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November 2022
Vol. 22, No. 2

Featured Stories

SURE FIRE SOUL ENSEMBLE: A Conversation with Tim Felten

by Robert BushNovember, 2022

San Diego Troubadour: First off, who’s in the band, and how long have you been together?
Tim Felten: We have Jesse Audelo playing baritone sax, tenor sax, and flute; Jake Najor is on drums; Omar Lopez on bass; Aquilas Magana Jr. is on guitar; Kiko Cornejo Jr. on percussion; my wife, Sheryll Felten, also on percussion; Travis Klein on tenor sax and flute; Wili Fleming on trombone and mandolin; and I’m playing keyboards. Through various lineups, the band has been together about ten years now.

What was the goal when you started this band? Was there a “mission statement?”
We were looking to form a large, rich, funky, soulful band that would record and do live shows playing introspective party music.

“Introspective party music,” I need to take note of that. So, what is the economic reality of having a nine-piece band?
It means it’s not a full-time job, number one. It means that we don’t tour very often. But we have been doing this for ten years. We’ve got four albums out, we’ve gotten enough attention so that we can command a decent wage when we do play here in town and out of town. So, you know, it’s a side job, I guess. I’m lucky to have some of the best players around and to be able to pay them well enough to keep them around.

How did the last few years of the pandemic affect you, and do you feel that you are back to pre-pandemic gig numbers?
Members of Sure Fire were doing gigs at Rosie O’Grady’s and Panama 66 a couple of times a month. So, we were doing those kind of weeknight restaurant jam session-type gigs. Those definitely went away during the COVID times. Now we’re back to playing live, as the full band, headlining shows at the Casbah, Winstons, and the Adams Avenue Street Fair. We’re gigging about once every six weeks, which is almost back to normal.

A little taste of the Sure Fire Soul Ensemble.

What does the future look like for the band? What are you looking forward to?
We’re working on stuff for next year. Everyone’s still committed. We’ve done some fly-instuff. We’d like to do more flying into festivals, private gigs, concert series, etc. Get out of town without squeezing into a van and driving. We are working on new material. We released an album last April, and we’ve already got 10 or 12 new tunes that we’re working on, and we’ll probably start recording the ones we’re playing live pretty soon.

Let’s talk about the album you released in April.
It’s called Step Down (reviewed in the October issue), and it’s on Colemine Records; it did chart on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz albums for one week. I think [we reached] number 14 at the highest [point]. A lot of it was written during the pandemic. We’d come up with these demos and I’d send them around. People would record their parts and then I’d piece it together.

Was working that way a challenge for you?
Well, I’m pretty handy with computer recording, and I work as an editor on the NPR radio show A Way with Words, so I have a lot of experience with remote recording, from doing that and making hip hop beats. So, I come from that side of production, but I missed the camaraderie of being around the guys and working with them in person.

What makes you stand out as a band?
I think people come to experience the energy put out by a nine-piece band. We’re mostly instrumental, but we do throw a few vocals in there occasionally, because people like vocals. We just played the Adams Avenue Street Fair last month, and we had Whitney Shay join us on vocals. It was really fun.

What does success look like for you now?
I think it’s going to be to continue to release albums that are well-received and where we feel that we’re breaking new ground within the band artistically. Keeping ourselves satisfied with the music we’re creating and not repeating ourselves. Would love to do some fly in festival and club dates to get out of town and maybe get over to Europe at some point.

The last time we talked you had started a record label, All-Town Sound, with Mitchum Yacoub. How’s that going?
It’s going well. We have six 45s available for purchase and we’re almost sold out of the first three. We’ve got two albums coming: one from Mitchum and one from the Sure Fire Soul Ensemble that was recorded live from Panama 66 back in 2019.

Last question: if you met a stranger on a plane, how would you describe what kind of music the Sure Fire Soul Ensemble is all about?
I would say we’re like James Brown instrumentally mixed with ’90s East Coast Hip Hop grooves. Funky grooves and just good, good time music.

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