INTERVIEW: Free Soul Effect on R&B, New Albany, and Anime!

Small mid-west towns are typically insulated not only geographically, but culturally from the coasts where much of American popular culture originates. New Albany, Indiana likely fits that mold and yet it is the birth place of Louisville’s R&B duo Free Soul Effect. When Ryan Marsh and Kojin met in high school in 2010 through a mutual friend they were ecstatic to connect over their similar musical interests and admiration for R&B. From that unlikely foundation in New Albany seven years ago, they have since shared a musical journey that is evolving even now.

Their recent EP ‘Of Random Unison,’ which you can check out below, showcases what they’ve learned along the way from their shared and individual experiences in production technique, collaboration and production. The music is generally uptempo while still allowing for enough change ups to keep songs from running into each other sonically undifferentiated. Smooth and perfect for off-key solo renditions in the shower (not that I’ve tried), Free Soul Effect’s newly released EP ‘Of Random Unison,’ is worth your ear and the 10$ digital copy from Bandcamp.

Despite swimming against the current here at home where they feel folk and rock may carry more cultural currency in the music scene, Free Soul Effect is making waves and a strong case for more attention to be paid to Louisville’s burgeoning R&B scene alongside Otis Junior, Rob Lee and Cicily among others. Read our interview with them below and see them live at their album release at Zanzabar tonight.

Never Nervous: How did Ryan Marsh and KOJIN meet and go on to form Free Soul Effect?

Ryan Marsh: We met through our mutual friend Luke Wray in highschool back in 2010. We graduated the next year and started writing and recording music just for fun.

KOJIN: When I changed schools in high school, Ryan transferred to the high school that I used to go to. Through our dear friend/mascot Luke Wray we met up and started playing music, and we ended up going to the same college while playing music together. We always played and recorded music together, but never really had a name for the duo until around senior year of college.

In 2014 after we played Forecastle together with another band, we decided to release our first EP KT/RM and actually debuted it in Tokyo, Japan. At the show in Tokyo, I played this song I wrote called “Free Soul”, which kind of became the base for our name. While we were eating at this Mexican restaurant planning the full length album and all the featured artists, we decided to go with “Free Soul Effect”.

NN: What is each of your musical backgrounds/histories?

RM: I started playing piano when I was four years old and had a lot of classical training. I started getting into jazz and R&B in high school, which influenced my writing style. I started producing music seriously back in 2014 which led us into an opportunity to produce a song for Sebastian Kole and Alessia Cara. After going to New York and working on music there, my mind was opened and Kojin and I both changed our approach to music. That experience is what led us to where we are now.

K: Kind of like Ryan, I moved from Tokyo to Indiana and started classical violin when I was four (asian parents). My dad was a classical musician himself, but he was also a HUGE motown head and I grew up on R&B/Soul, disco and funk. Beginning of middle school, my friend introduced me to hip hop and that was my turning point in music. I learned how to play piano, and started recording/producing music on garageband my 8th grade year.

Never thought I would meet another person with similar ambitions and musical influences in New Albany, Indiana, but met Ryan during high school and here we are now. The production we did in New York really did change our production and vision in music heavily. Shout out to our team and brothers Jon Woo and Phil (NES).

NN: What are each of your roles in the group?

“We both write all the songs, we produce everything, and we play all the instruments.”

RM: We both do everything pretty much. We both write all the songs, we produce everything, and we play all the instruments. Kojin plays all the string parts, I play all the guitar parts, and we split the keys. We also manage everything ourselves which is something we actually hate doing, but that’s another story.

K: Basically what Ryan said. We try to cover all main instruments and also do all of our tracking, mixing, and mastering in-house. It is tedious, but sometimes it pays off. I’m kind of a gear nerd so one of my roles is to gather info about different music gear and the technical stuff about it. Ryan’s role is to act like he is listening when I start nerding out way too much. It works out.

NN: Your latest record is ‘Of Random Unison,’ how did you settle on that name?

RM: Kojin came up with the name a while back, I think around 2013. It was a cool idea to represent how we functioned as a duo.

