Make a Scene: New band offers a blend of musical genres

  • SIX ON A SLOPE. North Slope is, left to right, Jon Williams, Michael McDaniel, John Vance (kneeling), Nick Kirkham, Matt O'Neill and Devon MacGougan. (Photo By John Larson)

A new Tacoma band offers up a number of musical genres paired with a high-energy, entertaining performance style. North Slope consists of John Vance on vocals, Jon Williams on vocals, Nick Kirkham on guitar and vocals, Devon MacGougan on bass and vocals, Michael McDaniel on saxophone and vocals and Matt O’Neill on drums.

The group started in February. MacGougan and Kirkham had spent several years in a band that broke up last August. They knew Williams and spoken to him about starting a new band. O’Neill met MacGougan at a party and they bonded over their fondness for the band Steely Dan. Vance has been doing freestyle rapping for some time. One day he was rapping in front of Corner Bar, an establishment in North Slope near the house where Kirkham and MacGougan live. Kirkham has known Vance since second grade. He spoke to his longtime friend about joining the group. O’Neill grew up in Tacoma but had been living for many years in Nashville, where he was doing studio musician work and also touring as part of the band for an R&B artist. Last fall he was in town and ran into MacGougan, who invited him to his house. They jammed for a bit and O’Neill said he would be interested in getting together when he moved back here.

With a lineup established, they needed a name. They bounced around several ideas before settling on North Slope, a designated historical district located between Stadium District and Old Town. It is a fitting name because, except for O’Neill, the rest of the band lives within a 15-block radius of Corner Bar.

The band has about 15 original songs and is working on five more. They do not play any cover tunes yet but they have considered adding some to their repertoire.

All the members contribute to the songwriting. Many songs begin with jamming on riffs during practice. After the other components are written, O’Neill comes in and adds saxophone parts.

“Our music is very much a fusion,” MacGougan observed. North Slope combines elements of blues, funk, gospel, reggae and rock. Musing upon this, he made up the term “clusterfunk” to describe the style.

The band has recorded one song, called “Paycheck to Paycheck,” which they plan to make available as a free MP3 file.

They recorded the song at London Bridge Studio in Seattle. The facility is considered a top-notch studio, where noted local bands such as Candlebox, Alice in Chains and Temple of the Dog have recorded material. Kirkham said that to get mentally prepared for the session they listened to only albums recorded there.

It was Vance’s first time in a studio. To see a wall with a display of multi-platinum albums recorded there was a “surreal” experience for him, as he described it.

Once the band has enough money they hope to return to the studio to record a full-length album.

The group played at the recent Urban Arts Festival. They have played shows at O’Malley’s and the Backstage in Tacoma and several bars in Seattle.

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