At least, that’s how it was for Adam Dorn, who spent his childhood obsessed with the bass-driven, on-the-one sounds of the Gap Band, Chic, Zapp, Brothers Johnson, Weather Report and other esteemed purveyors of funk-tastic goodness. It was an obsession that drove Dorn to pick up the electric bass, and led him to a career in music — first as a session musician, then as acclaimed electronic artist Mocean Worker, who helped pioneer the Electro Swing movement by whimsically mixing modern beats with samples of jazz giants like Count Basie and Duke Ellington. As Mocean Worker, Dorn has also contributed music to numerous films and television shows over the years, including the end theme to AMC’s Better Call Saul and the Emmy nominated/NAACP Award-winning score for the documentary Richard Pryor — Omit the Logic.
But despite the groove-heavy nature of his music, Dorn always avoided playing bass on Mocean Worker records, out of concern that he might sound too much like Marcus Miller, the jazz giant whom he’d worked and studied under during his late teens and early twenties. “I remember doing something where I was playing, and Marcus said, ‘You sound just like me — and that’s not so great.’” Dorn explains. “I was like, ‘Okay, I need to find my own voice.’ Making my own records up to this point, I’ve been like, ‘No bass — if I play bass on the record, I’ll sound like him.’”
During the making of Mocean Worker, his self-titled eighth album, Dorn realized that he’d been back-burnering his own funky impulses for far too long; ironically, it was Miller who turned the (flash)light bulb back on over his head. “I was working with Marcus on his latest album “Afrodeezia”, and he was like, ‘Why don’t you play bass more?’” Dorn laughs. “So that kind of emboldened me, as did working on the Richard Pryor documentary, because it got me back into funk in a big way. It got me more focused on the music I was into as a kid, because I was really into Pryor when I was a kid — that was like the defining thing for me. I felt like I’d finally developed a style as an artist that was identifiable enough as mine that, if I snuck my bass in there now, it’d be like, ‘Oh! He’s also pretty funky!’”
Dorn did more than just sneak his bass onto Mocean Worker; his deft, purposeful playing is squarely at the forefront of the new album, driving eleven tracks that retain his signature sound while delivering a serious whomp on the low end of the sonic spectrum. The result is easily the funkiest MoWo record to date, a righteous and resounding tour-de-groove that’s sweeter than a Tito Fuentes bat flip.
“It’s a party record for serious people,” Dorn explains. “it’s like Basie, the Gap Band and I walk into a bar and hang. My music has always a fistfight between 1930s and 1960s, and now the 70s and 80s are in there because of the funk thing. It’s musical, it’s house-y, it’s mixed right, it’s smart — it’s like, dance music for people who hate dance music. And that’s kind of always been my thing, because I don’t even pretend to be part of that whole electronic dance music world. I’m embraced by parts of it, and other parts of it are like, ‘Where do we find girl weeth big boobs?’ And that’s not me, at all — I don’t pretend to be ‘club dude’!”
Dorn’s thumping thumb and plucking fingers are certainly part of what sets Mocean Worker apart from the current EDM-approved sonic template. “In electronic music, there’s this whole notion of ‘bass culture,’” he says, “and it always cracks me up because, as a bass player, I kind of take offense — I’m like, ‘No, this is a bass! You’re just using a frequency!’ I’ve never heard someone incorporate a certain type of playing with a certain type of programming and a certain type of song structure, along with certain parts of the American song experience and the jazz experience and the funk experience. So I was like, I’m going to go for it. I’m gonna get my Sinatra on and do this my way!”
Dorn truly did it his way on Mocean Worker, in every sense: With the exception of a brief vocal snippet from Was/Not Was singer Sweet Pea Atkinson on “The Actual Funk,” every single sound and note on the album is Dorn’s doing. “My first three records were all actual ‘bedroom productions,’” explains Dorn, who recorded the entire record at The Dornmitory, his home studio. “But with the last three records, I’ve had guests all over the place, and I just missed being like, ‘Hey, I played this, I recorded this, I mixed it.’ There’s only like two songs on the record that I didn’t mix; I never mix my own stuff, and I wanted to do it this time. I wanted to be in charge. And I think that’s why the record is self-titled — This is me, this is a snapshot of where it is right now, and I finally feel like I made a record that’s everything I set out for it to be.”
The album’s title also intentionally separates it from Mocean Worker’s three previous punningly-named records, 2004’s Enter the MoWo!, 2007’s Cinco de Mowo! and 2011’s Candygram for MoWo! “The new record still has a vibe from those three,” Dorn explains, “but there’s a lot more bass this time and a lot more funk. Those three are one thing, and this is something else. There’s no cheeky play-on-words in the title, just like the music isn’t cheeky; it’s pretty no-nonsense. It’s like that Bob Odenkirk line — You brought your ass, right?”
Kevin Calabro | 917-838-4613 | email@example.com