Music lovers know that some bands fit neatly into a specific genre such as rock, soul or hip-hop.
Other bands aren’t so easy to compartmentalize, because they choose to thread their music through different genres and pull from different sources of inspiration, some of them non-musical.
The Admirables is one such band.
On a recent brisk morning during one of the band’s rehearsals, music swells loudly from a worn home on an isolated lot on Akron’s Bluff Street. Five men in their mid- to-late 20s play out their talent on saxophone, bass guitar, drums and piano.
On its Facebook page, the band describes itself as “funky soul feel-good dance music.”
The music definitely lacks a specific stamp, but it’s pleasingly melodic with some surprises and at times beckons one to sway along with the notes.
“Nathan usually comes in with the basic framework,” says one band member. “But when Matt arrived, he started to ask questions and Steven just kept playing the piano…and we all started messing with it and just kind of all threw in some stuff.”
The Admirables had their first gig in March 2013. Nathan Paul William Davis plays saxophone, and Chris Coles plays tenor sax and alto sax, with Matt DeRubertis on bass guitar. On drums is Ashanti Allison; Steven Miller plays piano, and Dan Fernandez plays percussion.
Two adjunct band members are David Hammer, one of the original members and a guitarist who lives in New Orleans, and keyboardist Theron Brown.
The band prefers a different take on its pronunciation.
“Technically, it’s the adMIRE ables,” Davis says. “I don’t like the word as it’s supposed to be said because it sounds silly.”
Looking back, Davis says he was looking to find “charming, alluring” people to form a group with a name “to admire” such traits.
Most of the band hails from Cleveland, but Miller, Davis, Coles and DeRubertis currently live in Akron. Many of the members play in other bands, and when they’re not performing, they have taught or continue to teach music at the university level and at Akron and Cleveland schools.
Soul is not a genre, it’s a feeling
All musicians are influenced by other musicians, and The Admirables are no different.
“It’s a wide range of influence. I wouldn’t even know where to start,” DeRubertis offers. “I think where our influence comes in is more along with a feeling, rather than a certain sound.”
The band says it has evolved much over the past two years. It started out playing ’60s soul cover songs. And DeRubertis says in the past they were writing some “Michael Jackson-ish” type stuff, but Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder “creep in a lot.” Hathaway performed blues, soul and jazz and was also a gospel vocalist who died at 33 in the late 1970s.
I think music is medicine for the soul.
Nathan Paul Davis
Davis nods in agreement with DeRubertis.
Davis says when he writes a song or a tune, he’s not necessarily thinking of music.
“It’s more of a feel, like, ‘Let’s write a happy tune,’” he explains. “And [then] I’ll think of certain chords with certain moods.”
At today’s rehearsal, the band feels a song was a bit too melancholic and tweaked it to feel less so.
Coles and Davis have written much of the music, but band members do work collaboratively on some pieces, a sort of “free for all,” they say.
When writing, Davis says 60 percent of the time he’s not “consciously referencing anything.”
But some folks, music fans included, like things with tidy little labels, and that would encompass music lovers.
DeRubertis recalls when people kept asking, “What IS the band’s genre?”
“This is our motto: Soul is not a genre, it’s a feeling!” says Davis.
“Depending on who’s listening to what at the time, a different kind of mood or feeling comes in, so it’s impossible to pin it to one genre,” explains DeRubertis.
He adds The Admirables took the word “soul” not to place it into a specific time period in music or use it as part of a specific genre, but rather to sustain it as a “feeling behind all of the music that we do.”
When Davis thinks of soul, he thinks of a Negro spiritual, which has a “soaring, welling kind of sound,” he says. “I think of it as soulful.”
The band does concede, however, that its music can fit into funk, R&B, pop and soul, as its tags relay on the band’s web site.
“It’s like, ‘I wrote this song. This is what it is,’” Davis furthers. “It’s R&B, the next song is funk, the next…you try to change it up.”
The Admirables’ repertoire comprises over 20 songs, and the band hopes to release it first album sometime this year. A series of single tracks can be found and purchased online at the band’s bandcamp page, including She Knows, It’s Gonna Be Alright and Listen Up!
It’s Gonna Be Alright was dedicated to Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, both of whom lost their lives to violence in Ferguson, Mo., and Sanford, Fla., respectively.
“It’s not noticeable, but we’re somewhat politically driven,” Davis says. “We don’t always make it obvious.”
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An experience for audience and musician
At this time, the band does not employ a management or booking staff and performs at venues in the Akron-Cleveland area, and they recently did a Columbus gig.
“We’re trying to work up a really strong product before we get ourselves out there [for more extensive touring] so that when we get in front of people, it’s undeniable,” Davis says.
Performing obviously offers a reciprocal relationship. Both the performer and attendee want to walk away with something. That symbiosis, however, doesn’t always happen. Unlike other bands that have set playlists, The Admirables recently made a departure from theirs.
The band has played gigs when “the line between the audience and performer gets blurred, where everyone is having the same [positive] experience,” recalls DeRubertis.
“We just read the crowd.” Davis adds. “It’s the law of listening that we’re trying to abide by.”
In other words, members of an audience also want a band to “listen” to them as well and play songs accordingly, not forge ahead with a pat song list that could interfere with the vibe.
“It’s a reciprocal thing, sort of meditative,” drummer Allison explains. “You can lock eyes with one person in the crowd and have a conversation with them.”
Music provides fellowship for saxophonist Coles, who adds that music is “the only place where happy accidents can take place.” He defines a happy accident as someone who may not have the articulation to convey what they’re feeling, so music does that for them.
Playing piano for The Admirables allows Miller a “release of stressors, an opportunity to express yourself and it gives me energy.”
While the band has found reward playing their music in traditional venues such as bars and clubs, not everyone can afford the price of admission, Davis says.
It is a goal of the band to change that.
“I want people to feel community, and we hope to one day be able to perform free shows to bring people together,” Davis says. “Music is medicine for the soul.”
Davis’ take away with music is in part to keep his father’s memory alive. As a boy, he says he spent hours listening to music and bonding with his father.
“Music for me growing up was very situational,” says Davis. “My father loved sports and music, and he gave his love of sports to my sister and his love of music to me.”
He doesn’t consider music his calling, rather Davis says it’s “my gift.”
DeRubertis, who spent time in India as an artist in residency and also plays sitar, says The Admirables may be playing there someday.
“The Indian people love American dance music and are just discovering big, modern outdoor music and art festivals,” he shares.
Throughout the interview, the band is amiable and unassuming and likes to toss friendly jabs at one another.
For DeRubertis, music provides a sort of balm to restore, even if temporarily, a world where “I’ve seen so many crazy changes that are pointing us to a dark future.”
With measured words, he continues.
“Music can somehow cut through every kind of systematic oppression, every kind of dark thing people face, and somehow uplift and transfer a positive feeling,” he explains. “It does that for me, and I know it does for other people. And I feel very privileged to be a part of something that can pass that feeling around.”