Adrian Younge and William Hart talk about their new album
by Chris Pattinson
William Hart. Adrian Younge. Two names that the average music fan may not be aware of. But hopefully, their upcoming collaboration will change all of that. Adrian Younge is a modern-day musical prodigy. After finding himself stifled by the limitations of a sampler, he taught himself how to play a range of instruments, the list of which is endless. A small portion of what he plays includes electric guitar, bass, vibraphone, cello, glockenspiel, bell tree, timpani, Hammond organ, electric sitar, flute, piano, drums, Wurlitzer, and he has even created an instrument called the Selene. His music sounds like it was created in decades long gone but at the same time it features an undeniable understanding of exactly what is going on right now. Maybe that is why the collaboration with William Hart works so well.
William Hart is the lead singer of Philly soul legends the Delfonics. He is the writer of the majority of their hits and possessor of that (incredibly still perfect) falsetto vocal. He has continued working and putting out music through the decades both under his own name and as the Delfonics. Now he wants to put the Delfonics name back on the map for a new generation to fall in love with his sweet-soul love songs.
Adrian Younge proves to be the perfect partner for this project, as he has studied the Delfonics and their music for years. Adrian’s previous album, the amazing Something About April, contained songs that Adrian purposely composed to mimic the Delfonics style, as if he was already writing music in anticipation for this collaboration.
So how do I describe the resulting album? A meshing of styles, genres, times, and minds that seem almost destined to have collided. It sounds like a record that could have been made in the ’60s, but at the same time it has an utterly modern hip-hop vibe running throughout it. Any MC would feel right at home rapping over these tracks. And yet, in the hands of William Hart, he has created his signature smooth soul songs.
I recently had the opportunity to speak at length with both artists about their upcoming album, Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics, due out on March 12, 2013, on Wax Poetics Records.
How did you two initially hook up?
Adrian Younge: Basically through Twitter. A fan contacted me on Twitter saying that he knew William Hart and essentially wanted to hook us up.
William Hart: There are a lot of people that have been entranced with my music. I hooked up with Adrian through a friend of his that said he was looking for me. So one thing led to another, and I ended up going out to California, and I recorded fourteen songs. I wrote all of them, and Adrian did the music. It came out like a really good combination, put the Delfonics back on the map I thought. [laughs]
Had you heard any of Adrian’s previous work?
Hart: No, my idea was to go down there…because any kind of music I can write to it—I can even write country and western. I like writing lyrics to the melody of the music—you know, different melodies and things like that. I can put a counter melody to whatever music you throw at me. When I went there, he had a whole bunch of music, but he had no lyrics to none of them. It took us about a month, and we did fourteen songs.
Adrian, were you a fan of the Delfonics older material?
Younge: Oh yeah, man. There’s a song on Something About April called “Turn Down the Sound,” it’s the first song on the album, and that song was modelled after…it was supposed to be if the RZA had produced the Delfonics in the late 1960s—how I think it would sound. And so basically, I was studying Delfonics stuff for years. I studied Delfonics to do the Black Dynamite stuff. I’ve been a fan, and I’ve just studied their music for so long that when I got the opportunity to do this, it just really blew my mind.
Do you have a favorite track from the Delfonics older material?
Younge: My favorite track of the Delfonics is “He Don’t Really Love You”—it’s one of the first songs that they ever did.
William, what is the definitive Delfonics lineup from back in the day?
Hart: That would be myself; Wilbert [Hart], my brother; and Randy Cain.
Were any of the other Delfonics members involved in this album?
Younge: It was just William, because they don’t really do much stuff together. Plus, Major Harris [recently] died, Randy Cain died [in 2009], so there’s only really Wilbert Hart, who is William’s brother, but he does his own thing, and William does his own thing.
Hart: As you get older, you have to take it a little slower, and guys have different opinions, and they want to do different things. Me, I just want to carry the legacy of the Delfonics. My brother Wilbert does his own thing, and I’m just doing my own thing trying to carry on the legacy, you know. I was the sound of the Delfonics; I am the signature sound, so I decided to carry on the name. But this new album, it’s really different, and I’m looking forward to this taking the Delfonics’ career even further.
Younge: And, when it comes to the [classic] Delfonics stuff, all of those hits, that’s pretty much William Hart that wrote most of that stuff, you know. You’ll see a lot of the publishing going to Thom Bell or Stan Watson, but Stan Watson was their manager; he didn’t write anything. And Thom Bell arranged a lot of the instrumentals and all of that stuff. So stuff like “La-La Means I Love You,” that’s all William Hart, so he’s always been the leader of the Delfonics as far as the writing is concerned and as a singer. Plus, he owns the name the Delfonics, so because he owns the name and was always the leader, I used him as the lead singer and I brought my own two backup singers to sing with him just for this version of the Delfonics. It’s the same singers I used on Something About April—Loren Oden and Saudia Mills. Saudia is actually the girl that’s on the cover of the 45 single [and LP]—that’s her. And then also Om’mas Keith is on the single [“Stop and Look (And You Have Found Love)”]. But for the most part, the whole album is Loren Oden and Saudia Mills as backup.
William, where did the actual name the Delfonics come from?
