Cornell recently held its annual Big Red Icon to determine which student band will get to play on Slope Day as an opener. I spoke with Josh Sokol, the saxophonist of this year’s winning band After Six, about their musical style and what makes them unique.
The Sun: How would you describe the type of music that After Six makes?
Josh Sokol: I feel like we have a diverse style. We also change what we’re going for depending on the event, but we keep it centered around what After Six is. A mix between neo soul, funk and hip hop. But I think we’re still developing our sound.
We try to showcase our originals, and when we do covers we try to keep it true to our sound. We don’t want to just play those exactly how they’re created. We want to add a little After Six touch. Like, we added a Latin feel in our version of “Survivor,” we used a talk box in “24K Magic.” Adding extra parts, changing the vibe, changing the beat, not playing covers exactly how they are is something that gives us a unique sound. A lot of our composing is from scratch. Sometimes we work together as a band when we are making parts. We get down the chords and decide what kind of sound we want. For slope day, we’re trying to go for more of a crowd-pleasing type vibe. We’re playing — wait. I don’t know if I can say which songs we’re doing. I can’t release it. Classified. (Laughs) We want to play songs that people will recognize and be able to sing along to.
Sun: Your group has nine members. With such a big group, what does the song selection process look like?
J.S.: Luke [the pianist and president of After Six] is in charge of the band, but he lets us decide as a group. We generate the ideas. We want everyone in the band to enjoy the music we’re playing. We had a couple of ideas for Slope Day that some people really wanted and some people really didn’t want, so we just decided not to go with those songs and find ones that we all agree upon. I think that’s why our sound comes from all over. We all have pretty unique music tastes, and it’s cool to see those blend together. We find certain songs that one of us is particularly passionate about, and we often add to it so we can each convey our own style.
Sun: What does composing look like when you have to write music for so many different instruments?
J.S.: Well, the vocalists wrote a song together called “Growing Up,” and they worked on it just by themselves. They figured out the harmonies, they figured out the melody, they figured out what they wanted the song to be like, they did the lyrics and everything, but then there’s always a little bit of space in the originals in which we can think about it together. We allow the song to be played and developed within the group. Or sometimes, for example with one of my solos, it sounded a little dry, so we added this key change, we added more dynamics and just kind of developed it on the fly. Then over time, as we practiced, after several hours, we figured out what sounded best and at a certain point it all comes together and sounds beautiful.
Sun: Tell me about your personal musical style and what led you to where you are now with music?
J.S.: I started playing the saxophone when I was really young. I remember in third grade, I just really liked the sound of the saxophone and got really into it. I was always into funk, soul, jazz music, and that’s why I ended up picking the saxophone. I’ve pretty much been playing ever since. I really like old time-y 1940s, tenor sax, jazz musicians. I do a lot of transcribing and looking at saxophonists like Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young. And I think my style is a kind of fusion of that sound with more modern R&B beats. I think the saxophone fits well in that category. I try my best to draw from the past and the present. Somewhere between jazz, soul and funk.
Sun: Pretend I’m someone that’s never heard of or seen After Six. How would you convince me to come to your show?
J.S.: I would say, first of all, we’re a very fun and talented group to see live. We have a good energy and we’re all so happy to be on stage playing music together. There are no boring parts of our performances. And that’s enough to get people to come out. We also — we put in a lot of time into all of our shows. We have three incredible vocalists, so you can always expect really great vocalist highlights. There’s also plenty of good solos from our other instrumentalists, such as Kobby on trumpet or Turner on guitar. The way that we create music, where we build it up piece by piece, makes it so everyone contributes to the sound, and every song we play is unique and interesting to listen to. Just super fun all around.
Rachel Cannata is a sophomore in the Hotel School. She can be reached at [email protected]