Durand Jones & The Indications’ “Morning in America,” whose video is premiering exclusively below, dates back a ways, to a scrap of music on one of singer-drummer Aaron Frazer’s voice memos. But its exploration of social and economic challenges (“It’s morning in America/But I can’t see the dawn”) makes it resonate deeply in the present, especially in the midst of the current government shutdown.
“It’s a song for now, for what’s happening in this country,” Frazer tells Billboard about the track, whose soulful, lush arrangement nods to the likes of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Gil Scott-Heron. “Unfortunately in a lot of ways I think it follows a trend of a lot of political music where you can see a lot of parallels to other eras of protest songs — some song have changed, some things, sadly, seem just about the same.” Some of Frazer’s lyrics draw inspiration from the Poor People’s Campaign, Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-partisan organization calling for human and economic rights for poor Americans of all backgrounds.
“We should be talking about race while also factoring in the idea of class and economics,” Frazer explains. “You have to make sure the conversation includes the systemic obstacles that get put in front of people of color in the country. Seventy-eight percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck — that’s a crazy number, but it’s real. When you view it through that lens, all of a sudden there are a lot of people who can share the struggle rather than being divided. I hope when people hear this song, whether they’re furloughed or they’ve been struggling for years, they’ll see that so many of us are on the same side.”
The political tone of “Morning in America” — hailing from Durand Jones’ sophomore album, American Love Call (due out March 1) — is something of a digression for the brassy R&B group formed in Bloomington, Ind. But Frazer says he and his bandmates aren’t concerned about alienating fans who just want to dance. “The thing is, I don’t think it’s super radical,” Frazer notes. “It’s not a crazy concept. I’m sure there will be people out there who might treat it as a way-out sentiment, but in truth it feels pretty logical.”
Sonically, meanwhile, “Morning in America” represents much of what Durand Jones wanted to do with American Love Call, recorded at Studio G in Brooklyn as the follow-up to the group’s self-titled 2016 debut. “A big part of what we talked about early on was doing more smooth stuff,” says guitarist Blake Rhein. “We’ve always been really into ballads and smooth sounds supported by harmony vocals and strings. From a production standpoint I think that’s where we were kind of heading.” That approach also gave Frazer more berth as a singer, joining forces alongside frontman Jones.
“On the first album I sang one song and Durand sang the rest, and even on the one song I sang there wasn’t much harmony,” notes Frazer, who also cites a variety of 70s vocal groups — the Delfonics, the Stylistics and the Whatnauts — as well as vintage soul producer George Kerr as sources for American Love Call. “I think we found we love singing together, so getting that on as many tracks as possible was a lot of fun, and I think it fuses our style more, in a way.”
Jones adds that touring to support the first album was also enlightening — and inspirational. “Seeing who our fan base was did have an effect on the way we approached this album. I think we were all pleasantly surprised to see a big Chicano community rally behind us, and that influenced the songs that we decided to put on this album and our approach towards a lot of things. We really tried to get a good, low-rider sound on some of these.”
Durand Jones & The Indications are slated to hit the road again on March 18, with U.S. dates currently booked into May. And while the group will likely spend more time on the road, it’s also anxious to keep building its repertoire. “It feels good to be adding lots of new originals into our set,” Frazer says. “We’ve been touring on an album consisting of eight songs for a couple of years. We want to have a lot more music to choose from now.”