ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Con Brio

Con Brio Brings Their Psychedelic Soul To Outside Lands…

Every blue moon an artist comes along that strikes a chord, not just musically but also spiritually, where you feel a deep connection that transcends genres, race and really makes you feel like you are part of something very special. Bay Area based psychedelic soul funk band Con Brio, led by a magnetic 23-year-old soul singer, who has drawn comparisons to Michael Jackson and James Brown is just that kind of artist and has become one of the fastest rising bands in the Country. Lead singer Ziek McCarter woke up one morning from a dream where he got a visit from his late dad who was tragically killed at the hands of Texas police officers and delivered him an invite to join him in paradise. The dream inspired more than just a song, “Paradise” became the name of Con Brio’s debut album sparking popular songs, “Free and Brave” and “Lift Off” and has taken the 7 piece band to stages all over the World including an upcoming play at San Francisco’s massive Outside Lands festival. For a band that has only been together for 3 years, they are making a name for themselves and PopMatters declared Con Brio “The best new live band in America”, after a groundbreaking performance at last year’s Austin City Limits.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to the charismatic singer Ziek McCarter and find out more about Con Brio, his inspirations and what’s ahead.

Sason Bishope Parry: How has life been treating you?
Ziek McCarter: Life and I have been treating each other really well these days

SBP: Where have you lived other than the Bay Area? How long have you been based in the Bay Area?
ZM: I was born and raised in Texas. I moved around Texas a bit and have also lived in North Carolina as well as the Bay Area a little bit before officially moving to the Bay at 18. I’ve been in the Bay for almost 6 years now.

SBP: How did you get into music?
ZM: Music first kind of got into me and the rest came after. I’ve always sang (mostly to myself) and danced for the love of it. I’ve always loved music but have been infatuated with performing, so discovering performance through music was really therapeutic for me. When 8yrs. young I negotiated with my principal to perform Twist & Shout during lunchtime on stage in front of all the students with my lil brother and 2 friends. Ever since elementary school I’ve created and attracted opportunities for me to perform. It’s a blessing to witness that same fire propel me this far to Outside Lands.

SBP: Your band is Con Brio and really catching a pulse, how long have you been together?
ZM: We’ve been together for a little over 3 years.

SBP: How would you describe your sound?
ZM: Con Brio means “with spirit”, so: Music from and for the spirit.

SBP: Con Brio recently toured the U.S. and now you’re about to tour Europe, how’s the experience been out on the road?
ZM: Wow, it’s been so many things. But most of all it’s been amazing! We’re international now 🙂

SBP: Some say you’re the “best new band in America,” do you feel you are living up to that hype?
ZM: As we grow we continue to elevate our expectations of ourselves. We prefer to look at it from that angle as that’s what works best for us.

SBP: Do you write your own songs and music?
ZM: I do. That’s one of the many ways our song collection comes together. Some of the other members also bring in musical ideas that we collaborate on together and I’ve written all the lyrics for.

SBP: Who are some of your music influences and who inspires you?
ZM: Soooo many! From Queen to D’Angelo, to James Brown, to Janelle Monae, to Daft Punk, to Fleetwood Mac, to Sade & Prince. The list seems endless as we’re musically and racially diverse. Some of our musical influences also come from “non-music related” places like our family, nature, exercising and etc.

SBP: Were you a Prince fan?
ZM: Of course!!!! Still, am. Prince is timeless to me. His contributions are a true reflection how limitless the spirit can be.

SBP: You recently had a dream about your dad who died at the hands of Texas police in 2011, tell us about that and how it inspired you?
ZM: The night before going back into the studio to complete the rest of our new album, Paradise, my father visited me in a dream. In the dream, he was the happiest I’ve probably ever seen him. He expressed that he was proud and encouraged my efforts. With songs like “Free & Brave”, “Hard Times”, “You think this is a Game?”, and “Money”, I felt the influence of his spirit. Him visiting my dream only validated that. That’s how the spirit of the song “Paradise Outro” came together. I wrote the lyrics immediately that morning actually. And when it was time to record it, the songs spiritual potency was really strong. Myself, PatMan (keyboardist) and two of SF’s finest (Kelly McFarling and Lady Chi) singers lit candles, plugged in the red Christmas lights, closed the door and channeled the magic. It was transcending.

SBP: Your new album “Paradise” is about to come out and it seems with everything happening in the World, it speaks to a lot of people?
ZM: Lyrically with this album I wanted to be the most personal I’ve ever been. A part of that journey openly reflects the things I witness and experience in this world, so I’m honored that it speaks to people. Considering my immediate relationship with police killings and senseless killings in general, I find it my duty as an artist as well as a son to educate myself and use this platform to represent those voices by striving to create space for growth, healing, and positive change. Too often we’re exploited, killed, and swept under the rug this leaving our families to feel helpless, and that’s a horrible feeling when paired with the endless historical references. So, I’m proud to contribute to the collective voice around these issues in through creating. Creating, in general, can be a powerful medium for change, and we hope Paradise can be a reflection of that.

SBP: Your song “Free & Brave” is considered an anthem for injustice, do see consider yourself as both an artist and an activist?
ZM: I’m not 100% sure what qualifies ones as an activist, but I most certainly am actively using my voice to speak out against the brutal unjust killings of oppressed colored people. Especially those that are black as my father was killed in this way. As of now, I’m an artist actively using art to channel healing and positive change.

SBP: Your stage presence has been compared to James Brown and Michael Jackson, how did you learn to do those cool splits and backflips?
ZM: I’ve studied ballet and am currently studying gymnastics.

SBP: Con Brio is playing Outside Lands, that’s a great festival, what stage and what time will you be on?
ZM: 4:30 pm on Saturday, August 6th

SBP: You have a great fashion sense, who’s your favorite designer? Do you have a stylist?
ZM: Um, I buy most of my clothes from Vintage thrift stores and don’t pay attention to the designer, but I think what Zara is doing is really special. I’ve frequently found things in Crossroads that I really like and most of the time they unintentionally happen to be Zara. Outside of that, I suppose I also like John Varvatos and Con Brio’s fashion line as well 🙂

SBP: Do you have any other big shows coming up?
ZM: Mmm, plenty actually! And they all can be found on here!

SBP: What’s next for you and Con Brio?
ZM: A steady improvement of all the things we’re doing now…Music, live shows, touring, music videos, fashion, movies, volunteering/nonprofit work etc. We’re striving for gr8ness.

For more info on Con Brio go to: TheBandConbrio.com
Catch CON BRIO live at San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music Festival on Saturday, August 6th at 4:30pm.

Listen to Con Brio now: