Company Freak's Jason King: "Music Is A Kind of Universal Language"
There may be no one quite as busy as Jason King. Before we speak on the phone, he has just flown in from Dubai. Throughout the year he can be caught at either the NYU campus in Abu Dhabi or NYC teaching courses at Tisch's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music where he formerly served as artistic director. In his spare time, he's a journalist, producer, radio host, and head of his own music company. Lately, the hat he's tried on is of musician, specifically the kind that heads an international supergroup known as Company Freak. Spearheaded by King, Company Freak is his vision of the grand sounds of orchestral disco that bring together massive, live horns and strings sections alongside spectacular vocalists and a desire to get you moving.
Courtesy of Project Publicity Jason King of Company Freak
With one EP under their belt, Company Freak has a busy year ahead of them, given a couple of big shows this month and plans to release an album early next year. King explained his motivation for a project like this, where disco can be heard today, and how he finds the time to keep this collective running.
See also: Why Luther Vandross's Legacy Matters
How long has Company Freak been in the works?
It's been in the works for at least a couple of years, through all my travels. It's been associated with the fact that I've been working in the UAE; I got really inspired by the idea of creating the global dance music ensemble. Although hip-hop has been described as global youth music, which I think in a lot of ways it is, I think they're may be an even bigger story there which is that house music -- house and funk influenced dance music -- seem to be everywhere. You go to Africa and there's a big house music scene. Asia has big house music scene. Europe obviously has a big scene. I wanted to recreate the sound of orchestral soul, funk and disco that moved into post-disco house music in the late-'80s and put together a band that would recapture that sound of music when it was orchestral -- there were strings, there were horns, it was big, it was grand -- and to recapture a sound that artists like Nile Rodgers were creating in the late 1970s. I suppose [it's] a sort of sophisticated disco sound.
Between everything that you're doing, how did you find the time to manifest this project?
Wherever I would travel, I would work with some of the best musicians I could find -- the best session musicians, the best session singers. I really was invested in creating a global dance music ensemble or collective, this rotating group of musicians and singers that would change based on wherever I was. For example, I traveled to Ethiopia and I managed to record with some of the most amazing instrumentalists there. I was in Turkey and I recorded strings there and that became a track that was on the album called "Istanbul Disco." It's on the EP. I just came back from Lagos, Nigeria and did the same thing, working with some legendary Afrobeat and funk musicians there. So, where do I find the time? I don't know, but I manage to connect with great musicians wherever I am. I really wanted to create a hybrid fusion music that sounds like my experience of traveling the world.
Do you think of Company Freak as a solo project or band?
I definitely think of it as a band. I'm the producer. I'm the songwriter. It's my vision, but it's for sure collective in the same way that Sly of Sly and the Family Stone was clearly the driving force behind [his band], but it was really a collective of individual talents that came to form this amazing group of people. I feel the same way about Company Freak. We have a set core of musicians who you'll see perform at Rough Trade and SummerStage. There's about 11 or 12 of us in the band. Then I have guest artists that will be here with the band, like Vivian Reed, the Broadway diva who's a part of it. I like that part of it. I like the fact that it's rotating but it's still a collective.
You've taken the international intersections of disco's history very seriously and have recorded all over the world for this EP and upcoming releases. What have been some of your favorite places to record?
I loved recording in Lagos! That stuff will show up on the album when it comes out early next year. I loved it because the level of musicianship in Nigeria is so high, especially in a post-Fela world. What I loved about it is having the opportunity to assemble some of those old school musicians from the '60s and '70s -- and these guys are real industry powerhouses and work horses -- to get them together the kind of music that even they hadn't done in a long time because their was this disco scene in Lagos in the 1970s that many people have since forgotten about. It was a great chance to reunite them and put together a sound and a style that I think hasn't been heard in a long time.
I loved recording in Turkey. The musicians were top notch there as well. Very often when I'm in the recording studio, the musicians that I'm working with, very often we don't speak the same language. For example, some of the musicians spoke exclusively Turkish. I speak English so I need to have translators and facilitators to help with that process, and that's what I love about being in a recording studio -- those opportunities where you have to figure things out on a meta-language level. Language fails you and so you really have to go beyond that. It really does confirm that music is a kind of universal language.