Born out of Dave Lee’s, aka Joey Negro, passion for jazz, soul, funk and disco.
Lengthy artist careers in the music business are few and far between. But in the ever-changing world of dance music they are scarcer than a signed Moroder twelve. Joey Negro/Dave Lee’s debut release may have been part of the first wave of UK house back in 1988, but twenty years later he is still on top of his game.
“I’d been in a few bands in the 80s,” he says, “but when house came along one of the things that appealed to me was that you suddenly didn’t need a group of musicians to make a record. However, having produced loads of keyboard based tracks it’s always nice to go back to the band sound for a change….especially now that I’m completely in charge!”
So what’s he been up to of late? “I’m still putting out a 12” every six weeks as well as working on remixes (recent Joey Negro reworks include Kelly Rowland, Roisin Murphy and David Jordon) and of course I normally DJ somewhere in the world at the weekend – to 5000 people in St Petersburg last Saturday for example.”
And to top it all, the prolific producer has in fact scored more than ten Top 40 crossovers, from the rowdy 90s dance-floor battle-cry of Hedboys’ Girls & Boys to the chart-smashing cosmic chill of Jakatta’s American Dream, and the house anthem Make A Move On Me. The man who glides as effortlessly through his aliases as he does the musical landscape also conceived and produced Take That’s early disco classic Relight My Fire, and collaborated with Seal on the Top 10 smash My Vision.
The Sunburst Band is a collective born out of Mr Lee’s passion for boogie, funk, disco and jazz. “It’s not like I’m the guy who harps on that it was so much better back in ’78,” says Dave with a smile, “but at the same time I’m a bit of a polar resistor who goes against the flow. When my mates were buying The Clash and Cocteau Twins, I was into D Train and Funkadelic. Similarly now as so many dance acts are making electro I’ve gone the other way with this project. I’ve missed the performance thing, the intensity of a band playing together. Rock and indie have never moved away from the guitar and drums sound, whereas dance (be it R&B or house) tends to be mainly programmed. And it’s not that I have a problem with that, I just wanted to do something that I don’t hear too often nowadays. Some people might call it retro, but I’m just a guy writing songs and performing them with his band.”
Forming in 1998, the release of debut album Here Comes The Sunburst Band won critical acclaim with both old school heads as well as nu breed disco and house fans. Tracks like Garden of Love and Delicious became scene classics, championed by DJs from Pete Tong to 4 Hero to Dmitri from Paris. The follow-up album Until The End of Time featured cuts like Far Beyond, which all the top US hip hop guys still spin, and soul anthem Everyday – a favourite with Annie Mac, Trevor Nelson and even Heston Blumenthal – who included it as one of his Desert Island Discs on Radio 4.
“New album Moving With The Shakers took over me for a while,” says Dave. “And I spent eighteen months working on it, going back to the songs, honing the production and lyrics, scrapping tracks and starting new ones to make sure there were no fillers. As you can imagine, it’s pretty intense making an album when you’re the main songwriter, producer, label and A&R man. On this third album, I also wanted to say something in the songs and avoid the banal lyrics that plague so much dance music.”
Journey Intro opens with live strings and luscious vocals setting the scene for the 17-track opus. Our Lives Are Shaped is a nod towards the East London 2 step soul, sound system days: “Lyrically it’s about how our lives are steered by the people we love and how they can alter our experiences and perception of the world”. Next up is a slinky rework of David Bowie’s Fashion. “I’m a big Bowie fan,” says Dave. “And I wanted to retain the funk but replace the rockiness with a jazzy boogie vibe, then take it off into another direction instrumentally in the second half.” Sitting on Top Of The World harks back to the uplifting disco of Earth, Wind and Fire with a message to keep your ego in check, whilst the stomping Days Gone By remembers the innocence of youth: “It’s about days when I was on the dole, spending all the money I had on old vinyl,” laughs Dave.