JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound: high octane funk

Gifted with the hips of Elvis and a smile stolen straight from the Cheshire cat, JC Brooks is the smooth talking, handsome, talented Winslow that got away. Classic and refined, yet, oddly uncouth. Bizarre dance moves executed with smooth precision and a wardrobe for days, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound create an unforgettable blend of punk-rock funk. Brooks’s voice has a strong warble, yet it’s unrestrained. It’s as if he was trained half-way by a gospel choir then shunned, like an unsanctimonious preacher that gave up the faith only to resurrect his passions through rock-soul bravado.

Forces combined, the band is wild as a hurricane. Their chemistry is undeniable, the sound is unbeatable and the shine of their brilliance, immeasurable.

On Tour caught up with Brooks recently to talk shop, mischief, and Craig’s List band recruitment. He’s an advocate for pleasure and Chicago is mighty lucky he’s arrived. Ready to dig into the scene, the group is noted and regarded as the best option for a live act whenever they grace a local venue.

On the record and full of intrigue, we bring you an unedited chat with JC Brooks.

It’s clear you have a background in musical theatre. Your shows are very fast-paced, and you’re all over the stage. When did you start performing in theatre? 

Oh, since I was a little kid basically. It’s always been a part of my life and then I went to school for it. And, yeah, then I moved to Chicago specifically, rather than New York or LA because there’s a lot of new and exciting theatre happening here…and it’s just a really great place to build my resume. Then I kind of stumbled onto the band thing and, I mean, I’ve been singing and dancing since high school. The show that I was doing when I answered that Craigslist ad was a production of Ragtime. I did a lot of super legit singing (laughs), and now I shred my vocal chords.

You mention answering a Craigslist ad. Is that how you came to form JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound? What was the dynamic like? Did you jive right away?

(Laughs) Oh, I’ve met strangers online and decided to do far less noble things. So, yeah, if we hadn’t jived right away it would have been really easy to walk away from, like, Craigslist weirdoes. I had answered bad ads before. So, I thought this wasn’t a thing for me. But, no,it was me and Bill (our guitarist), and we got along well at the first meeting. We had a lot to talk about and the next time we got together we brought in some music and some songs that we had written based on what we talked about. Songs that we had that fit into that post-punk-soul thing, and went from there.

Did you find the other members through Craigslist as well?

Bill posted the ad, and I answered. We found our drummer, Kevin, organically and we also found our keyboardist, Andy, the same way.

Musical theatre people are their own brand of crazy…would you say it was hard to work with a group of guys that didn’t have the same theatre background?

(Laughs) Yeah, I was starting to miss the theatre crazy. I mean, this is definitely a different type of crazy, but I realized I missed the theatre crazy.

Would you say it was easy to blend your showmanship and style with the other guys in your band?

Ah, sure. I would say it was fairly easy, because the show didn’t start out as being as theatrical as it is now. The JC character kind of developed over time. So, you know, when we first started it was just a straight down the line band. I wasn’t leaning as heavily on the theatricality, that style of performance, because I had been in a bunch of other bands before and you just kind of work within the form of what you’re doing. You adapt.

So you released your most recent album Howl in May. Where did you find the inspiration?

Just lived our lives. We started writing it around. I mean, we had a couple of the songs written before we were touring last summer. But we got around to really writing it around August and September. We sent it out to different producers, and we had Howard (producer at Bloodshot Records) nailed down by November. So, the album came together pretty quickly. We were writing at a fast pace and pretty intensely. And, also, this is the album where I’ve written the most. And, you know, you have to talk about shitty experiences and love.

Absolutely, is this your first full-length tour?

No, we started touring back in 2011. We’ve been on the road probably 60-70% of every year since then. When we first started touring it was definitely in longer chunks. You know, at least three to five weeks. Then, we’d be back home for a week or two. And, actually, since last winter when we took time to write the album, it’s been broken up a lot more. Everybody has stuff at home, so it’s a commitment.

That’s an amazing accomplishment. You also played at Lollapalooza last year, on the Sony stage, if I’m not mistaken?

Yeah! It was the stage facing the one the Chilli Peppers were playing on. That’s a big, big, stage. And we went on and they were doing their sound check. Holy shit…it’s an honor. People come from all around the country, they come to Chicago for this festival, and it was an honor to perform with other bands that I’m in awe of.

You also had a few big names in your most recent music video for Rouse Yourself. How did that come about?

Well, Jake Johnson (from the hit TV sitcom, New Girl) is a fan of the show, and he’s a very good friend of Bill’s from high school. His friend Aubrey Plaza (from Parks & Recreation) was another mutual friend and decided to tag along. Thankfully, she was available that day!

Now what about Chicago? What’re some of your favorite haunts?

Favorite dive bar? Definitely Old Towne Pub. Favorite food? Taste of Lebanon and Gigio’s. Uptown Lounge is another spot I spend an inordinate amount of money.

Well, I doubt you’ll stay hyper local for long. What do you see in the future of JC and the Uptown Sound?

I don’t know, you know? I try to steer away from that, I honestly couldn’t say. We’re probably going to make at least one more album together, but after that…who knows!

Tell me some stories from being on tour. What are some of the wildest things to happen while you were on the road?

We had our truck torn apart by Texas police because they found some weed, but they let us go. I met my favorite porn star in Toronto. And, later on, found a blue,velvet, dressmaker’s dummy that I hauled through the streets for two miles because I was lost, trying to find my way back to the hotel. I got to sing with one of my rock idols, actually! We did two sets in one day and during our first set Cory Glover, of Living Colour fame, saw us. He liked what we did and our drummer Kevin has a Living Colour tattoo on his shoulder. I was a fan in high school. When I was in high school, I was a fan of rock and alternative and that was not a popular choice for young black men, so I got made fun of a lot. Even then, when I played in bands, I tried to be a black punk-rock vocalist. So, Glover sat in and we played a cover of Black Cadillac.

Well, I’m excited for your show. I’m stoked to see where you guys land. I expect big things!

Thank you so much, man. I appreciate you letting me talk at you for a while (laughs). Come find me after the show! We’ll grab a drink and chat.

-Cole Scott, junior editor, On Tour Magazine

In celebration of a successful 2013, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound will be headlining a New Year’s Eve event at Chicago O’Hare’s Intercontinental Hotel. The 17th annual Rock ‘N’ Roll Ball is sponsored by 93XRT and boasts over 2,000 seats, three ballrooms, four bands, and an open bar package.  Hotel packages are also available to promote stumbling home rather than driving. The event promises to deliver as not a lip shall remain dry nor a rug remain uncut. Doors open at 8PM. You can find more information regarding tickets and packages here.