Kings and Queens is a freaky conflation of dance music, like a 31-flavor ice cream social on a hot summer’s day where bongos and subs keep time for a gaggle of face-painters, genies and roller-queens. Yet, it’s more about lifestyle than any generic allegiance or retro revivalism. The National Trust calls it “body music.”
“Times have been tough for everyone,” says founding member Neil Rosario (formerly of Dolomite). “The natural reaction for me is work it out on the dance floor.” But while there is definitely a party going on at various points on Kings & Queens, to merely call it a “party record” is not giving it a proper spin. The group has clearly maintained its labor-of-love approach and penchant for towering stacks of sound, yet Kings and Queens represents a marked sonic departure from The National Trust’s critically acclaimed record, Dekkagar (Thrill Jockey, 2002).
Kings and Queens makes plenty of nods to disco, house, and pop, “but for us, it was more about listening to what was around us on the streets, in parks, clubs, wherever,” said the National Trust’s Mark Henning. Equally present are Chicago-style horns, R&B falsetto, Latino percussion, and bass lines with more soul than a gospel choir. And the presence of these styles on this album is due to contributions of practiced players from each of the many genres.
The production of Kings and Queens is the work of Abel Garibaldi, recording engineer for the likes of R. Kelly, Fat Joe, Ciara and Britney Spears. “The first time I heard R. Kelly’s ‘Ignition Part 1,’ I was floored by the production,” said Mark. “I knew that Abel was part of the team behind that, but I never imagined we’d be able to arrange his participation.”
“Abel is truly one of the good souls around,” Neil said. “We hooked up with him through a common friend. The initial arrangement was for him to produce the vocals but the vibe grew stronger, fists began kissing the air and he was in for the long haul.”
The horns on Kings and Queens are provided by Hypnotic, a group of eight Chicago brothers, all the sons of Kelan Phil Cohran, an early member of the Sun Ra Arkestra and a cofounder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Mark Henning came across Hypnotic the way many Chicagoans have – they were performing on a street corner downtown. Members of Hypnotic also drop verses on the album’s seventh track, “Dirty Little Secrets,” and Mark and Neil helped Hypnotic record their own music between National Trust sessions.
Charles ‘Chuck-a-Luck’ Hosch is one of Chicago’s great unsung heroes of bass with a résumé including duties for the Emotions, Teddy Pendergrass, Little Milton, and back-up playing for Verdine White in Earth, Wind & Fire. “He came to Club Rendezvous to pick up his bass rig back in March when Abel and I were mixing ‘Cruel’. He popped his head in, said he loved what he heard and asked if he could lay something down,” said Mark.
Kings and Queens was mastered by Herb Powers, Jr., a former club DJ whose mastering credits include some of New York City’s greatest dance hits: Run DMC – “Rock Box”; Beastie Boys – “Rock That”; UTFO – “Roxanne, Roxanne”; and Keith Silverflash – “Funky Space Player.”
Much like Dekkagar - the National Trust’s 2002 Thrill Jockey release - the recording of Kings & Queens was a long-term project taking more than two years to complete. Dekkagar was initially intended to merely document the songs and the group without a label or specific release in mind. That freedom allowed the band to spend months with producer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Califone) layering and perfecting the tracks, as many as 70 to a song.
A post-9/11 passport controversy punctuated the end of the Dekkagar era for The National Trust. “Either it was call it a day, hang our heads in defeat and live with the bad memories, or start over and work in the exact opposite frame of mind. So we started with frenzy and celebration as if there were no other option,” said Mark Henning.
The result of that frenzy is Kings and Queens, The National Trust’s second full-length on Thrill Jockey.