THS Interview: Aabaraki Spreads Audio Love the Brooklyn Way


Aabaraki is a Brooklyn-based band described as having a sound that’s Gnarls Barkley meets the Black Keys. The quartet consists of guitarist Brian Forbes, vocalist/keyboardist Akie Bermiss, drummer Attis Clopton, and bassist Ari Folman-Cohen and they all bring a different form of eclectic funk to their musical union.

Brian, also the owner of The Gallery Recording Studio, began recruiting exceptional musicians he encountered during various sessions, and the group fell into place. The band has amassed a rapidly growing following since releasing their self-titled EP in 2011, and has toured the world sharing soul, funk and audio joy.

They’ve got more performance dates in the works and a live album to share because according to Aabaraki, there’s nothing more explosive then seeing them perform in the flesh and if you can’t then listening to a live record is the next best thing.

We caught up with Brian to chat about the coolness that is Aabaraki, why their live sets rock (no pun intended) and how each member may potentially be a human Wikipedia.

On paper your sound is described as Gnarls Barkley meets the Black Keys but there’s also hints of Hendrix, and even the Beatles. Was it a conscious effort to create your sound or was it a product of your chemistry?

We wrote almost all the songs just sticking all four of us in the same room for as long as we could stand to be there and just played. There’s a lot of commonality between us but everyone also has a different take on what they think is really dope, so that’s where the cool creativity comes in and everybody gets to put a stamp on something. It can be equally valuable where let’s say the guitar player, I may want to step up and play a Hendrix riff, but then if the Beatles are Ari’s least favorite band and we force him to play a Paul McCartney baseline, maybe that might be a point where he signs the most in terms of pushing ourselves outside of our boundaries. There’s not one of us who is really in a box listening wise and In terms of stereotypes.

We’re looking at 80 plus years of recording music now as history, not to mention what’s been written down beforehand and then we’re really trying to open their eyes to what’s actually new to do and I guess that’s a line that we’re always trying to ride. You want to do something new but you want to do something honest, and I think honesty is the most important thing to do in music and I guess our way of dealing with that is to try to think about it the least we can, especially as a producer. If you think too much you loose it so you want to try to follow your instincts as much as you can as opposed to thinking about it like, “What would Bruno Mars do?” That’s the worst thing you can do.

Do you guys ever feel pressure to be less traditional with instruments in the face of the digitalization of everything?

There’s always pressure and I can only imagine the pressure bands have after they have a hit album to recreate that. There’s pressure in your own brain about what people think is a hit, and about what people think is popular right now and again I think that’s almost the place where it is important to try not to think too much. For myself it’s important to listen to a lot of new music as well as old music that maybe you haven’t discovered yet and keep that osmosis happening, so you subconsciously have something to feed from when you’re writing.

We are in really interesting times in terms of how cool you can make music sound with technology. I’m a big fan of Pro Tools. I use it every day and different techniques but you cant lose the force of the trees. If there is one trend in music today that makes things difficult, I think there’s a trend towards making music that sounds really fucking good that doesn’t really have that much substance. And I think people are having a hard time differentiating music as soundtracks to their lives or soundtracks to the latest Girls episode, as opposed to something that you really want to put on that can move you. It’s getting easier and easier to produce a record that sounds like a hit record, even in the melodic structure and even in the lyrics that you hear. I think that’s the struggle to find what’s really honest and what really moves you. “Wrecking Ball” may very well move a lot of people, and you can write a song by committee, by having five or six writers but it’s one of the things that I’ve even struggled with. There’s something that you may have read about or your friends told you about it and it’s like, “Do I really like this or does it just sound good?” Just sounding good to me doesn’t mean shit. Everything can sound good and I think the most difficult thing is that it’s hard enough listening to other people’s music but then to turn around and use that same compass on yourself and say this song, my baby that’s our baby—was this even worth pursuing or was this really honest or is it not my best work?

What are some cool facts about the band?

Our bass player is from the home of Johnny Appleseed, Leominster, Massachusetts. He’s a strangely important factor in the spiritual product of the band [laughs]. And you can basically count on us to essentially be well versed in all sorts of things in all sorts of fields. If you ever needed to know what is the difference between drinking coffee in Massachusetts vs. New York vs. St. Barth’s is, or where the best hamburger is or essentially any query that you have, we’re sort of the Google search engine of different opinions so if anyone wants just email, we’ll get back to you with essentially our opinion on anything and it will be the definitive opinion [laughs].

What can fans expect from your live album?

The live record was an awesome experience. Our first two records were really great and I really dig the sound but our live shows are a fairly different visual experience, and part of our philosophy is, put us in front of people and our live show will convert them into fans. We really wanted it to capture that, so I think it’s a close to a show as you can get right now and if you don’t live in New York or you don’t have a chance to come check us out live, I think it’s a moving 45 minute set and if you have been to a show it’s awesome to be able to relive kind of the best of at a really good sounding show as opposed to say a bootleg or a board recording. I really love how it turned out and it’s a good productive vinyl. I think it’s a really beautiful experience to listen to the record.

About the author

Starrene Rhett Rocque is co-founder of The Hollywood Shuffle. She's an experienced entertainment journalist based in Brooklyn, New York.