“The world’s always been a little kooky, but it’s especially kooky right now.”
According to Kevin Mulligan, that just means it’s time to play some kooky music.
“There’s nothin’ wrong with kooky music,” he says. “Kooky music is happy music.”
Mulligan is the founder and lead-singer of The Soul Section. The popular local band formed in 2008, but did not venture into public till 2009, when they debuted at the long gone and much-missed Black Kat.
“We played there a few times,” notes Mulligan. “We’d pack the place, and then the cops would come, because there were too many people in there. People would be dancing out in the streets. It was wild.”
The Soul Section is band that definitely knows its way around wildness. With an unpredictable approach to a set list, and a big, bright sound that says let’s-forget-what’s-bugging-us-and-just-party-party-party, The Soul Section has rapidly developed a large local following of fans from Millennials to Boomers to Those Who Fit No Category.
The core members of the group have been playing together, in one band or another, for over 20 years. Drummer Michael J. Perez has played with the Violet Fox Band, as has bassist Pete Donery and guitarist Brian Clothier. Vince Nash plays keyboards, and joins Mulligan (another Violet Fox veteran) on vocals. Along with a first-rate horn section (we’ll get back to that), The Soul Section’s sound is rooted in funk and soul, but they love to take unorthodox approaches to songs one would not normally expect a funk-soul band to tackle.
“We started out as a horn band trying to play punk music,” Mulligan explains. “We like to blend elements that don’t obviously make sense to blend together. But somehow we make it work.”
The Soul Section will be playing at the Mystic Theater for its first time on Friday, September 29, and will be joined by The Hots, another local band that’s been living up to its name (and has its own well-earned reputation for onstage musical eccentricity).
The Mystic, says Mulligan, is a great place to celebrate eight years of playing music.
“It’s the musical hub, the center of Petaluma, which is a great, eccentric little town that has really embraced The Soul Section over the years,” says Mulligan, adding, “Petaluma understands us. Actually, pretty much all of Sonoma County understands us, because we speak music, and music is the language that need not be spoken, but only danced to - preferably with a really great horn section. Which we have.”
Promised we’d get back to that.
One of the elements that has made The Soul Section so popular is its three-woman horn section, all of whom have a tendency to dance and bop and go a little crazy every time they play together. Mulligan says that in 2014, while he was at the SRJC pursuing a degree in nursing, the band was working a lot, but never held onto its horn section for very long.
“We had to find horn players all the time,” he says. “At one point, two of my three horns were women. And they were awesome. They were always dancing as they played. So in 2015, I just decided to make that a thing, to make it an all-female horn section. It was a good, good addition to the group. Us guys were always so rooted to the ground, concentrating on the music and being all serious about it. But the horn section, they look like they are having so much fun. It gets a little infectious.”
Jane Fossgreen brings a funk-based broadly jazz-infused power to the saxophone. Like trumpet-player Ella Steinberg (who’s backed up the likes of Frankie Valli and The Drifters), Fossgreen is a music teacher by day. Trombonist Sara Cummings brings to the band a background in big jazz and Dixieland bands.
Mulligan acknowledges that having a core group of women in the band has opened his eyes to what female musicians often go through to make it in the music industry.
“Listening to them tell stories back stage, it blows my mind,” he says. They all have music degrees. They are so good and they know so much. But they have had such a hard time being taken seriously. It’s baffling. This industry can be brutal for women. It makes me happy that in our band, Jane, Ella, and Sara kind of have power in numbers, all three of them. They are a unit. They are very cohesive.”
As for the band’s tendency to put a smooth-and-funky spin on an eclectic array of well-known songs, Mulligan says the secret is to get the audience dancing early to tunes they can’t help but want to dance to – then throw in something a little, well, kooky.
“Once you get an audience’s trust,” he says, “they’ll run with you anywhere. I learned long ago, that you can’t ever try to be too smart or too clever. An audience doesn’t want a band that is smarter than their feet are.”
Of the band’s upcoming gig at the Mystic Theatre, Mulligan allows that this is a major move for The Soul Section.
“This is the big show, for sure, for us,” he says. “And playing with The Hots, just makes it better. They are so killer. They play strong, no-frills rock-and-roll. They really bring it. There are a lot of great Petaluma bands right now, but I really love the Hots.”
Adds Mulligan, “I mean, any band that can go from playing a Brittany Spears tune to a Metallica tune is all right with me.”
(Email David at firstname.lastname@example.org)