Jarvis Church has worn many different hats with distinction over his fascinatingly varied and highly successful musical career. As Gerald Eaton, he first came to prominence as the frontman for The Philosopher Kings, the ground-breaking R&B-rooted pop group that became very popular in Canada in the 1990's, and who broke the Soul barrier on Canadian pop radio. As half of the production and songwriting team Track and Field (alongside fellow King Brian West), he was then instrumental in Nelly Furtado's rise to multi-platinum international stardom. He continues to write and produce for a wide range of artists (including K'Naan), as well as recording and performing as Jarvis Church.
If forced to choose a single role, however, Jarvis would unhesitatingly select 'soul singer.' "Through all the different genres I've worked in, the centre is soul. I consider myself a soul singer. I feel blessed that I can both produce and perform, but I love performing so much. I've always loved being onstage." That passion and commitment is vividly showcased on the new Jarvis Church album, The Soul Station Vol. 1: The Songs Of Sam Cooke - A Tribute. To be released on Rezolute Music on October 9, this is the first in a series of planned Soul Station releases, all designed to celebrate the work of the soul music greats who have so deeply impacted Jarvis' life and career.
Reading Dream Boogie, the biography of soul music pioneer Sam Cooke, helped spark the whole Soul Station concept, Jarvis explains. "I was captivated by the story of his life as well as his music. Sam had such a strong presence, and his music was tied into the civil rights movement. I read the book while I was living in downtown Los Angeles, the same area he lived in. As I listened to his music, I just thought 'these are great songs and I want people to hear them. I want to sing them.' The whole idea of the Soul Station series came from that."
To realize his soul vision, Church assembled an A-list of Toronto musicians and backing singers. His band comprised keyboardist Michael Kaeshammer (himself a successful recording artist), drummer Davide Di Renzo (Holly Cole, Sophie Milman), bassist Marc Rogers (Philosopher Kings, Michael Kaeshammer), vibraphonist Michael Davidson (Elvisbossanova, Hobson's Choice), guitarist Justin Abedin (Nelly Furtado, Justin Hines), and saxophonist Perry White (Shuffle Demons, Dave Young), plus background vocalists Wade O. Brown and Chris Rouse.
His now deep experience as a producer meant Jarvis Church knew exactly how to get the best out of his soul posse. "One thing I've learned as a producer is that the real magic in songs comes from great musicians. They are key to making great music," he explains. "I was so fortunate to work with some of the world's best musicians. I call them ninjas or assassins, as they're like an elite squad. When you've got those guys just in there doing what they do best you are going to get that magic."
To capture the spontaneity and intimacy that characterizes the best soul music recordings, Jarvis insisted on making the record "live and off the floor. Everybody played at once. We did the whole thing in just two days, and this is what it sounds like. The recording process for me was just very simple. I wanted to get an incredible studio and engineer, plus great musicians to go and play incredible songs and just have a good time."
The sessions took place at Revolution Studios in Toronto, with additional work at Noble Street Studios. Assisting producer Church were noted engineer Saam Hashemi (Skydiggers, Tomi Swick) and world-renowned string arranger/conductor Peter Cardinali (The Boomers, Ray Charles). Jarvis describes the resulting sound as "like a smooth, velvet jacket. They all have that feeling. When you get such great musicians together and tell them 'you're going to play a song we all know and love and we're going to play it just how they played it,' then everybody just comes alive."
On his Soul Station recordings, Jarvis is not out to reinvent the wheel. He approaches these soul classics with real reverence and respect, yet infuses them with his own richly soulful personality. He's not seeking to impress with vocal pyrotechnics, but his relaxed and smooth delivery is the perfect vehicle to take these great tunes for a new and totally enjoyable ride. The Sam Cooke classics covered here range from the civil rights anthem "A Change Is Gonna Come" and the tender plea of "Bring It On Home" to the harmony-rich "Steal Away," a track Jarvis singles out as a personal favourite. He describes the joyously upbeat "We're Having A Party" as "a song that captures what we wanted to do on this album. You put it on and everyone instantly feels a certain happier energy."
On each album, Jarvis Church will contribute at least a couple of original compositions, written and recorded in a timeless feel. "It was about looking at the body of work we've just done and what's a song I want to add to it, in the same vein," he explains. "I wanted to add a party song here, a strutting good time song, and the idea for 'Do It Better' came really quickly." The first single from The Soul Station, "Do It Better" is a co-write by Jarvis and Michael Kaeshammer. It sounds like a tune belonging to the Billboard charts of the early '60s, and is already getting a very positive reaction at radio (it was a CBC Radio Song of the Week).
Sam Cooke first made his mark in music as the teenaged lead singer of the a cappella-rooted vocal group the Soul Stirrers. It's fitting then that Jarvis Church delivers such soul-stirring performances here. "When I sing, it takes all my attention and focus, and I feel stirred myself," says Jarvis. "I think that's what soul music is, singing that stirs the emotions."
That is also strikingly reflected in Jarvis Church's natural and compelling performance style. "I'm addicted to the place I go to when I perform," he explains. "I feel the audience can tell the music transports me, and that invites them to go somewhere. It's the entertainer's responsibility to always put it out there." He can't wait to head out on the road with these great songs, musicians and singers. "I want the Soul Station series to be synonymous with soul music and a great and entertaining live show."
Other soul greats whose classic material will be the focus of future Soul Station releases are Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson, and Marvin Gaye, so the fun is just beginning. "I want these albums to take people back to the feeling they had when they heard these songs for the first time," says Jarvis. "The songs are the forefront of this project. I want to keep it all soul, from that vintage era."
Tune into Jarvis Church's Soul Station - and keep it locked!