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Akina Adderley, Vintage Playboys stretch out on Say Yes

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Everything’s bigger in Texas, and that ol’ saying applies to the Austin-based Akina Adderley & The Vintage Playboys in more ways than one.

Usually featuring eight or so members, the Vintage Playboys provide a classic-soul foundation over which the dynamic Adderley — granddaughter of trumpeter Nat Adderley, grandniece of saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and daughter of keyboardist Nat Adderley Jr. — sings in a voice that contrasts her diminutive size.

Say Yes, the new album by Adderley and company, is stylistically similar to their self-titled 2009 effort. This time around, though, some songs are noticeably bigger: Three exceed 5:30, and one of them — the standout slow-burner “Easy on Me” — clocks in at almost eight minutes.
Adderley recently checked in from Austin to talk about the new album, addressing the longer songs and the collaboration process with her father, as well as what it meant to be honored by her adopted hometown with a proclamation day in June. Say Yes has been a long time in the making. Was there anything in particular that slowed down its completion?
Akina Adderley: “Yes, a lot of things — most of them completely out of my control. … Being an independent artist, you have to come up with all of the money [for a project], and sometimes there are slowdowns. Also, for this record, my dad was coproducing, and he lives in New Jersey. Sometimes that geographical difference was problematic.

“The other thing was that the lead engineer on the project [Stan Wallace] — who is a very good friend of my dad’s — was diagnosed with throat cancer. So that was really hard, both emotionally and professionally. It was hard to keep any kind of schedule: He was sick, so sometimes he was able to work, and sometimes he’d have to take a break for weeks at a time. So Wallace — who is now, thankfully, cancer-free — mixed a few tunes, and Mark Hallman down here in Austin took over the other tunes, and we kind of kicked it into high gear at the beginning of the summer and knocked them out.”

Your new album has three songs that clock in at more than five minutes, and “Easy on Me” is just shy of eight minutes. In this age of short attention spans, did you seriously consider trimming these songs down at all?
Adderley: “I considered it briefly, but to tell you the truth — and particularly with ‘Easy on Me’ — I decided that in order to retain the integrity of the composition, I really wanted to put it [on the album in full]. Yes, we are a soul band, and yes, a lot of our influences are Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway — and even Motown [artists]; they were the kings of succinct, punchy, pop-soul tunes. But we also have some classic rock influences, and so this was our Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd kind of foray. With ‘Easy on Me,’ that’s how we do it live: They do that outro for ages, and they just go to all kinds of places with it. … That outro, it’s almost a whole new chapter of that song. So to my ear, it doesn’t sound like a repetition of anything. It sounds like a departure into a new place while still within the world of one song.”

Your father is listed as a coproducer of the album. Was he present for any or all of the recording sessions, or did you send him copies of what you had done, and he offered his feedback from afar?
Adderley: “He was not around for many of the sessions at all — just a couple. I would send him things, and he would make comments regarding any kind of editing. I actually became really comfortable hearing the same sorts of things he would hear, so in the studio, I would make the call to overdub a certain thing.
“He came down for a lot of the mixing, and we’d sometimes meet in Dallas [at Wallace’s place]. He did a couple of things on his own in New Jersey. … For the most part, we remained remote and sent each other stuff through the airwaves (laughs). We followed up with phone calls; even though it is the 21st century, my dad is old-school. He likes to get on the phone and talk about it. E-mail would not suffice for his needs.”

Was your plan all along to self-release Say Yes, or did you look around for labels that might be interested in putting it out?
Adderley: “The plan was to self-release, but to keep an open mind about that. We thought about what if I had gone to New York and L.A. and pounded the pavement and tried to get another label interested. But in my heart — and I can’t speak for my dad or the other guys in the band — I was like, ‘You know, I want to finish this record on my own and present it on my own, the way I want to present it. And if I get really lucky and some sweet, independent label is interested, then they would approach me regarding my next record.’ And that way I would begin a project with a label rather than completing a project on my own and then maybe make some changes and concessions because I hooked up with another entity.
“I’m really proud of the record, and I’m hoping that it gets out there and it gets some buzz — and then I do get contacted by some independent labels. It would be really ideal to have some backing and a team behind me next time.”

So, does having a proclamation day in Austin come with any long-lasting benefits, such as free parking on Sixth Street during South by Southwest?
Adderley: “(Laughs) Not exactly. … I’ve been here for about five years, and just the fact I was recognized in that way was so huge and so beautiful and sweet, so it makes me feel good inside when I look at the piece of paper. … I feel like if I take the proclamation around with me, there are some places in Austin that are gonna hook me up with something, don’t you think?”

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Akina Adderley & The Vintage Playboys tour dates:

* Nov. 10: The Parish — Austin, Texas
* Nov. 16: Cedar Street — Austin, Texas
* Dec. 1: Continental Club — Houston
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Akina Adderley at SXSW 2011 — Photo by Chris M. Junior