Jazz, swing, pop

Small Time Napoleon back to the future at Jimmie’s

By Josher Lumpkin

In a musical climate wherein guitar-based rock music has become decidedly passé, acts like Louisville’s Small Time Napoleon bring forth a postmodernist fusion of sounds and styles that will take the listener into a musical time machine. One can discern elements of jazz and swing on their album Cloud Machine, all tied together with a traditional pop feel. Guitarist Jeff Thomas describes their sound as “vintage pop,” and it is dreamily smooth and sweet without being saccharine.

Dayton City Paper caught up with Thomas by phone to talk about Small Time Napoleon’s past, present and future.

What attracted you to this sound?  It’s not something you hear every day.

Jeff Thomas:  Yeah, well three of us have degrees in music and jazz in particular. So, we kind of have, like, this learned background, and that kind of jazz learning, mixed with more pop-styled music today. Just kind of ended up something close to that.

Did you guys meet in school?

JT:  Ryan, the drummer, and Dave, the bassist, met at Belmont University, which is in Louisville. And the other singer, Dan and myself met through a mutual friend who I happened to go to school with, but not really through school. And then Dan and myself met Dave and Ryan, at a bar that was just really close to their house and they happened to stroll in one night.

How does this style of music go over in Louisville?

JT: You know we’re surprised and grateful at how well it’s going over here. We just won an award. Louisville started doing this thing called the Louisville Music Awards. This past year was the third year. We won Jazz Avant Garde Artist of the Year, so yeah. And the radio station here has been really supportive of us, we’ve done a few kind of bigger shows for them. There’s a summer series here called Waterfront Wednesdays, which is like an outdoor festival type thing downtown and there’s usually between four and twelve hundred people there, so we’ve gotten to do a couple events like that with them. So, yes, people seem to
like it here.

What was it like making Cloud Machine?

JT: Cloud Machine is our first full-length album. We had a short EP before that. We went up to Anderson, Indiana, which is up northeast of Indianapolis, and we spent four or five days tracking it out. And we did everything live as a band, with no punch-ins, no overdubs, no quantization, no pitch-correction. So we tried to do it kind of live, like in the vein of … it doesn’t sound like old jazz records or anything like that but you know how like those guys would go in, do everything, and if they didn’t get it in the first few takes, then they just didn’t get it, you know? So, we tried to do something along that. It was not the intent to make like a jazz album but just with that live feel. But yeah, it was a lot of fun.

Small Time Napoleon was recently featured on an episode of NPR’s World Cafe. How did that feel?

JT:  Oh, that was great. I hadn’t listened to it as much as Dan the singer did, so he was much more aware and more stoked than I was. It was great. One of the other persons on the list was Joan Shelley, and she’s kind of blowing up outside of Louisville right now, so it was great to be not just featured on there but to be listed alongside people that we look up to in town and everything.

What are your plans for the future as far as touring and recording?

JT: We took the winter off more or less to just write and rehearse, and then we’re doing like a weekend warrior thing where from middle of March until the first weekend in August, we’re going to be out every weekend playing two to three shows in different cities, a couple in Louisville, and then in the beginning of August, we’re recording a new EP at a place called La La Land, in town, which is where My Morning Jacket does all their stuff or at least used to, and a few other bigger names. So it’s a very nice studio and the dudes that run it are very cool.

Small Time Napoleon will perform at 10 p.m. on Friday, March 25 at Jimmie’s Ladder 11, 936 Brown St. in Dayton.  Creole Candy is also on the bill.  For more information, please visit SmallTimeNapoleon.com.

Josher Lumpkin is a nursing student and aspiring historian who enjoys writing about music and geekdom of all kinds. He is especially fond of punk rock, tabletop gaming, sci-fi/fantasy and camping with his wife, Jenner, and their dogs, Katie and Sophie. Reach him at JosherLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Josher Lumpkin is a nursing student and aspiring historian who enjoys writing about music and geekdom of all kinds. He is especially fond of punk rock, tabletop gaming, sci-fi/fantasy and camping with his wife, Jenner, and their dogs, Katie and Sophie. Reach him at JosherLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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