MR. ROB SACHS
So, Rebecca, no show on D.C.'s global nature would be complete without some music.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
That sounds more like intergalactic.
Yeah, that would be Afrika Bambaataa with his classic song "Planet Rock." And Bambaataa is not from D.C., but he's collaborating with some guys who are, Steve Raskin, Sid Barcelona, Rob Myers and John Horvath, collectively known as Fort Knox Five.
Wait, wait. Steve, Sid, Rob, John, that's only four guys.
Well, the fifth they reserve for the person they're working with on a particular project, such as Bambaataa, or local musicians like Mustafa Akbar. And I recently caught up with the fellows of Fort Knox Five in their basement studio in a row house in Glover Park. And we talked about the D.C. music scene, their creative process and their love of international music. Here's group member, John Horvath.
MR. JOHN HORVATH
We've always said like this city is just a melting pot of different cultures. And what Fort Knox Five and Fort Knox records represents is we try to, like, dig into all of those different cultures, Latin, funk, hip-hop, dub, reggae. And that's what our label and our music represents. And it's just, like, that's something that I think is very Washington, D.C. It's, like, you can go to other cities in Europe and D.C. has a little bit of that European feeling to it. And I think that's one of the reasons why it's -- like, it's a small place that is just very well cultured. And there's also a lot of uncultured in this place as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1
I was going to say -- I was going to add to that and basically, you know, our first full length with Fort Knox Five was “Radio Free D.C.”
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1
We really wanted to show that D.C. has this insane cultural melting pot and that, you know, every four to eight years, whatever, things change up and there's a constant influx of music and people from all over the world. And that, I think, really, it seeps into the core of how we approach music to begin with, which is, you know, we're from D.C., but we've always been open to worldly influence. And I think the music in D.C. in general is like that.
You're remixing Tito Puente, Bob Marley.
You have Brazilian influences.
You have sitar. You really have to be connoisseurs of all these types of genres. What is your process for discovering and you -- you're all over the globe.
I don't know if you necessarily need to be connoisseurs, you just need to be fans.
And, like, and that's -- at the core of it, that's what we are, we're fans of music. And we're not fans of any particular genre. We're fans of whatever moves you. So, you know, somebody comes back from on tour and brings back some really cool underground Brazilian music, it's going to seep into our musical consciousness.
It's not so much that a sitar comes from India or that you have, you know, these Batucada type influences from South America. It's that the sound and the frequency of these things and the rhythm of them fit with the little puzzles that you're making.
It's like "What Make Ya Dance." I mean, "What Make Ya Dance," is definitely not an eastern song, you know, but Rob laid down sitar for it and it just -- it gave it this flavor. And it's like he was saying, it's like -- it's not about genres. It's not about specific styles. It's about trying to make music that's fun and putting a smile on people's face when they're listening to it.
We're here in your studio, y'all have backgrounds in music in terms of traditional instruments, but then we're sitting down at a computer. How does that collaboration work? Will one of you tinker and then the other guy will --hey, and then...
Yeah, we have a very open collaboration. I think it's one of the things that's really lent us to be very productive as a collective over the last couple of years. But usually starts off with some beat or loop that maybe, you know, I've started or whatever and, like, Rob will come in lay guitar down, play a bass. John will come in and be, like, oh, love where this is going, pull out some more samples. And it's constantly evolving.
You know, we end up finding kind of the core of a song and then focusing on that, kind of finish it to its end, completion. But then we have all these other takes and so a lot of times we end up sampling ourselves.
On the album, we have a track called "The Party Pushers."
We have a sax solo take that was done to the original track that basically was like a lead vocal. So it was very hard to incorporate just a snippet of this sax solo into the original song and so the sax solo ended up becoming the inception for another song called "The Sax Pusher."
It's just one of the benefits of electronic recording that when you're in the studio and you record all this stuff and you put all your, you know, different takes and different frames on the track and then when you finally whittle it down to it core, there's a lot of people that aren't going to be left at the party.
So you just, you know, you give them a rain check and you throw them into another track and it all comes together again.
I got to say, I'm really digging this music. But would you ever hear any of their stuff on the radio? Not, like, public radio, but, like, on commercial, music radio stations.
Not really, unless you were listening to, like, an underground music show or something like that.
But the group is finding other ways to get out there, such as using social media to interact with fans. And their songs are being played in clubs all over the world, as well as being licensed for video games. But the guys say the most gratifying experience they've come across so far is when they took a risk and lent their song "Brazilian Hipster" to a documentary film.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2
Basically, like, you know, I'm the big Burning Man guy. Like, I like going to Burning Man and I met my wife there. And I met Fisher Stevens, who's, you know, quite a famous actor/producer. When I was at Burning Man, we hung out the whole time. I gave him some music. And, you know, when he came back, he's, like, hey, I'm working on this film called "The Cove," which ended up getting the best feature documentary Oscar. And...
It was about the dolphins being killed in Japan.
In Taiji, in Japan. And it's, like, you know, it's something that we've kind of, like, been really careful about what we get involved in. And that was something that, you know, he told us that it was not going to be the easiest thing to watch and it's something that, you know, we felt very strongly about the cause.
We're lucky to be in this industry, even though it's so hard right now because basically no matter what song we're working on, whatever project, we're basically working for free. We're assuming that no money is going to come in. And you get to work in this very kind of joyful, carefree atmosphere and create these things. And then, you know, years later, something will happen. So you got to figure we're just enjoying ourselves, making music, having a good time with our best friends and it is our hope that one day these songs will all become like a 401K for us and come back.
Right now, it's just a professional hobby.
So what's next for Fort Knox Five?
Well, as you've heard, their love of music doesn't quite pay the bills just yet so they also use their backgrounds in graphic design to supplement their incomes. But they're also expanding Fort Knox Recordings and helping their friends put out albums. Now, remember a few weeks back I showed you that album by that group, The Empresarios?
Yeah, we played one of their songs. I can't remember which show, but we played one of their songs on the show.
Right. So they're on Fort Knox Recordings and their debut album, "Sabor Tropical" comes out January 11. If you want to know more about The Empresarios and Fort Knox Five and to see photos and everything like that, you can check out our website at metroconnection.org.
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