Playing with fire

Bassel and the Supernaturals heat up behind new release Dreamer

By Rusty Pate

Bassel Al-Madani sits in his apartment on a seemingly ordinary night. The Kent, Ohio native began recording albums in 2008 and he now finds himself living in Chicago with his latest album, Dreamer, freshly completed with his group, Bassel and the Supernaturals. The band will shortly take to the road, but this night finds Al-Madani lounging at home with his roommate and cat.
A distinctly non-dramatic crackling sound emanates from the unit above. At first, it seems to be nothing, but suddenly, cries and screams can be heard from passersby in the street. A fire has begun on the deck of their neighbors’ apartment, and in a matter of minutes, Al-Madani and his roommate will be in a mad scramble just to get to safety.
“Suddenly, it’s full-fledged panic mode – straight out of a movie scene, smoke is bellowing into the apartment, the cat is freaking out,” Al-Madani said. “Our kitchen is suddenly on fire. It is nuts.”
Three pedestrians burst into the upstairs neighbors’ unit and awaken them as the flames quickly spread.
The surreal scene seems light years away from Al-Madani’s humble beginnings back in Kent.
The small college town sits about an hour’s drive from Cleveland. Al-Madani’s said the town offered a wealth of culture, despite the small size. From there, he moved on to Ohio State University. In Columbus, Al-Madani hooked up with Ahmed Gallab of Yeasayer and Of Montreal to record his self-titled first professional EP.
“He’s always kind of been my big brother and was there helping me a lot in Columbus with a lot of my initial musical endeavors,” Al-Madani said.
After a second EP in 2009, work began on his first long player, Submerged, in 2010. While he has developed into a singer/songwriter, his childhood instruments were drums and violin. He began building Submerged from the ground up, bringing in Columbus musicians to help flesh out the sound.
“It was more of an indie-folk type of effort. I did that right before I graduated from [Ohio State]. I toured for about four weeks in the summer of 2010 to support it,” Al-Madani said.
After graduating from Ohio State, he made the move to the Windy City. While the Columbus indie-folk scene allowed him to begin to find himself as an artist, he always wanted to find a group of musicians to create a fuller sound.
“I always knew I was moving away from Columbus eventually,” Al-Madani said. “It takes a lot of time and energy to get people on board for a project. As soon as I knew I was going to be moving to Chicago, I wanted to dive into Chicago, meet a group of people and create a really solid energy.”
That group ended up forming from the ranks of Northwestern University’s Jazz scene. Al-Madani also began to expand his personal sound, drawing on more expressive influences. Otis Redding, Al Green and Chess Records acts became the linchpin that held together a myriad of converging styles.
While Columbus certainly represented a step up from the small-town life of Kent, Chicago brought the full-spectrum of big city life. Al-Madani approached it as a challenge and a chance to reinvent his musical direction.
“There’s a lot of room to breathe,” Al-Madani said. “You can play every single night of the week here in Chicago and you’re always playing to a brand new crowd. There are always new opportunities to explore.”
The transition from singer/songwriter to bandleader came with its own set of pressures. Opening up songs to discussion, change and transformation by the members of his band was vastly different from his days as a one-man crew.
“There’s definitely a challenge involved with letting go of certain components of your music,” Al-Madani said. “When you create a good energy with everybody, they want to help the vision come to life.”
The road band differs slightly from the studio configuration. With one member in medical school, it makes it tough to get away. The lineup for the Dayton show includes Bassel Al-Madani on lead vocals and guitar, Phil Anderson on keyboards and vocals, Zach Puller on guitar and sax, Swen Hendrickson on bass and Cameron LeCrone on drums.
The fire happened just days before the group embarked on a 12-city tour. Al-Madani finds himself dealing with insurance adjusters, living on his brother’s couch and starting almost completely from scratch. Still, he remains ever optimistic and upbeat. After all, moving somewhere should be relatively pain-free this time around.
“Moving out sucks, man – I don’t have to clean shit,” Al-Madani said. “You just throw all of it away and start over. It’s like a cleansing process. I’m looking forward to just getting the hell out of here for the next few weeks.”
Bassel and the Supernaturals will play on Saturday, Sept. 22 at Blind Bob’s, 430 E. Fifth St. Also on the bill are Onesecond, The Getaways, Corey King and The Ohio Weather Band. Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission is $5 for 18 & up. For more information visit www.basselmusic.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@daytoncitypaper.com

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Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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