Lyrical and dreamlike, playful and sublime, PANDORA’S BOX is the latest stop in the continuing journeys of band leaders Valerie Day and John Smith. The NU SHOOZ Orchestra is our experimental music laboratory,” Day says, “and John the mad scientist of beats and chords.” This latest addition to the NU SHOOZ sonic landscape features nine new songs, along with remakes of three SHOOZ classics from the band’s 1986 Gold Record “Poolside:” an all-grown-up funky version of the Billboard Top 40 hit “Point of No Return,” a laid back “Driftin’” and a jazzy 20th-anniversary version of the band’s #3 Billboard hit “ I Can’t Wait.”
Nu Shooz has often been mislabeled as a duo, due to Atlantic Record's focus on bandleaders Day and Smith. Actually the Shooz began as a 12 piece Tower of Power style band in the late '70's. The current incarnation, Nu Shooz Orchestra, features ten members, and a wider stylistic palate.
Since the ‘80s Day and Smith have both had unique and varied experiences. Day has been performing and recording jazz, and created “Brain Chemistry For Lovers”, a combination concert, cabaret and science lecture that explores the neuroscience of Romantic Love. Smith has been a composer and arranger - scoring indie films and hundreds of commercials.
NU SHOOZ was nominated for a “Best New Artist” Grammy award in 1987 and earned a Gold Record for the album “Poolside.” Their breakthrough hit, “I Can’t Wait” continues to be played on radio stations around the globe every 11 minutes. The band has been featured on MTV, VH1, and classic music programs like American Bandstand, Solid Gold, and the UK’s Top of the Pops. They’ve toured with some of the biggest names in show business, including Tina Turner, Billy Ocean, and the Pointer Sisters.
How do you describe your music to people, John?
We call it Psychefunkalassical. Equal parts Astor Piazolla, Max Steiner, Hendrix/Coltrane/CharlieParker, Debussy, Morton Feldman, the Meters, Booker T and the MG's, The Monkeys and the Strawberry Alarm Clock. But I get bored listening to people listing their influences. My Coltrane is not necessarily your Coltrane.
Tell me about how you originally got into your craft.
I wanted to be a doctor from about age seven. I was going to be a pathologist and sit in a lab with a microscope. That's kind of what I ended up doing. But instead of specimens, I'm slicing up music. Anyway, in tenth grade I walked into the school library and this kid said, 'Hey you. Listen to this.' It was Hendrix playing 'Message to Love.' My medical career ended right there.
What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?
Lately I've been trying to imagine my perfect day. It would begin with coffee and brioche, maybe at the Hotel Nikko in Paris. No, they don't have a balcony. I'd read the papers and write a few pages of my book. Then a bike ride in the sun. Then write a few pages of music. Lunch about three followed by afternoon nap. Then I'm ready to rage all night. I move from one thing to the other all day...music, art, literature. It's my secret process. (How do you spell ADD?)
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your business?
Music is crowded now. There are so many things vying for people's attention, that I think it's rewired our collective conscious. Our attention spans are shorter. So what's the John Smith contrarian response? Make my work longer and more challenging.
When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
Doctor, Scientist, International Spy, War Hero, and maybe Soul Singer. When I think about our new record, Pandora's Box, that might be as good a description as any.
In what way has your community impacted your development as a musician?
The Shooz made their first big impact in the clubs in Portland, Oregon. There was a whole community of people our age who came to see us and basically conducted their mating rituals there. We were all the same age, at various places in our twenties, and we were searching for our tribes. The tribe made the whole thing possible, and it's why we're still here talking about it 30 years later.
What other artists out there do you love?
I grew up in Los Angeles during the peak of the Soul Music era, 1965-70, and was very deep into that though I don't listen to that stuff anymore. An animator friend of mine got me thinking about film scoring starting in the mid-70's. I like Max Steiner, and who doesn't love Carl Stalling? In the '80's I was very influenced by Chic and Earth Wind and Fire, but I never play that stuff anymore. When I discovered Debussy it kind of ruined everything else. I'm sure it's just a phase.
What does your future hold?
We have a video being produced by one of the directors at Laika, the company that created the animated movie Coraline. Animator/director Mike Wellins is using cut out animation (a la Terry Gilliam) to bring one of the songs from Pandora's Box - Spy vs. Spy - to life. People can sign up for our newsletter if they'd like to get up to date info on when it will be released and all other things Nu Shooz. If they sign up here they can get a free mp3 of "Spy" too. Yay.
In a few years someone is going to arrive at my door with one of those giant checks. Then I'm going to Bali. Forever.