Natural Born Leaders: Their ‘Time’ Has Come
One of 2018’s most eagerly-anticipated Asheville, NC-related releases is the debut album from Natural Born Leaders. Even in an era of countless cross-genre mashups and hybrids, the music of Natural Born Leaders is difficult to describe, and it resists pigeonholing. The group’s sound starts with a relatively conventional rock instrumental lineup: guitarist Rex Shafer, bassist James Eddington and drummer Kevin Murtha. Jazz and r&b textures are provided by saxophonist Ben Survant, while lead vocalist (and lyricist) Mike Martinez brings folk, soul and hip-hop flavors to the group.
But the resulting music made by the five musicians sounds nothing at all like rock-rap hybrids Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, Faith No More or Rage Against the Machine. “There was no blueprint” in putting together Natural Born Leaders, Martinez says. “We all come from different musical backgrounds, and we just try to make it work.”The “prog-hop” label is a useful a way of defining Natural Born Leaders’ music, and the group itself sometimes uses the term (along with many others) in its own promotional material. The four songs on About Time are a varied lot. “Do You Mind” starts off with a melodic brass line that conjures visions of Northern Africa; the supporting bass figure has its foundation in funk. When the whole band kicks in, there are elements of reggae, but they’re delivered in an ambitious, progressive rock style. And Martinez’s vocals alternate between sharply-crafted rap phrasing and soulful, melodic singing.
The complicated mix of styles works together musically far better than any description could suggest. And Martinez says that the group develops its material in an unhurried, collaborative manner. “Nothing we’ve done has been hard to come by,” he says. “Everything’s been really natural: the way we started was organic; the way we got all our members was organic. We put our intention out there with everything we do, and just hope that it comes back,” Martinez says. “And generally, it does.”
Natural Born Leaders’ music is dense and layered, and Martinez’s lyrics share those qualities. “I only write lyrics to songs that I absolutely vibe with,” he says. The lyrics to each of About Time‘s songs were written in one sitting. “Do You Mind?” “The Return of Jafar” and “’Time Flies By” all began as jams, he says. “I’ll blast a jam through my speakers at home, and write the lyrics quickly,” he says
.An early lineup of Natural Born Leaders included MC Austin Haynes out front with Martinez. Having two MCs meant that the group’s music was more hip-hop oriented. But once Haynes left, Martinez’s folk-blues background revealed itself more in the group’s new material. And once the group entered Artcore Studios, producer Patrick Doyle helped Natural Born Leaders channel their jams into concise songs.
“We wrote the songs,” Martinez emphasizes, “but Patrick really helped us figure out what our music meant and what directions we should go with it.” Even in the space of four songs over 20 minutes, the group’s improvisational character still comes through.
Live onstage, Natural Born Leaders build upon the songs’ foundations, following their collective muse wherever it leads them. “I improvise lyrics a lot, too,” Martinez says. He half-jokes that he does so because he can’t remember his own words. “And a lot of time, I’ll freestyle rap. I’ll end up changing words around, putting this line here, moving something elsewhere.” So while About Time is an accurate audio document of Natural Born Leaders, it’s also a snapshot of the band in a given moment. “Every show is different,” Martinez says.
There remains a relationship between the studio versions of the group’s songs and the way they’re played onstage. “I don’t like making songs I can’t play live,” says bassist Eddington. “But what’s fun is that when you work on a song in the studio, you end up changing it.” And then in concert, the songs change yet again. “There’s a give and take, a back and forth between the two,” he says.
Natural Born Leaders are currently focusing on promoting their new EP, but the band is already at work on new material as well. “We kind of like the idea of just putting out a few songs at a time,” Martinez says. “Ideally, we’ll put out a new EP every six months.”
Natural Born Leaders Are A Must-Add To Your Fall Music Playlists We absolutely adore when a band cannot be boxed up into one particular genre, giving fans of every genre across the musical landscape something to enjoy and that is just what we have discovered when checking out the latest release “Abominable Creatures” from North Carolina genre-bending quartet Natural Born Leaders. They most definitely have a brilliant future ahead!You can tell that this group was very careful about which songs they chose to make up “Abominable Creatures” as they all carry an empowering message that speaks to the listener about standing up for what they believe in and never giving up on their dreams. Each track can stand out on its own and vocalist/ songwriter Michael Martinez’s delivery gives them all a very revolutionary and anthemic feel.Natural Born Leaders flawlessly blend together elements of hip-hop and soul, jazz and blues with a dash or two of rock n’ roll to create a sound that is incredibly unique and very much their own. The six tracks that make up the “Abominable Creatures” album flow together perfectly and we can certainly see this group’s music staying on our favorite playlists for many years to come.they all carry an empowering message that speaks to the listener about standing up for what they believe in and never giving up on their dreams. Each track can stand out on its own and vocalist/ songwriter Michael Martinez’s delivery gives them all a very revolutionary and anthemic feel. Standout tracks include the blues-inspired “Voodoo”, the incredibly catchy title track “Abominable Creatures” and our personal favorite “Guerilla Glue”. Natural Born Leaders are a band that most certainly should be on your radar this fall and we certainly very much look forward to additional tunes from the group in the near future.
