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After 3 years of captivating audiences with their unique blend of soul, jazz, and undertones of hip-hop, Minneapolis-based Nooky Jones are released their debut self-titled album on July 28, 2017 via Young And Foolish Records. A truly cohesive collection of love stories and music that takes listeners to beautiful places alongside deeply provocative characters, the album is a much needed artistic expression of self for vocalist/frontman Cameron Kinghorn.
Raised in Circle Pines, a far-out suburb of Minneapolis, Kinghorn came up in a devoutly Mormon household. He started piano lessons at age 4, but it was in the church where he began learning about harmony. By the time he hit elementary school, Kinghorn was reading sheet music in choir and learning all of the harmonizing parts to each song, a talent that manifests itself in the intricate layered vocals of his band’s debut album. Additionally, his mother was an important influence, teaching him that music about more than notes on the page. She attended all of his concerts and provide detailed feedback, always emphasizing the importance of passion in performance.
In public school, Cameron had a unique experience as both a Mormon and one of the few students of color in an extremely homogenized community. After high school, rather than enter the Mormon mission, something expected of 19-year-old men, he attended the University of Minnesota where his eyes were opened to an entirely different world; one where he met and befriended a diverse mix of people from varied ethnic and religious backgrounds as well as sexual orientations. In addition to new social norms, Kinghorn discovered a deeper personal passion for music, regularly sneaking into rehearsal rooms after hours and playing piano until 2am.
In early 2014, a year after Kinghorn graduated from the U of M, drummer Reid Kennedy and trumpet player Adam Meckler were on a flight home from a gig in New Orleans when they bonded over a shared love of certain musical genres and styles. Eventually the conversation turned from, “hey do you dig this, and do you dig that?” to “we should start a band where we put all of those sounds together.” Almost instantly Meckler suggested they tap Cameron Kinghorn to front their soon-to-be-founded band. When you see Nooky Jones now, it’s obvious that he is the only man for the job, but at the time, Kinghorn was mostly working as a trumpet player and singing in cover bands around town. This sort of artistic development would be a new effort for the 24 year old musician.
Soon Kinghorn would find himself sitting at a piano with Meckler and Kennedy, a gifted multi-instrumentalist in his own right, who started throwing idea after idea at him and said, “if you’re feeling it, sing.” Kinghorn recalls, “These are the dudes I look up to in town, and they’re just putting me on the spot. At first it was a test of my confidence.” But as soon he started singing, everyone in the room instantly knew they were on to something. “It was like we all had a desire for this sound, but didn’t really know exactly what it was until we heard it that day.”
Quickly Cameron and Reid forged a special musical partnership, writing song after song together. Had he entered the mission, Cameron would have been forbidden from listening to “music that pulls your thoughts away from your work, merely entertains, [or] has romantic lyrics or overtones…” Instead, through the writing process, Kinghorn was celebrating without shame the vibrant world that was revealed to him as a young man out on his own.
With a collection of original songs in hand, Kennedy, Meckler, and Kinghorn teamed up with bassist Andrew Foreman, keyboardist Kevin Gastonguay, and trombonist Ryan Christianson to further explore sonic possibilities. “We never really had a conversation about our vision or anything like that. When it came time to build out the band, we just found the best possible players and it clicked right away,” recalls Kinghorn.
Produced over the course of 15 months at RiverRock Studios and The Hideaway in Northeast Minneapolis, the band’s debut album relies on each musician’s unique style as a critical part of the overall sound. Atop airtight yet comfortably loose drum and bass grooves often reminiscent of 90s R&B and Hip-Hop, layers of harmonically complex piano, organ, and Fender Rhodes create a lushness associated with jazz that rarely integrates into pop music so tastefully. Adding flairs of excitement throughout, the trumpet/trombone duo of Meckler and Christianson bring their powerful chops to the forefront when appropriate without ever stepping on the vocals, which float effortlessly from deep sultry textures to a silky smooth falsetto on par with the best soul crooners in the business. A non-stop rollercoaster of emotions, the album masterfully draws the listener in with slow burns that eventually boil over, only to be brought back down and start over again.