Bonneville unveils a fusion of retro-soul and funky R&B euphoria with ‘Undercover Woman’

"Something you’d want to listen to on a road trip to Vegas”
11 October 2023

Where innovation and tradition often collide, the band Bonneville stands as a beacon of artistic fearlessness. Their latest single, Undercover Woman, serves as the herald for their forthcoming album, Flying Machine, a highly anticipated sequel to their well-received self-titled debut. Nestled in the realm of retro-soul and funky R&B, Bonneville weaves a musical tapestry deeply rooted in Southern influences, encapsulating a passion for preserving the legacy of a bygone era while infusing it with their own distinctive flair.

The narrative embedded in Undercover Woman unfolds a tale of longing and emotional complexity. Lead vocalist Wes McGee articulates the essence, “It’s a song about a man desiring a woman physically close but emotionally distant, navigating the challenge of breaking down barriers. As the story progresses, the song transforms into a celebration of profound satisfaction, a journey through the struggle to find love and the ultimate triumph of connection. The result is a dynamic composition that invites listeners to bop their heads to its infectious rhythm. Something you’d want to listen to on a road trip to Vegas.”

“It’s a really fun track,” adds Hayashi (songwriter, guitar, background vocals, co-producer) “Head bobbing and grooving all of the way through. But when you get to the end, it’s a massive house party.”

The genesis of Undercover Woman paints a picture of spontaneous creativity. While in Muscle Shoals’ Fame Studio in Alabama, guitarist Jeff Hayashi experimented with an unconventional open tuning inspired by Jimmy Page. The non-standard tuning, DCGCGD, lent the track an almost Middle Eastern flavor.

 “It’s a funky, groovy, greasy soul jam,” describes Jeff Hayashi. The birth of the song was an impromptu collaboration, with each band member contributing to its evolution, creating an unforgettable musical journey. “The song is in G Natural Minor, but Page adds the notes B and F# to the G Natural Minor scale, allowing for a natural suspension almost everywhere on the fretboard. So I wondered if I could play some funk in this tuning…The answer to that question turned out to be an emphatic yes. Bass player, Andy Dixon, started singing some lyrics and melody over it. Then Brad Kuhn jumped on the keys and began to lay down a syncopated pad, and when Wes started belting out the top-line vocals we were off and running. That was the birth of the song.”

Building upon the momentum of their debut, Bonneville joined forces with GRAMMY®-recognized producer Starita, known for pushing the boundaries of sonic ranges and genre-blending styles. Starita, who has worked with luminaries such as Childish Gambino and A Tribe Called Quest, lauds Bonneville for their openness to experimentation, stating, “I’m always excited to produce Bonneville, because we are starting to push the envelope of what soul and funk music can be.”

A significant departure from the norm in the recording process emerged as Bonneville, along with Starita and lead engineer Wes Sheffield, embraced an unconventional microphone setup using all ribbon microphones. The resulting sound, described by Sheffield as “rich, warm, and very natural,” added an organic dimension to the recording. Royer Labs, renowned for collaborations with established artists, supported this innovative approach, marking a unique collaboration between an emerging band and a respected microphone manufacturer.

The willingness of Bonneville to explore cutting-edge production tools without compromising their retro aesthetic sets them apart. Starita notes, “Their sound may be retro, but they’re not afraid to access new tools to achieve their vision.” The collaboration with Royer Labs exemplifies this, creating a balance between homage to the past and a forward-thinking approach to sound.

Starita explains: “Recording this song with all ribbon microphones is not usually done. With that many ribbon mics living in a room, I would typically expect to have a mess given that ribbons pick up sound from the front and back of the mic. To our surprise, when we pulled up the faders, there was this rich, warm, and very natural sound as if you were actually in the room with each instrument. The sound was just simply beautiful.”

Wes Sheffield (recording engineer, mix engineer.) added, “I love using ribbons, and especially Royers but every ribbon is naturally a figure 8. So, I had some concerns about bleeding and phasing issues. With a little thought towards how everyone was positioned and which mics to place where, we actually wound up with a gorgeous, rich sound that had a super low noise floor with very three-dimensional imaging. That was a true selling point for me. That you could have so many ribbons in a live room, not only without hiss and bleed overpowering the sources, but also the tonal quality was phenomenal.”

“Royer Labs goes back years with Starita,” reveals John Jennings, VP of Sales & Marketing at Royer Labs. “So when he called us about an all-Royer recording of Bonneville at Fame Studios, we were all in. We love the way this recording turned out. The band killed this song and there’s ribbon warmth and power throughout the recording.”

“We’re grateful to the folks at Royer Labs for the opportunity,” adds Starita. “Thanks to them, we were inspired to move out of our comfort zone a bit, and it really paid off. And another great thing is that Bonneville was exactly the right artist to try this with; both in terms of the sound we are trying to achieve and their willingness to work with new and different creative tools.”  

Undercover Woman by Bonneville serves as a testament to the band’s unwavering dedication to creating timeless music. As they persist in exploring new sonic territories and challenging the conventions of soul and funk, it becomes clear that their artistic journey is boundless and knows no constraints.

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The full production team on ‘Undercover Woman’ includes band members – Jeff Hayashi, songwriter, guitar, background vocals, co-producer; Wes McGee, songwriter, lead vocals; Andy Dixon, bass, Christian Pepin, percussion; Brad Kuhn, keys; Justin Holder, drums; Brad Guin, Marc Franklin, Sarah Morrow, horns, Cindy Walker, Marie Lewey, background vocals, Starita, producer; Wes Sheffield, recording engineer, mix engineer. The album was recorded at Fame Studios, Muscle Shoals, AL. Mastered by Daddy Kev, Los Angeles, CA. Creative direction by Tam Akiko. Released by Starita Records, a division of Starita Music.