Keep up to date with Natural Born Leaders by visiting the following:
Youtube: http://bit.ly/NBLTube Apple Music: https://apple.co/2I9JyKO
Nearly 5,000 entries to this year’s Tiny Desk Contest – a lot of talented musicians and creative videos. NPR’s music producers and judges sent us some of their favorites including this one by the Asheville, N.C., band Natural Born Leaders.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “ABOMINABLE CREATURES”)
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
NATURAL BORN LEADERS: (Singing) I wish I had a watch, just so I can watch the time fly by. Used to count the days by nights and drive-bys. But staring through the tears, only lone doves can cry.
SIMON: It wasn’t exactly a Tiny Desk Concert – more like a tiny convenience store concert. The band is packed behind the ice cream freezer just to the left of the Slim Jims. Lead vocalist Mike Martinez joins us now from Blue Ridge Public Radio in Asheville. Thanks so much for being with us.
MIKE MARTINEZ: Hey, thank you so much for having us, Scott.
SIMON: So did you stock up on Slurpees that day?
MARTINEZ: (Laughter) Yeah, I was trying to stray away from the beer cooler.
SIMON: What did – tell us about the song you’re playing. In fact, let’s listen to just a little more of “Abominable Creatures.”
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “ABOMINABLE CREATURES”)
NATURAL BORN LEADERS: (Singing) I always wonder how the gods became men. All these forgone things a man should never understand. Gritting my teeth, my hands stuck in quicksand and I stood up, got out of my dependence on circumstance. Get up, young blood. You only got one chance to stand up to these wicked man-made plans. I grew up on the new church block. Crips run that street carrying them sawed-off Glocks.
SIMON: So was a convenience store a good backdrop for this song?
MARTINEZ: Yeah, I think it fit the song perfectly. It reminded me a lot of my childhood.
SIMON: Which is in New Jersey, right?
MARTINEZ: Yes, it was.
SIMON: How did it remind you of your childhood?
MARTINEZ: I spent a lot of time in and out of the convenience stores. I was a skateboarder when I was a teenager. So we’d always go in there for snacks and whatnot. And the song kind of is about a lot of – you know, me having a conversation with myself about what it was like to grow up in New Jersey.
SIMON: To stand up to these wicked man-made plans?
MARTINEZ: I feel like everything’s a wicked man-made plan, you know – anything from racism to sexism to all the different -isms.
SIMON: You also say Crips roam the street carrying them sawed-off Glocks.
MARTINEZ: Yes, there is a big gang population in the area that I grew up in. I grew up near like Newark, N.J. I mean, aside from just gangs, there was mafia.
SIMON: And how did you wind up in Asheville?
MARTINEZ: These mountains came calling (laughter). A lot of my family ended up moving down here, which in turn was probably the best thing that’s ever happened to my life. That’s for sure.
SIMON: Well, how did it change?
MARTINEZ: I felt like I had no real direction in New Jersey. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about after coming to Asheville they kind of felt like they had a purpose. Once I came here, I feel like it was – you know, everything seems to be falling into place ever since I came down here.
SIMON: Well, there’s a new four-song EP out by Natural Born Leader. So let’s listen to a bit of “Return Of Jafar.”
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “RETURN OF JAFAR”)
NATURAL BORN LEADERS: (Singing) Tear it down. Build it up. Make it better. We came to set the world free. Ain’t no power like the power of the people because the power of the people don’t stop. I said there ain’t no power like the power of the people because the power of the people don’t stop.
SIMON: Where do you see the power of the people these days?
MARTINEZ: This came from – me and my partner were at the Democratic National Convention last year at the protest to the convention. And the power of the people was kind of like a call and return. There ain’t no power like the power of the people because the power of the people don’t stop. I figured how fitting for, you know, a song that deals with such evil things like war and racism and the power structure of money and greed.
SIMON: Do you put politics into your music because it’s the times? Or is that one of the reasons why you want to make music?
MARTINEZ: Politics is a huge part of everybody’s life. It’s definitely something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. I feel like nobody really has the right answers. But I do know that we’re not doing it the right way.
SIMON: Is Asheville a good place to make music?
MARTINEZ: It is a fantastic place to make music. I think not many people in Asheville are necessarily making the kind of music that we make. But it’s a huge music community, and there’s no nations and borders. Everybody’s helping each other out.
SIMON: You know BJ Liederman, who writes our theme music on this show, is in Asheville.
MARTINEZ: I did not know that. That’s awesome though.
SIMON: Well, you know, maybe the two of you will run into each other at one of the scores of music clubs that I know dot the area.
MARTINEZ: I wouldn’t be surprised if we haven’t already ran into each other.
(SOUNDBITE OF NATURAL BORN LEADERS SONG, “DO YOU MIND?”)
SIMON: Mike Martinez, Tiny Desk Contest stand-out. Natural Born Leaders have just released their first studio EP called “About Time”. Thanks so much. Good luck to you.
