Watch out: it’s contagious. From the very first notes of the One Step EP, you know you’re on to something. It sounds like Michael Jackson’s back, with his famous choruses and his dancing swagger. The Foundation, the collective of seven musicians behind the song, propels this hit-to-be with a solid dose of urban soul. We re-discover the inexorably visceral, climatic voices of Frédéric Varre and singer Mel Pacifico.
“This [six-track] EP is a transition for me as a producer,” says Fredy Varre. “Self-isolation forced me to improve in that field. With The Foundation, our goal is to pick up the torch [of ‘70s funk and soul] and take it into the future.”
“Your Own Way” is just as thrilling, and could just as well have been recorded by the British combo Brand New Heavies, with its lush vocal harmonies and driving beats. “It Could Be,” although it doesn’t exactly re-invent the wheel, is irresistibly pumping, while “Funghi” is a techno-house instrumental that still fits perfectly well with the other songs on the project.
“Mel and I sometimes choose to not include vocals on a track,” says Varre. “Funghi takes us to another dimension, and it’s a bit of a moment to take a breath.”
“45” is One Step’s other big hit: featuring the line “You make me spin like a 45,” it has everything an earworm requires. “Gimme The Check” is a heavy, two-speed funk song that’s as dirty as it is brilliantly assembled. Varre and his production partner Caulder Nash have succeeded in finding the right balance of songs, each assembled down to the smallest detail.
“For me this EP is also a transition from solo artist to band member,” says Varre. “I felt like experiencing what it’s like to compose a song alongside six other people.” The experiment took a year. The band’s improvisations are recorded, then tweaked to perfection.
“We knew we wanted songs you can dance to, not slow stuff,” says Varre. “Something festive and inclusive, that makes you vibe and dance. We also wanted to have international potential, with a touch of nostalgia, and a modern essence. Knowing these musicians are going to collect royalties, now that they’re SOCAN members, that’s what gets me going. We try to create music that’s original, to create jobs, because music is not an eternal vehicle!”
The new EP finds Fredy V. following up It Takes a Village, his first one, released in 2017, and Varsity Vol. 1 (2014). Many enjoyed his work with Kalmunity, singer Shay Lia, and Kallitechnis, all Montréal-bred R&B projects, not to mention the homage to Prince at Métropolis in 2016, alongside The Brooks, where Varre burned the place down with his falsetto interpretation of “I Wanna Be Your Lover.”
“The Brooks are like big brothers,” he says. “Alan Pater, their singer, is my main mentor, he’s my Jedi master! The Foundation and The Brooks are basically like the yin and yang of Québec R&B. We’re more in the Prince vibe, whereas they’re more classic.”
Fredy V. and The Foundation have adapted their true passion to the techniques and sounds of modern studios. Therein lies their strength. And the result is a project that could only have grown in the fertile ground of a cosmopolitan city like Montréal.
As for the urge to play his new songs onstage, Varre is epically realistic, and he truly impressed viewers – with only four musicians to back him up – during the recent virtual edition of the Montréal International Jazz Festival.
“I’m like a boxer who just wants to fight,” he says. “My dream right now is to get back onstage with this project. The world is getting smaller and smaller, and we have to go global, I want to move funk and soul forward. The Foundation is bigger than the sum of its parts. We represent a brand, a movement. A village.”