Affair To Remember: Interview with Leon Michels


If you’ve heard Menahan Street Band’s Make The Road By Walking (one of the year’s best!), then you know the horns are a major part of the album’s feel—if not the most important. The horn-lines entirely anchored the songs, adding texture to the already colorful arrangements but could also serve as its centerpiece. The horns were the product of Leon Michels, founder of Truth&Soul Records and frontman of El Michels Affair.

Menahan’s bandleader, Tommy Brenneck, has said that he thinks Leon is currently one of the top horn arrangers in the business, which is tough to dispute if you’ve heard either Make The Road…or Sounding Out The City. I spoke to Leon last year for a piece I was working on, and afterwards, he graciously shipped us a box of records to help sponsor San Jose’s Dig Dug. The year’s young, and Truth&Soul are gearing up to drop more heat this year. Here are some parts from the series of interviews we did a while back. Thanks again Leon, looking forward to the coming year.

Sounding Out The Scene


What was the response when you guys first played live?
It was first with the Mighty Imperials. At the time, we were sixteen and played hard funk songs to audiences of twenty-something hipsters in New York. People usually had a hard time wrapping their heads around the experience. It was a novelty act of sorts. With the El Michels Affair, it is different. Aside from the Wu-Tang shows we played, our original music is entirely instrumental. So the shows, depending the audience, are hit or miss.

Do you see your band expanding and playing different types of music, or just sticking with what you’ve already established?
Most of the stuff we do at Truth&Soul is produced and written by myself, Jeff, and some of the guys from El Michels. So we are consistently changing our style but attaching different band names to the music.

How did that Amy Winehouse remix come about?
Universal asked us to do a remix cause they had been played some El Michels stuff, and heard a few of the songs that we had done with Lee Fields. [Click HERE to download it!!!]

How did it feel when you found out your song was going to be used on The Sopranos? Were you guys fans of the show?
I was watching the show and had no idea the song was gonna get used. That show, in my opinion is the best TV series ever, so I freaked out and called everyone I know. I’m glad we could contribute to that series.

Where do you and your band want to be in five years?
Doing the same thing we’re doing now….making real music that we’re feeling.

Renewed Interest (for the interested)


What about your music do you think has been grabbing people’s attention?
I feel our music is a little more “smoked out” and soulful than certain stuff coming from the same scene. We are making music from the heart rather than simply trying to ape a sound.

So then, what are your thoughts on this recent revival of funk and soul?
No one making the music should be following the “soul” formula so literally. It cheapens the art form.

Would we only find old funk and soul playing at your pad? What music are you currently listening to?
I love all types of music but it’s hard for me to enjoy most of the new music being played on the radio. I’m listening to Rocksteady and early dub records, 60’s Cumbia, Fania Records, Sweet Soul music ala The Delfonics, The Sylistics, and I listened to way to much of our own music at Truth&Soul.

Your songs definitely have a Latin flare. Touch on that a bit.
I love Latin music and sometimes that stuff creeps into our music.

Wu-Tang! Wu-Tang!


What upcoming projects do you have in store?
We have a record of Wu-Tang Covers that will be released on Fatbeats, a Lee Fields & The Expressions record coming out on T&S, and a couple of other projects in the pipeline. We did a remix for a Universal artist by the name of Gabriella Cilmi called “Sweet As Can Be”, and a few other production things we’ve done for other labels.

How was working with Raekwon when you guys backed him on the road?
Raekwon, Wu-Tang and El Michels Affair were a perfect match. Rza’s beats have a very cinematic feel to all of them and the beats by themselves are good compositions, not just good loops. All those guys were crazy professional and making music with them was pleasure. We did the tour with Raekwon and then we also did a series of shows with Gza, Inspectah Deck, and U-God.

What’s your favorite Wu-Tang album?
Their first record, by far!!!!!!

How has being a hip-hop fan affected your songwriting?
I love hip-hop but mostly for the samples and records they flip. That is why the Shaolin Series was so good. It was full circle—original songs flipped into a collage of loops turned back into a live song.

So, what were Wu-Tang like? Were they funny dudes?
They could never get the band name right! [laughs] I don’t think they’d ever worked with a live band, so sometimes when the tempo drifted, and didn’t sound exactly like the record, there would be confusion [laughs]. They were great. Overall, it was great working with them….they’re legends.


20 thoughts on “Affair To Remember: Interview with Leon Michels

    1. Hi thanks for the loessn they are short and simple and therefor not overwhelming. I have signed up to your mailing list and confirmed it. I am not sure it I missed the link for the download where on your site can I find the link to download the ebook that was promised. Thanks again.


    1. Per the label, you have 5 less grams of sugar (a little less than a teaspoonful). It also mentions that the serving size is 19g vs 24g in the original (a difference of precisely 5 grams). So, it seems that they are just putting less sugar on it and adjusted the serving scoop to accommodate the difference. Given that the new one seems to be the Mexican variety, it is possible that it is made with sugar from cane, instead of corn fructose). Either way, it is probably “healthier” than the prior one, and if it is made out of sugar cane, probably tastes better also…


    2. Jim,I really enjoyed reading your article and I wish you the best with everything you are doing. A lot of what you are talking about I would call consciously changing our thinking and perceptions, which then dictate how we feel about things. I am reminded of the story of Michelangelo when asked how he could possibly create a masterpiece such as his widely acclaimed “David.” His response was that all he did was take a slab of marble and “remove anything that wasn’t David.”It sounds fairly simplistic but it works. This is what Stutz and Michels are talking about. Although I never read their book (I just have added it to my ever-lengthening book list), I believe (my perception) that they are saying that if we decide to change our minds about anything, our worlds will change accordingly. The lure of the familiar is often more comforting than the fear we face when we contemplate doing something new. But courage is not the lack of fear, it is doing what you need to do in spite of the fear, and discovering that the fear was made much larger in our minds than was realistic. Once again, the lure of the familiar will stunt growth and inhibit us from becoming all we can be. It is the paper that is blank. It is never your mind! The paper is simply the tool while the mind is the instrument of creation, which is endless. Thank you for helping me re-connect to something inside that I very much enjoy!Peace,George Wallace


    3. Bobby Digital is a very good album. It was 2 far ahead of its time…people didnt get it “bobby digital” the aegvare joes didnt give it a change passed judgment off the name & panned it without actually listening to it…


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