Back in January, The Goddess Of Lakshmi began recording their first album with the help of Chicago blues guitarist Felix Reyes. The word 'Lakshmi' is derived from the Sanskrit word "Laksya", meaning "aim" or "goal," which the Harlem-based band strives to reach by achieving prosperity of a musical value in all of 8 tracks. The new album, LOVE, is the product of one exhausting, yet rewarding journey complete with ‘cuts, scratches, and cigarette burns’. The recording and mixing process, done at Harlem Flophouse and then later at Felix’s studio, The House of Tone, ended with a flow of sound amplified by more textural qualities: close-knit rhythm sections, soul-drenched vocals, and storylines about love: both wanting and losing it.
The Goddess Lakshmi is a prime example of the thriving jazz and folk sounds that came together during the Harlem Renaissance with nods to the beatnik cool of the early '60s. Harlem is the birthplace of the band and its honed musical style, most evident in the swinging notes carrying the band’s front-woman Kosi through tracks like, “I Want You For My Man”. The Goddess Lakshmi has harnessed a sound that is all their own and with a wealth of experience upon which to attribute it to.
We interviewed the bandleader Rene Calvo to learn more about the album, their inspirations, their future, and more.
Where are you from?
I’ve been living here for over 20 years. Amos Fisher is from North Carolina, The Sublime Miss Kosi is from Queens, and Jeff (no longer in band) is from Montana. We all met here in NYC.
How did that happen?
I was playing songs solo and Jeff heard me at a party and he said, “Hey if you ever want to start a band and need a bass player, I’d like to play with you.”
So we started just playing together as a duo, then we met Amos and he joined up. We were working on the last song on the album called “Love” and I thought it would be great to have that as a duet. So there’s a place around the corner called Paris Blues, where we used to play on Sunday nights, and they have a jazz open mic on Wednesdays. So I went there to listen to singers and heard this woman Kosi and asked her if she’d be interested in singing the duet. She said sure and we rehearsed and then she just started showing up to all our gigs [laughs]. I figured I might as well put her to work. [laughs]
Yeah, I really like the way her voice sounds.
She’s an amazing talent. She brings so much of herself to everything she sings.
What’s the writing process like?
It’s just me.
Basically I start out with different chord keys and I’ll write a phrase, then I just write down words from a stream of conscious. It usually just comes upon me. I’m not even sure where it all comes from- all the words get downloaded in one big lump [laughs] and I just write everything down. I’ll spend like a couple weeks just editing them and making sure they make sense or fit into a melody that works with the phrase. Once I reach that point, I bring it to the band to start adding or suggesting things and we learn it.
It almost works better when it’s just one or two people in the writing process like John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Like: only bringing rough drafts to the studio.
You have to have a very clear idea of what you want when you go into a rehearsal. Amos and Kosi and very well-educated musically. Kosi and Amos are also amazing writers, so if you go, knowing what you want, then they can make a contribution to it. If you go in with a half-assed idea then it could be like going into a shark tank or something. [laughs]
A lot of the melodies sound blues-inspired. Are there any blues artists that you feel you’ve learned from?
Not so much from live. Most of my influences came from John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and a lot of people from The Chess Records. They (Chess Records) were the first to do Muddy Waters and I think Chuck Berry before he took off. They recorded tons of blues legends.
What happened was that I was studying guitar with a teacher and when I first started writing music my teacher said, “What do you want to sound like?” I said, “The early Beatles and early Rolling Stones,” and he said, “Well you have to listen to what they were listening to.” It was a great way to work backwards.
I read that Lakshmi is a Hindu Goddess of wealth and prosperity and spirituality. Why did you use that element of Hinduism in your band name?
I was searching for a band name on the internet and noticed that a lot of bands were just picking random names so I think that’s part of the reason. You have to really stretch out there for a name.
Most importantly: I’ve been studying yoga for 20 years and when I was in yoga class my teacher started talking about the different meanings of abundance: in everything, not just materialistic things, but joy and life as well. I thought spiritual abundance was a nice set of values to honor.
You said you worked on the album with Chicago blues player Felix Reyes. How did that come about exactly?
Felix is like a big blues gun for hire in Chicago so he plays with a lot of different bands. He was coming here to play with a harmonica player and he stayed in NY overnight where he soon found the Harlem Flophouse. He googled and found out about us playing on Sundays and he wrote me saying he wanted to come hear us. I told him he could sit in at our rehearsal and he ended up playing with us all night. He liked our sound and wanted to record us so we agreed and together we did the bed tracks, vocals, and guitars. He then took it to Chicago to tweak and mix it at his studio before sending it to Rhandy Simmons in Texas for the mastering. Mostly he tried to get us at our best, which he did because he has a great ear for mixing.
He was able to bring your sound to tape as clear as possible.
Yea, what you hear on the album is pretty much what we sound like. Almost everything was done in single takes.
Describe your band in three words.
Bluesy, dark, witty…
What do you enjoy most about performing live?
Its great- almost like flying in an airplane. [laughs]When you’re working with a group of people you’ve been rehearsing with, and everything’s clicking, and the audience is enjoying it, its like floating above ground.
Any message for the audience?
We want the message of love and tolerance to come across more than anything.
What’s the future like for The Goddess Lakshmi?
We have enough material for at least one more album or two so we’d like to record again. We’d also like to get bigger, better gigs and just get up to the next level.