K: It’s actually kind of a weird story. I originally had a few tracks and a concept about a solo production album collaborating with local musicians. I really liked the idea of getting different musicians to perform on songs that don’t sound like what they usually put out. When we came back from New York, Ryan and I really wanted to showcase what we learned during the production camp, so we decided to create an album together using the concept of collaboration with other artists. All the artists have different or “random” backgrounds and sounds, but they are in “unison” through our production for the album. That’s how the name came about.

NN: When I listen I hear a lot of synth-pop and R&B, it’s kind of a mix between the 90s R&B appeal with the more modern electronic music backing it. Who has influenced you guys musically?

RM: There are way too many influences, but a few of them are Musiq Soulchild, Disclosure, Tom Misch and Maroon 5.

K: Man, this is always a hard question for me too. R&B wise Stevie Wonder will always be the OG for me. I basically worshipped The Neptunes during grade school so they are a huge one in terms of production. I feel like Disclosure is the biggest influence for this album in particular, we both listen to a lot of music from the UK like Tom misch, Jordan Rakei, Sam Wills, etc. I love what they do over there, they just do whatever they want and it sounds great.

NN: All of the collaborations turned out great on this record. But because I like both of them as artists I specifically wanted to ask about how it was working with Yons and Dom B?

RM: They were really dope. They’re two of my favorite local rappers and I respect their work. Definitely the kind of artists that make me want to keep doing what we’re doing.

K: I’ve actually known Yons longer than i’ve known Ryan. My cousin brought him over to my home studio one day from the church, and I couldn’t believe the BARS that came out. Since then he’s only gotten better as a rapper and producer, to the point where if I wasn’t a musician at all I would still genuinely be one of his biggest fans. Working with him always elevates the project and makes me a better producer/musician.

Dom B we met at a local open mic a few years ago, but as soon as we heard him rap Ryan and I looked at each other and fist bumped. He’s still young, but has that flow and energy that you can’t find everywhere. It was an honor working with both of them, and we will definitely be working with them more.

NN: Is there a R&B scene in Louisville?

RM: Absolutely. Right now it’s sort of an underground scene, because folk and rock are so dominant in Louisville at the moment. It’s on the come up though.

“Zach Longoria and Otis Junior have made it clear that R&B exists in the city.”

K: Totally. Like Ryan said it’s still underground but musicians like Zach Longoria and Otis Junior have made it clear that R&B exists in the city, as well as up and coming artists like Rob Lee.

NN: What does a Free Soul Effect live show look like?

RM: Honestly, we’re still evolving as a live duo so we’re still figuring some of it out. We’re having an album release show at Zanzabar on September 9th and it’s gonna seem like a DJ set to a degree because we are two people performing everything. But we’ll be playing live instruments so I think it’ll be a cool experience for our fans.

K: The album release show on September 9th will definitely be a musical but also very visual experience. We will both be sequencing the basic tracks, but also have quite a few different instruments all around us that we will both play live. I could be playing through a talkbox and suddenly pick up the violin, while Ryan plays guitar and triggers samples while singing. All our featured artists are great performers, and they each add their unique aura to the stage. Besides that, Lights, lasers, and smoke with some grooves to dance to. We’re a duo, but we try to “orchestrate” as much as possible when we play live.

NN: What have each of you guys been: watching, reading, listening to, eating?

RM: Recently I’ve been rewatching Samurai Champloo. The story and soundtrack are dope. Been trying to find something new to read so throw some sci-fi/fantasy recommendations my way! The last thing I listened to on Spotify was JP Cooper. The last thing I ate was chicken curry but I’ve been obsessed with a new Mexican restaurant near my place in New Albany called La Tiendita. Seriously, check out their tacos.

K: I’m a diehard Studio Ghibli fan (Spirited Away, Totoro) so I watch all the films regularly and listen to every soundtrack, but recently my Netflix history consists of Suits, Lie to Me, and the Dave Chapelle specials. I can’t read anything except business and psychology books, any other book usually puts me to sleep. Recently I read Rework by Jason Fried, Zero To One by Peter Thiel, and Jab Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk. On spotify I’ve been listening to Marian Hill and Jidenna on repeat for the past month, vibes all day. Food wise I eat pho at Pho Cafe religiously, and when I’m not eating there I’m eating at La Tiendita. Ryan and I literally eat there like it’s oxygen. It is no joke, their tacos complete me as a human being.