Hart: Well, that was my idea. Actually, it came from a stereo box that was in my house. Back in the day, they had the double reels—remember the reel-to-reel tapes? And mine said “Aurophonic Stereo,” and at that particular time I named my group the Aurophonics. And from there, we had a manager named Stan Watson, and he liked the sound Del-Phonics, and so I got the Del from him, and the fonic came from me.
What was the recording process like for this new album?
Hart: It was comfortable, very comfortable. It was laid back, you know. I took as much time as I needed to make sure the lyrics were balanced to go with the flow of the music that Adrian laid out. I had to be very skillful and had to take my time in certain areas to place the lyrics where they would fall right in with wherever the music was going, you know. So it’s that kinda thing, it’s like a blank canvas… I’m an artist; just give me the canvas, and I’ll paint the painting.
Younge: He was great to work with, man. He works hard, he has a very open mind, and he’s progressive. You know, he didn’t just want to do things that were like old Delfonics stuff; he wanted to take that old style and make it a little bit more modern.
What sound were you aiming for?
Younge: We did everything that they would have done in the ’60s. I don’t have any computers in my studio; it’s all analog tape. All analog tape, all old equipment. I mean, my mics are like from the ’60s and early ’70s. Everything in there is old. So when William came in to my studio, he was pleasantly surprised, because he said it felt like going back in time.
Hart: Yeah, yeah, twilight zone, you know. [laughs] It’s all the old equipment, old microphones—we had the old microphones like what Frank Sinatra used. Everything old, you know, old organs, everything from, like, back in the day that was very well kept and preserved.
Younge: He was a natural. He works really hard. He has a great voice. And we sat there and we wrote together; we wrote the entire album together. That guy is a genius, man. I learned a lot from him. I learned how to write sweet romantic songs in the style that they wrote back then. It was just one of the best feelings of my life as far as music is concerned. The first time I heard his voice on one of my songs, I was just totally mesmerized. Because I know his voice so well, so to hear him on something that you created was just crazy.
How did the songwriting process work?
Younge: Essentially, I wrote all of the backing tracks; he wrote all the lyrics. We came together and wrote some lyrics together, but for the most part, he wrote all the lyrics, and I wrote all the backing tracks. We recorded the album in two sessions, and these two sessions were a week each.
You recorded your vocals in two week-long sessions? That seems fast.
Hart: Well, it kind of blew his mind a little bit; he couldn’t believe I was putting these songs together one after another like that, you know. I’ve been writing a long time, but I had never actually written to anybody else’s music like that; I usually wrote to all my own music, usually put together with Thom Bell. But if you give me a blank track, I can give it back to you with a beautiful song.
Did you have any of the lyrics already, or did you write everything once you heard the music?
Hart: Some of them I had before, like, for instance, the song “Enemies.” I had already written that song. I just put those lyrics into that music.
Did you have any further input after your vocals were recorded? Were you present for mixing sessions?
Hart: I did the vocals and the writing, and then I went back to Philadelphia, I rested, and let Adrian do all the mixing down there, because the younger mind today will clash with the older mind, because we mixed things differently back in the day. [If] kids are trying to get a true back-in-the-day type of sound, it might be good to invite one of us old guys to these mixing sessions.
Your vocals are still incredible after all these years. How do you keep your voice in such good shape?
Hart: [laughs] Thank you, man, thank you. Well, you know, no smoking, no drinking, staying young in the mind. And exercising, playing a little golf, fishing. I eat a lot of plant-based products, and, you know, you stay as fit as you possibly can. Sometimes, I can’t believe that I can sing that way at will. And I don’t understand it actually; I know that at my age right now, I shouldn’t be singing like that.
It still sounds effortless.
Hart: Yeah, some people have heard it and thought it was something I did back in the ’60s. [laughs]
Explain the vibe of the album.
Younge: It’s quite conceptual; like, if you listen to Something About April, it’s really deep and cinematic, and this album is deep and cinematic as well. It’s deep and cinematic from an Italian [soundtrack] perspective, also from an American perspective as far as old music is concerned. It sounds like an album that the RZA from Wu-Tang would sample. So all of those kind of cinematic, dark, ominous sources that he would go to to sample, it’s like an album that’s full of that kind of music.
Do you play all of the instruments on the Delfonics album? Or is your band, Venice Dawn, on there too?
Younge: I played most of it. I got my band a little more involved, but I played most of the instruments. I’d say probably eighty-five percent. But my band is on there. My drummer David Henderson, he’s playing on stuff. Jack Waterson is playing some guitar. Everybody in my band is definitely represented on there, but I’m still playing most of the stuff.
I’m in love with this album. It sounds like something that could have been made back in the ’60s, but at the same time it’s got a modern hip-hop twist too. The drums especially give it a real hip-hop feel; you can quite easily picture MCs rapping over a lot of these tracks.
Hart: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Fantastic! I’m glad to hear that, because the world needs to hear that good music again, and it’s still happening.
I hope the album does really well. It should appeal to soul fans from back in the day, right through to today’s hip-hop fans.
