Inspired by a 70’s groove, The Expansions are an instrumental jazz funk quartet from London, featuring Dave Koor on keys, James O’Keefe on guitar, Jonny Drop on drums, and Matt Summerfield on bass. They’ve just released their stunning debut LP, Murmuration, on Albert’s Favourites, a studio & label co-founded by Dave Koor (among others, incl Jonny), who multi-tasks by working as a producer and DJ too. So read on as Dave takes us on a tour of the band, album, insane gardening… and being James!
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~ What’s the background to The Expansions?
I met Matt first, through mutual friends. He was playing in a band that one of my mates was playing in, and then their guitarist left and James joined. At the same time, I’d met Jonny through a night I was promoting at Plan B in Brixton. Matt and James’ band stopped gigging, and Jonny and I were looking for something to do after leaving a band we were with. It all kinda just fell together.
~ The 6 tracks on the album all have their own personality, so how did they come together?
There was only one track from the album that wasn’t composed with the four of us in a room. Dragonfly was something James and I worked on one day at mine – and only the rough keys and bass parts at that. Everything else was written with the four of us in a room at the same time. We love writing that way, it gives the track a chance to evolve with us all together, rather than away from the group. We work best like that, fusing sections and textures together as much as we can.
~ What proved to be the biggest challenge when writing & recording Murmuration?
The biggest challenge was definitely getting takes that we were all happy with. We chose to record it all together in single takes, as that’s what we’re most comfortable with. But we’re human, and mistakes are made! We needed the vibiest recordings we could get, and if a take has a couple of mistakes in it then so be it…
~ You & Jonny helped set up the Albert’s Favourites label a few years ago, so what led to you taking the plunge?
We had been talking about setting up a label for a while, and it just seemed right. Adam Scrimshire and I had also been talking about it, so the three of us got together and here we are. Our ethos is definitely to release music we love, but it needs to excite us. It has to push buttons, really give us goosebumps. Like the first time we heard Hector Plimmer’s material, Adam and I were at Sounds of the Universe and we just looked at each other and knew… We’re all in tune with each other musically and that’s really important, but each of us has our own personality and take on it that we can bring to the table.
~ When did James & Matt first pick up a guitars, and who were their heroes when they started?
Matt first started playing aged 10 and was taught by his dad, who also happens to be an incredible guitarist. At home Matt’s family would listen to rock, with players like Steve Harris (Iron Maiden) and Billy Sheehan. Soon after, groups like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers started to be popular, so Flea played a massive part in his sound, and that lead him in to funk music, bands like Lettuce and players like Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten.
James was also 10 when he started playing – he started off learning classical but then discovered Hendrix! After listening to 70’s rock and blues for a while, he soon jumped on the funk and soul train and hasn’t looked back. He has been exploring Jazz guitar through some of the greats like George Benson, Grant Green and John Scofield.
~ If you were appearing on ‘Later with Jools Holland’, which track from Murmuration would you choose to perform?
For me it would have to be Ivory Mountain. Would be great to get our string player pals Jo and Chris out doing live shows (with a couple of others to make the full quartet!) and that would be a great place to do it! But I feel that track has a real London charm to it, a very British sound. I’d hope it would go down well!
~ If The Expansions could collaborate with a famous musician, who would it be?
I think we’d all like to go a little out there with someone, and I know Jonny would be into this – it’d have to be Bjork. Matt and James would probably be cool with that too. But she’s incredible. Mind bending powers. That’d be such a trip.
~ London has a vibrant music scene at the moment, so are there any other new bands or musicians you recommend we check out?
Definitely – a firm favourite of mine has to be Maisha. I’ve seen them live a few times now and they are constantly exciting. Real pure energy, very vibey. I’m also really into Elsa Hewitt, a fantastic musician and producer. She writes beautiful music! There’s so much going on, it feels very vibrant at the moment. So positive.
~ How would you best describe your DJ club nights?
I like to play music from all over the world – it’s so satisfying to be able to drop music written in Brazil in the 70s next to something written in London in 2018 and then back to Japan in the 90s. So much fun! For me it’s all about the energy that a track gives me. Building energy on the dance floor so people can’t help but dance. I love it when that energy transmits!
The other day we all DJ’d together for the first time at the incredible Brilliant Corners in London. It’s a wonderful sound system and we were able to play absolutely anything we pleased. It was a great night! The full 5 hour session is up on our Mixcloud if you want to check! Includes tunes from all of us and Adam Scrimshire too!
~ If you were invited to curate a festival stage, what artists would you invite to perform?
Jonny would be up for Jamie Lidell. Matt would really love Khruangbin to be there (as would we all!). James is really keen on Medeski, Scofield, Martin, & Wood, and I’d love to get Anderson Paak down. And all of us would love Chaka Khan and D’Angelo. That’d be great, thanks!
~ Aside from music, do any of you have any other creative skills? (or obscure talents!)
Jonny is an incredible artist (see above & below) – he does most of the design work for Albert’s in general, and does a lovely job of it. The rest of us are pretty boring really. James is an insane gardener. I mean really good. First time I saw one of his gardens I was blown away. Matt’s a pretty handy DJ, all of us play records out and about, but the amount of music we’re involved in keeps us busy enough.
~ If any of you could have a superpower for a day, what would it be?
Well James already has super-human strength so he reckons the ability to fly would be a great addition. Not having to find parking spaces in London ever again would be incredible. As for the rest of us, we’d really just all love to be James. Have you seen that guy?
album artwork by Jonny Drop