Everyone’s out here trying to sound like Daft Punk, but Sammy Bananas fancies himself more of a Basement Jaxx kinda dude. The funk master and saxophonist brings a bright, upbeat energy to all his tunes. A-Trak is a big fan, and so his compositions have often found a home at the Canadian DJ’s label Fool’s Gold.
A-Trak once again patrons Bananas’ style by releasing his 12-track album Someday. The whole thing grooves with nu disco sheen and drips in summer perfection. It’s fun and flirty, grown and sexy, hype and hella fun. It’s a must-have for your rotation, and A-Trak wants to be sure you’re emotionally invested, so he took the time to talk to Bananas about his creative process as well as his tireless efforts to help the fight against climate changed, his days as a teenage street busker, and how to grow such a fabulous mustache.
Check the interview between friends below, and listen to Someday in full ahead of its Friday release, exclusively on Billboard Dance.
A-Trak: For those who might not know Mr. Bananas, tell us about your background, where you’re from, how you got into music and so forth.
Sammy Bananas: I came of age in the ’90s, and the first music I remember really falling in love with was (Michael Jackson‘s) Dangerous and Motown Philly by Boyz II Men. I always loved messing around with instruments, but I started studying the sax seriously in middle school. I would go down to Harvard Square, near where I grew up in Cambridge, MA., and play on the corner with my case open for donations. I think that’s how I caught the performance bug and got the idea that you could make money doing weird things in music. (I bought a bike and a tennis racket from my earnings that first summer!) Soon after, I got turntables and started messing around producing on the computer with the same mindset.
In one of our recent conversations you referred to Basement Jaxx as “your Daft Punk.” Can you share a bit more about how they influenced you, and whether there are other acts who played a similarly strong role in shaping your sound?
The Daft Punk aesthetic might be more fashionable with their cool and sophisticated tone, but I’ve always been drawn to the boisterous, super fun and almost zany approach of Basement Jaxx. They have incredible records for the club, but would always pull off super ambitious and varied LPs with a focus on songs, rather than strictly dance tracks. That became my goalpost, and I think I’ve been honing my craft all these years until I knew I could pull off something like that. Otherwise, I’ve been trying to recreate the way Prince records make me feel since the first time I heard 7. The sound encapsulated by that sly smirk he used to do; sassy, slick and maybe just on the edge of corny.
You are someone who masters just as much the engineering side of the studio, as you do actual DJing, as you do playing an instrument like the sax. Do you feel that you approach your music from all these different angles?
Absolutely. I think the sax is the main influence on the melodic side of my work. I’m not going to get all “sexy sax man” on everything with anthemic solos everywhere, but I always have some kind of noodley ear worm going on. My focus on studio craft really keeps me attuned, finding exciting sounds and making sure everything gels together in a mix while I’m constructing a song – and obviously DJing keeps me up to date with crowd-testing stuff and having a grasp of what people like.
We met during the mashup era, a time when DJs and producers were breaking a lot of rules. Your first single was during year one of Fool’s Gold, when the record industry barely had an infrastructure for our scene. How would you describe the experience of adapting to all the changes that happened in the last 10-12 years? I love the fact that you always stuck to your sound.
Yeah, I mean my first few singles were just bootlegging classic ’90s tracks in different mid-’00s styles. I remember when we got a cease and desist from Sagat’s people about my Baltimore club flip of “Funk Dat!” I’m still trying to capture that same feeling with a song like “21.” I feel like my sound is really more about an approach. It’s always gonna be funky, but in a lot of ways the moniker Bananas is very apt. I’ve covered a lot of ground stylistically over the decade, but I think everything has the same sentiment. That’s the producer in me trying to find the right tools for each job. It’s all coming from the same toolbox, but I might choose to use different things depending on if I’m trying to make a peak-time tune with a powerhouse diva, or an introspective song with a whispery male vocalist.
You made an album! Tell us about the motivation to make an album, when most DJs make mixes, singles and EPs.
A few years ago, I realized that the album is maybe the strongest format for the variety at the heart of my style. It might be hard to follow the thread over a series of singles that all sound different, but during the course of 12 tracks, you can tell a story with dynamics and pacing that enhances the sonic diversity while hopefully showing how all the pieces fit together. There are 13 featured vocalists on my album Someday, and they are critical to the arc and flow. It’s almost like a DJ set, except the goal isn’t to keep people dancing the whole time, it’s to take them on a journey that ends with a particular sensation. I owe so much to all the guests, and we had such a great time making these songs. I’m doing a sort of audio liner notes this summer through my podcast “Talking About Someday” which is made up from conversations with each guest.
One thing I admire greatly about you is your commitment to environmental causes, including DJs For Climate Action. Can you start by giving us an overview?
Around a decade ago, I started flying a lot for gigs all over the world, and it really got me thinking about my personal impact on the planet. Even if I try to eat local and hardly ever drive a car, I’m still going to spew too many greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere through those flights. I started DJs for Climate Action with annual offset drives encouraging other DJs to take stock of their air travel and balance that negative impact with donations to climate conscious projects. These days, we focus on connecting DJs with opportunities to use their craft and visibility to generate action through shows and social media. We launched EARTH NIGHT this year, and encouraged DJs to donate part of their fee around Earth Day to organizations doing climate work. This month, we have a residency at Brooklyn club Black Flamingo (tickets) raising money for local non-profits each week. It’s all about tapping into the vast infrastructure that exists around DJ culture to power philanthropic pursuits. I’ve been pleasantly surprised how many DJs, including big names, ones like yourself, are eager for opportunities like this.
I think a lot of people see DJing as something ephemeral and, for lack of a better term, “not consequential.” Yet you’ve been able to leverage your relationships and your grassroots experience to create real action. Would you say this has been a way for you to balance out your DJ life with the consciousness of adult life (and even dad life)?
I think it comes back to something my mom always said to me: “To those who much is given, much is expected.” I’m lucky enough to have privileges denied to most people in the world, and that gives me a sense of responsibility, but I also truly believe that music, and DJs by association, are foundational to society. The synchronization caused by music is actually very important and pretty ancient to humanity and our sense of community. At the same time, there are real, tangible, issues today that require more than just dancing and positivity alone to solve. I think there are ways to connect these two pursuits and take the best parts of each, which is what we try to do with DJs for Climate Action. As a dad, I definitely am attuned to the world my son will live in, so trying to make it a better place is on my mind in that way as well.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to have some sort of social impact in these Trumpian times? where does one start?
REGISTER AND VOTE!!! If national politics disgust you, engage in local politics or around an issue from your life that you feel deeply. After that, don’t get discouraged. The path of history is not a straight line. I’m a realist, but I also know that things take time to play out. Something that seems unimaginable now could actually trigger the kick back that leads to a more progressive path. You just don’t know, which is why you can’t lose focus and just gotta keep moving forward.
In closing, do you have any tips for someone who is thinking of growing a mustache?
Stay strong through those first few weeks. Avoid the path of growing a full beard first and then shaving to leave the mustache. You won’t keep it long. Also, they’re not for everyone, so ask for feedback from your friends and loved ones