The Rise of The Fuzz Band
By Jerome Langston
Success is a journey, not a destination.
The doing, is often more important, than the outcome.
It all goes back to Hampton. That is what occurs to me as I survey the artsy leaning businesses that populate this stretch of Queens Way in Hampton, not far from the storied academic institution, Hampton University. It must be so full circle and lovely for Duane Smith and Nakia Madry-Smith of The Fuzz Band, to have their studio so close to the HU campus. They both graduated from Hampton, along with Brooklyn native Paul Saunders, and their long-running artist showcase, Fuzzy Wednesday’s, was born in this city back in 1997.
As I cross the narrow street with friend and dope-ass photographer, Derico Cooper, K’bana Blaq is standing in front of the band’s studio door, looking every bit like K’bana Blaq…fashion forward, model lean and generous with all kinds of expression. We hug. Then, as we head up the lengthy flight of stairs to get to The Fuzz Band’s private bat cave, I can hear the other members of the band rehearsing new music for tomorrow’s edition of Fuzzy Wednesday’s, at the Palace on Plume in downtown Norfolk. The artist showcase is distinguished as Virginia’s longest running open mic featured event, and has hosted big name music acts like Faith Evans and even Jill Scott, who recently performed with the band as their guest, for a special New Year Eve’s concert that brought in 2013.
Fuzzy’s has also helped to birth the careers of some now prominent locally based artists, including singer and Hampton native Rashard Small. Rashard is about to release a new studio album, An Urban Love Affair, in October. For him, having an artist showcase at Fuzzy’s was validating and affirming. “They helped boost my confidence as an artist,” he tells me later by phone.
Now Nakia is currently giving us life with her urban rock-chick ensemble, which I am particularly interested in because of her black Beatles tee. We love The Beatles, and Nakia knows their catalogue well. As lead singer of The Fuzz Band’s musical off-shoot, D*Nik, Nakia and Duane explore a multitude of sonic influences including The Beatles.
It’s that self-assured musical diversity that sets The Fuzz Band and its multiple member acts: the trap-rock aesthetic of K’bana Blaq, the urban electro-pop of D*Nik, and the emerging jazz-folk of Michon David, apart from other Hampton Roads indie bands. And recently, it even lead to multiple nominations for The Fuzz Band, D*Nik and K’bana, at this year’s Veer Local Music Awards back in February.
Dubbed by many as the Hampton Roads Grammys, the 2nd annual awards show was a sold-out success that gained some national press coverage. I presented three awards that night, including a trophy for Best R&B act to The Fuzz Band. By night’s end, we were all celebrating their five awards: including Song of the Year for D*Nik’s “Day &Night” and Best Live Performer for The Fuzz Band. For me, having been friends with members of the band since my Port Folio Weekly days, the night felt like an affirmation of sorts. I’d always advocated for the musical wunderkinds, as a music critic, despite shots taken at their catalogue by some local peers and general haters.
So now here we are, sitting in their large studio/office space, talking about these recent successes, but more importantly, their remarkably bright future. The entire eight-member band is here: lead singers K’Bana, Nakia and Michon, bandleader Duane, musical director Tavis Simmons, bass player Desmond Whitney, guitarist Aaron Eddy and longtime drummer Jason Jenifer. On August 30th, the Fuzz Band will play the iconic Blue Note in New York City, for the club’s Late Night Groove series. Considered by most to be the finest jazz club in the world, the Greenwich Village institution has hosted music legends like Sarah Vaughn and Dizzy Gillespie. It’s a huge deal for the band, especially for trumpeter Duane and co-lead singer Michon David, who “grew up wanting to be on Blue Note Records.”
The band is also on the verge of releasing new music later this year. Various producers have submitted music, including Hampton Roads native Hannon Lane, who produces multi-platinum artists with super producer Timbaland. “We’re at that point now where we’re ready to put out new music and reintroduce ourselves to those who may have forgotten,” explains Mrs. Madry-Smith.
I ask Duane what has kept the group together so long, as some have been down with the fuzzy movement since its 1997 inception. “I just love them and they’re my family,” he says simply. So I ask each family member what winning means to them. Their answers are varied and candid. “Winning to me, is for us as a band to continue exercising our creativity and grow as a group,” says Desmond. Tavis is addicted to “receiving that hyped feedback from the audience.” Aaron is the young-un, literally, with a birth year of 1992 and just about a year spent in the band. For him, “winning is about making the audience happy and spreading positivity everywhere.” Jason later chimes in about “winning being about enjoying what you do.”
Now as far as taking their career to an even higher level, K’bana, per usual, had some interesting things to say. Among his nuggets, “I want The Fuzz Band to have the deepest desires of their hearts…” You know what? Me, too.