by Michele Zipkin
Philadelphia is home to a wealth of musicians, from hip-hop gurus to folk artists, singer/songwriters to jazz cats. One cog in the diverse array of music Philly has to offer is Swift Technique- a straight-up funk ensemble comprised of a group of seven guys who are also schooled in jazz and versed in hip-hop. Founded by bassist Jake Leschinsky, this dynamic and primarily instrumental septet puts on explosive performances that inspire audiences to dance in the aisles. They have had the privilege of sharing the stage with the likes of The Meters, Wu-Tang Clan and Questlove, among others. Their musical versatility is thanks to a variety of influences including Parliament Funkadelic, James Brown, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Led Zeppelin and The Roots. Alternative hip-hop artist Guru (Gang Starr), one of the pioneers of blending jazz, funk and hip-hop, proved to be another influential figure in the group’s music.
Before morphing into their current funk outfit, the band started out with Leschinsky, the group’s current guitar player Andy Bree, and an MC. Their vision was to have a live funk jazz band with a horn section, but that also had a hip-hop element to it. They would play big house parties around Temple’s campus until the MC left the group, at which point they became solely an instrumental funk rock band.
“Being instrumental, we have to get people’s attention in different ways. So we’ve adopted this kind of crazy funk presentation kind of like Parliament Funkadelic. I can only dance so much playing bass, but the horn guys kind of go insane,” says Leschinsky.
The members of Swift Technique don’t always focus on the fact that they are an instrumental group because there are so many members of the band. With the horns or the guitar creating a melodic element, “…it’s almost like there’s a vocalist sometimes. There’s seven of us with pretty big personalities,” Leschinsky explains. Some people say that the band needs a vocalist if they really want to take it to the next level, but being instrumental gives them a unique edge. When the group works on writing pieces, they do not have to abide by some of the same rules that they would if they had a vocalist. They can get creative and have fun. They incorporate some abrupt tempo and dynamic changes, which wouldn’t necessarily work if there was a singer in the mix.
Another unique aspect of being a high-energy instrumental group is the routines the seven guys do while performing. “Sometimes in a show, one guy will start doing these steps out of nowhere and then it will become a thing that we do in that part of the song,” says Leschinsky. Other times, the group will do dance moves that may be a bit on the corny side, but they’ll take little parts of those routines that work and weave them into their performances. “There’s one part where the horns fall asleep on the stage, and we try to get them up, which initially started out with all of us pretending to be asleep. Once we come back in with the music, it’s poppin’. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the show, people were laughing at it.”
The band has collaborated with a few MCs and vocalists over the course of their tenure as musicians. They have partnered up with hip-hop, soul and blues artist Kuf Knotz, and Steve-Onpoint of local funk/hip-hop band Black Landlord. They recently started working with vocalist Chelsea ViaCava, and the crowds go wild when she sings covers with the band. “Throw in a Michael Jackson or Rick James song, and you can do no wrong after that.” It’s all about variety. Along with their original music, the band also covers a tune by Billy Preston, and they do an interpretation of a song called “Seven Minutes of Funk.”
As musicians traveling around from gig to gig, a million things can go wrong at any time, and you have to be ready to tackle any kind of disaster. The band was hit by one such mishap when they were on their way to a Chicago tour a while back. Their van broke down and totally copped out, and they had to rent cars and cancel their shows. They came back to Philly the very next night. However, when they got back home they decided to start a Kickstarter campaign to raise a little money for their upcoming EP. “We reached our goal of $10,000,” Leschinsky shares. Fans seemed to have been more than supportive of Swift Technique’s endeavors.
Their newly-released EP is called You Boys Be Aight, and derives its name from the manager of the Philadelphia International Records souvenir shop. The band used to rehearse in that shop over on Broad street, and one night after a rehearsal, the guy who ran the store told them “you boys be aight”, referring to how well they played. And he had seen things like Teddy Pendergrass and Michael Jackson sessions, so he knew good music when he heard it.
The band has been talking about heading out to New Orleans for a month or two in the fall to work on a new record. Their goal is to spread their music around as much as possible. “This music has a universal appeal in a lot of ways with the horn element. Funk is a kind of music that really everyone can get down with,” says Leschinsky.
Swift Technique will be bringing their incendiary sound to The Blockley in Philadelphia on July 18th, sharing the stage with funk/jazz trio Soulive. They will also trek out to California to play a few shows in August, making stops in San Fancisco, Fresno, San Diego and Los Angeles.