How Chaka Khan Ended Up Singing On FOMO's New Single 'House Of Love'
In 2015, several dance music veterans quietly resurfaced at the top of the charts. After a 23 year drought, Nile Rodgers returned to No. 1 on the Dance Club Songs chart last June with Chic’s “I’ll Be There.” Months later, David Morales achieved the same feat more than two decades after the start of his career. In May, another possible candidate appeared when FOMO – the duo of Mark Bell and Jamie Petrie – released “House Of Love,” featuring an eye-popping team of sibling vocalists: Taka Boom, Mark Stevens, and Chaka Khan.
“House Of Love” marks a rare appearance from Khan, who has recorded sporadically since the ‘90s. “It’s taken 20 years to do this,” FOMO’s Mark Bell jokes to Billboard. Khan’s last solo album came out in 2007; the single “Disrespectful” climbed to No. 1 on Dance Club Songs.
Bell is a veteran with a longstanding interest in the intersection between house music, soul, and funk. “I grew up in North England in the ‘70s and the ‘80s,” he explains on the phone from L.A. “Post-punk jazz-funk was the thing that was going on. I started playing the bass as a kid, grew up listening to Funkadelic and Weather Report. Then I started making my own tracks when I was about 13, and signed a publishing deal with EMI in my late teens.”
In the ‘90s, he joined the group M-People, which pumped a series of singles onto the Dance Club Songs chart in 1994 and 1995. After working on the band’s first two albums, he turned his attention to his label, Shaboom Records, which led him to connect with Taka Boom. Boom doesn’t have the high profile of her older sister Chaka, but she has an impressive resume nonetheless – her vocals appear on several Parliament albums, and in the late ‘90s, she sang on stream-rolling house singles from Joey Negro, including the stunning “Can't Get High Without U” and the imperious “Must Be The Music.”
Bell subsequently relocated from England to L.A. When Taka moved there in 2010, the two started working together again. “We started kicking this idea around last year,” Bell remembers. “I put the groove together very, very quickly. It’s really deep within me, that kind of feel and sound – I was like, I want to do one of these today.”
The lyrics are partially inspired by Bell’s experience at an Afterburn party – the events that serve as comedowns following the Burning Man festival – near his studio in L.A. “We get in there, and there’s a roller disco,” Bell says. “It was absolutely fantastic. There’s just an incredible boogie DJ playing. When we started to roll with the track and started to write the lyrics on it, I’m like, ‘we’re going to set it in a roller disco.’”
The original synth-heavy groove and programmed beat were subsequently enhanced with horns and live drumming. The brass was played by Ian Kirkham, longtime horn player in another popular English soul ensemble, Simply Red. Bell and Kirkham grew up together, and Kirkham also contributed horn licks to previous Shaboom releases. Bell’s son added percussion. “As an homage to those disco-funk bands, you need the energy on the hi-hats,” Bell notes. “In each section of the song, the feel changes up very subtly.” He praises his son’s playing: “There’s no massive, animal-from-The-Muppets shit going on. It’s all really nice in the pocket stuff.”
As the track solidified, Taka seemed like a perfect candidate for vocals. “Obviously it had that Funkadelic thing going on,” Bell recalls. “I was working with my friend Jamie Petrie, and I was like, ‘we’ve got to get Taka on this.’”
Unexpectedly, Taka’s involvement lead to a snowball effect. First came her brother, Mark Stevens. “I was a huge fan of Jamaica Boys,” Bells says, referring to Stevens’ late ‘80s funk trio – which also included Luther Vandross’s longtime bass player, Marcus Miller. “[Stevens’] ability as a writer, a singer, and a bassist is amazing.”
With two siblings already involved, Khan couldn’t resist. According to Bell, “Chaka started going, ‘I want to get involved! It sounds so good!’” One day, he was driving to see a friend’s DJ set when he got a call. “Taka was like, ‘I’ve got Chaka with me.’” Bell changed his course and met the sisters at the studio in an hour.
The vintage sound of “House Of Love” – suggesting the early ‘80s transition period between big-band funk and leaner, synth-heavy outfits – is unusual in today’s pop landscape, but if you look closely, you can find some of the ingredients. The fat, squirting keyboards sneak into beats from the hip-hop producer DJ Mustard, which have been absorbed in turn by various wings of pop and dance music. Guordan Banks’ “Keep You In Mind” recently hit No. 1 on the Adult R&B Songs chart, adapting the tropes of west coast retro R&B into a lovers' ballad. DâM-FunK has carved an entire career out of boogie homage.
Bell is optimistic about the prospects for “House Of Love” on the airwaves. “I think it’s gonna find its pockets of love,” he says. “I’m a massive house-head; I’m well up on what’s going on. BBC Radio 2 has started playing it. When a show like that has a huge audience and they pick up on a new track, that’s a win-win. I started looking through the radio reports over the last few weeks, it’s definitely picking up traction.”
“Dance music has really opened up in the last few years,” he continues. “Mainstage production was the only ingredient for super successful dance music, the over-limited, expansion sound. That’s petering off, and it’s given all these other areas of dance music more room to come through” – and older voices a new chance to shine.