting up to get on down once the band's velvet-and-shag-carpet funk smacks you in the ear. But the philosophy driving its inspired mix of Frank Zappalike quirkiness and Sly Stone-dusted rock is serious, a little metaphysical.

"Music is not ours," says drummer and lead vocalist Landis Expandis (real last name: McCord). "It was here before us, and it'll be here after us. We're the catalyst."

Known to rock out in push-up bras and superhero outfits, Expandis says: "See, James Brown didn't invent funk. Funk found him. When people come to me and say, 'You guys are great,' I say, 'Thanks.' But I feel that music was given to us. We're here to use it for good."

The independent Baltimore band, which plays Towson's Recher Theatre tomorrow night, just wrapped up a six-week national tour with the Pretenders. But the guys don't have much time to relax as they travel by van from gig to gig, averaging between 150 and 175 shows a year. Lately, the band has been promoting its spirited new album, the ironically titled Music Is Big Business. Since its release last February, the record has garnered critical praise from Billboard, Rolling Stone and other national publications.

The 11-cut album folds in elements of uncut funk reminiscent of New Birth (especially on the title track), punchy jazz-spiced horns and raging guitars. The unbridled sound soars, dips, plummets, burns and -- like a psychedelic phoenix -- rises again.

"Somewhere along the line, some things got a little slick," says guitarist Warren Boes. "But we still keep the rough edges in there."

The All Mighty Senators have been around, off and on, for 15 years. The guys were fresh out of college, playing small clubs and parties for students of Baltimore's Maryland Institute College of Art. Their reputation for good-time vibes, wild stage antics and smart, often funny lyrics quickly spread through the city and beyond. In the early years, the band even played Switzerland.

Although there have been small personnel changes over the years, All Mighty Senators (a name a friend gave them right before a gig in the late-'80s) also include bass guitarist Jack Denning and trumpet player/keyboardist Dave Finnell. Trombone player and percussionist Craig Considine, though not a full-time member, also plays with the band. All the members live in Baltimore.

"Everybody in the band is coming from a different place," Boes says. "The horn guys are into jazz. I'm on the guitar and bring rock to the table. Landis used to be a DJ, and he brings the house party vibe. And it's sort of like a goulash."

The Senators have released four full-length albums, three on their Dog Eat Dog label. Over the years, there have been potentially lucrative offers from major labels. But the band would rather be free.

"The business of music seems very one-sided now," Expandis says. "Hip-hop, for instance, used to be different. You had KRS-One; there was De La Soul. It would run the whole spectrum from heavy political stuff to party hip-hop. Now there's just one type on the radio, one type of everything. In the end, we feel music is too free, too big for us to be with a corporation and these people telling us what to do."

He pauses, reflects a moment. "The most important advantage of being an independent artist is the artistic freedom. Music wants to be free. We feel that it's more like giving thanks to the transmitter."

Abstract outlooks aside, the business of being an independent band is often rocky when you don't have a corporate machine behind you. But Expandis doesn't dwell on that too much.

Boes speaks up. "You have to do everything yourself," he says with a loaded sigh. "Everybody has, like, three or four different jobs."

But the work is just "part of the mission," Expandis says. The music is an irrepressible force. As the adrenaline rushes and the notes swell and explode on stage or in the studio, the All Mighty Senators feel at home.

"We all bring something different," Boes says. "We just try to meet in the middle."

Of a funk-filled galaxy.

All Mighty Senators with Lake Trout

When: 8 p.m. tomorrow

Where: Recher Theatre in Towson (512 York Road, 410-337-7178)

Tickets: $15-$18, available through Ticketmaster. Call 410-481-SEAT or visit www.ticketmaster.com

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