Hart: Yeah, well, you can’t do nothing but continue to try. And I’m going to continue to try and keep myself in good shape so I can sound like I’m supposed to sound as an artist. It amazes a lot of the young people, so many people that are sampling my music, my voice and even from this new album and from [my solo record] The Heart of the Delfonics. They’re sampling my music, and I’m loving this stuff. I feel like I want to get into mixing, you know, be in some of these videos with the young kids, you know what I mean? Doing some licks with their raps or some hooks you know.
I know you worked with Ghostface on the track “After the Smoke Is Clear” back in 1996. What was that experience like?
Hart: It was very nice, very nice, and it’s going to be nice working with them again, you know. Everything comes full circle. I’m just looking forward to working with them. Ghostface just did a rap song to one of the songs that I wrote.
How do you feel about the Delfonics being heavily sampled by hip-hop artists throughout the ’90s right through to now?
Hart: I really thank them. Because it cleans their music up; they’re going to get the nice clean songs and the nice clean hooks. To use my music, you would have to be using it for the cleanliness of it, because I don’t do anything that’s dirty.
The video for the “Stop and Look (And You Have Found Love)” is a really cool concept. Who was it that came up with the idea of the ’90s theme?
Younge: I came up with the idea for it, because the Delfonics did a lot for hip-hop in the ’90s, because they were sampled all over the place. So a lot of hip-hop heads know about the Delfonics because of those samples. So I kind of wanted to bring William—instead of taking him all the way back to the ’60s—I kind of wanted to create a world where he was relevant in these past generations, not just one. So that’s why I chose the ’90s as the middle ground. So it’s like he’s still relevant now in the present, he was relevant back in the day, and he was relevant in the middle, which was the ’90s. And also with the album, I feel like it has hip-hop sentiments, so I just felt that it would be more interesting to put him in the ’90s versus putting him in the ’60s, because it’s kind of expected for him to be in the ’60s.
Did the Delfonics make any music videos back in the day?
Hart: This is my first one, and, actually, it’s more or less leaning to a younger crowd, because they need some older guidance in their music. Everybody can listen to it; I write songs for everybody to enjoy; your Grandmother can listen to it, your children can listen to it, and this is the way you should think when you’re writing. That’s how I’ve always thought, and I’m proud to say that over the years I haven’t written anything that was filthy or degrading, or anything that would harm the mind of a human being that I’m writing to.
In the mid-’70s, it seems like you took a step back from recording. Was there any reason for that?
Hart: Well, if you notice, all of the groups had to take a step back, because we were not disco groups, and in the mid-’70s, that was when the disco thing was getting stronger. It started turning all of the clubs in to disco places. So if you didn’t have disco music, they stopped playing it. So now it’s coming around full circle again. This is why I put my own record company together. Then I met Adrian Younge. I think we’re a good team. He doesn’t read music and neither do I; the combination is definitely outside of the box as far as music as it is known is concerned. We’ve come up with some very, very odd—and very different—moods.
How do you feel the new album compares to the classic Delfonics material?
Hart: In my personal opinion, it’s as good as anything that I’ve ever done musically. What happens though, the amount of airplay that it gets determines whether it’s as good, because it’s all music, you know. Say, for instance, if they never really played “La-La Means I Love You,” it would just be another song. But they gave it the airplay. I have songs that I know if they got the airplay…[like] “She’s the Kinda Girl”—I don’t know if you’ve heard that one or not; it’s off the first disc of The Heart of the Delfonics. It’s a beautiful love song, you know.
Is it a natural progression from the classic material?
Younge: My goal with any album is to always try and make an album that’s better than anything I’ve ever done before and better than anything the artist has done before. So that’s my goal. Whether that was accomplished or not, I don’t know, I really don’t. But I know that I strived hard to make the best album. So if you ask me if it’s better than their old stuff, I won’t ever say it’s better than the old stuff. If you ask me if it’s as good as the old stuff, I would say, to me, it is. If you ask me if it sounds like the old stuff, I would say a lot of it does, but it’s more so in the future. I want people to expect something classic but not expect to hear the same thing rehashed; I want to push it forward. We strived collectively; William and I strived to push this forward, to make it special, and to us it is. To us, it’s something that we really love, and we just hope that other people do.
What has the response been like?
Younge: The response has been extremely good. Are you familiar with Souls of Mischief? They are in love with the album. I’ve been hanging with them lately, and they love the album. And, in fact, we used one of the beats [“Enemies”] from this album on my [upcoming] Ghostface album as well. RZA loves the album, loves the album, so we’re getting a lot of respect from people, so that’s always a good sign.
William, what would you consider to be the high point in your career?
Hart: Oh, when I got the Grammy Award for “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).” And also, there’s always this little lurking thing in the back of my mind… I was riding down the street in my car and I heard the first song that I ever recorded for the first time on the radio. And I couldn’t believe I was hearing myself on the radio, and that sticks in my mind. It’s like something that never goes away. I remember the time of day it was, I remember exactly where I was, and it was amazing to hear, you know? It was “He Don’t Really Love You”—that was the first hit, the first song we put out. So when I heard that on the radio, that was the highlight of my life, even above getting the Grammy.
Chris Pattinson writes regularly for HipHopSite.com.