MARTINEZ: Thank you so much for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF NATURAL BORN LEADERS SONG, “DO YOU MIND?”)
Songs in the album
1.Return of Jafar
3.Time Flies By
4.Do You Mind?
Natural Born Leaders’ first single from their EP “About Time.” This Music video was nominated for Best Director for Music Video Asheville’s annual awards ceremony. Return of Jafar was written as a reminder that YOU are not powerless. The video was directed by singer Michael Martinez and saxophonist Ben Survant. It was synced and edited in a collaboration with Professor T Audio.Celebrated for their eclectic “sound that floats seamlessly between rock, reggae, jazz, hip-hop and funk” (Live Music Daily), the music of Natural Born Leaders tears down every preconception one may have about genre borders and begs to be placed in a category all its own. From studio to stage, the Asheville, NC based quintet are on a longstanding journey to spread the gospel of grassroots revolution, one verse at a time.
In the summer of 2018, with breakout EP, About Time, barely one month old, the band submitted a live version of their unreleased single “Abominable Creatures” to NPR Music’s famed Tiny Desk Contest. Despite thousands of entries garnered, the unique performance style of Natural Born Leaders remained among the most memorable. Weeks later, when songwriter Naia Izumi was crowned the 2018 Tiny Desk Contest winner, Natural Born Leaders, too, were granted a moment in the spotlight, landing a feature interview on the nationally syndicated Weekend Edition program.
With stirring momentum, Natural Born Leaders have dropped their highly anticipated sophomore EP, Abominable Creatures. Produced and engineered by platinum record holder Patrick Doyle (Jennifer Lopez and Cory Rooney) the new record delivers brand new, heavy hitting verses and soul-shaking chants about love, desire, and the often uncomfortable sides of the human experience, and showcases “just how far down the rabbit hole” (Top Shelf Music) the band has fallen. With “wildly impressive, never predictable arrangements” whose “surging energy” (Music Mecca) never wavers, the release of Abominable Creatures has been quick to put NBL on the map as a must-see this year.
With influences ranging from the head-banging nature of Black Sabbath and Metallica, to the old-school energy of Outkast and Lauryn Hill, Natural Born Leaders weave rich bass lines, sexy brass and electrifying guitar solos into a sound all their own. Paired with the charisma of frontman Mike Martinez, the long-playing debut of Abominable Creatures is ripe with some of the most revolution-stirring antics one can sneak into a six song collection.
Members in group
Natural born leaders is a band that knows how to have a good time. Their bass player James Eddington, saxophonist Ben Survant, drummer Kevin Murtha, and lead guitarist Rex Shaffer make the band perfect. They have a great sense of humor and are always up for a good time. Their music is lively and upbeat, and their live shows are even better. They always bring the party with them, and their fans love them for it.Natural Born Leaders is a band that is quickly gaining attention for their diverse portfolio of music. This year, they were featured in the NPR Tiny Desk Concert competition, where they wowed host Frank Stasio with their live performance. The band is made up of four talented musicians who all contribute to the unique sound that they create. Their music is a mix of different genres, including rock, pop, and even classical. This variety is what has been drawing people to their music and is sure to continue to do so in the future.
This year, the NPR Tiny Desk Concert competition featured Natural Born Leaders, a diverse portfolio of music that is garnering some attention. Host Frank Stasio was impressed with the group’s live performance, and their music is now gaining a wider audience. Natural Born Leaders is a unique group, blending together a variety of musical genres and styles. Their music is catchy and accessible, yet still sophisticated and thought-provoking. They are a talented group of musicians, and their live performances are truly impressive.I believe that Natural Born Leaders has a bright future ahead of them. Their music is original and compelling, and I think they have the potential to reach a wide audience. I encourage everyone to check out their music and see for themselves what this talented group has to offer.Natural Born Leaders is a band that is quickly gaining attention for their diverse portfolio of music. This year, they were featured in the NPR Tiny Desk Concert competition, where host Frank Stasio praised their live performance.
The band is made up of four talented musicians who all bring something unique to the table. Their music is a blend of genres, including rock, pop, and folk. They have a fresh sound that is captivating audiences of all ages. Natural Born Leaders is a band to watch out for in the coming year.This year, Natural Born Leaders’ diverse portfolio of music is garnering some attention. The band was featured in the NPR Tiny Desk Concert competition, where host Frank Stasio praised their live performance. Their unique sound, which blends elements of rock, pop, and hip-hop, has caught the ears of many listeners. And their positive message is resonating with fans of all ages. With their growing popularity, Natural Born Leaders is poised to make a big impact in the music world.Natural Born Leaders is a band that is quickly gaining attention for their diverse portfolio of music. This year, they were featured in the NPR Tiny Desk Concert competition, where they wowed host Frank Stasio with their live performance. The band is made up of four incredibly talented musicians who all contribute to the unique sound that they create. Their music is a mix of genres, including rock, pop, and folk. This variety is one of the things that makes them so special. Natural Born Leaders is a band that is definitely worth keeping an eye on in the future.