Acid jazz lurches down the hallway of the Seamonster Lounge. The band—a Bellingham outfit called Celestial Navigation—plays in the far corner of the club, and its sound is like a rhino smashing through a series of Pollock paintings. A few minutes pass and D’Vonne Lewis, drummer and founder of Seattle avant-jazz band Industrial Revelation, pops through the front door.
Lewis’ unique speaking voice sticks in the mind after hearing only a few words. It’s kind, imbued with wisdom, and playful. He sits with a beer and we start to talk about his group, now in its 10th year, and its new record, a 20-track double album called Liberation and the Kingdom of Nri.
“There’s some cuts on there, man,” he says. No doubt. Industrial Revelation features four of the city’s most accomplished and adept musicians. Along with Lewis, who comes from a family of Seattle jazz players, there’s double bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, keyboardist Josh Rawlings, and trumpeter Ahamefule J. Oluo. Among them, they’ve played with Macklemore, Allen Stone, Hey Marseilles, Meklit Hadero, and countless others from varying musical worlds—rock to rap to classical. In fact, Oluo recently released a punk-rock record under the name The Honorable Chief, and it was his family’s Nigerian heritage that influenced the title of the new IR project.
Historically, the Kingdom of Nri is known as a peaceful, medieval West African state whose leader used no military force over his people. “They were just about acceptance and love,” Lewis explains. “We liked this idea, especially paired with the idea of liberation, which is also the name of a song I wrote for the record.”
“Liberation” is an epic, all-out New Orleans carnival. Its uproarious feeling is complimented by tracks like “I Jam 4U, My Love,” a slower build with an equal sense of height and breadth.
To release the new album, IR worked with Sam Anderson of Hey Marseilles and Pearl Jam guitar tech Josh Evans, both of whom helped during the mixing process. The recordings took place in several locations around Washington, including the famed Robert Lang Studio with engineer Homero Gonzalez. Nri is a more polished production than their last album, Oak Head; it may in fact be the starting point of a new, elevated trajectory for the group, which has already received a great deal of local acclaim.
No matter what happens in terms of success, Lewis says the members of IR wish to remain loyal to their hometown, though traveling in support of the record and scheduling a November tour is on the forefront of their minds. “I love living in Seattle,” Lewis smiles. “We all have expressed that if Industrial takes off in some way—and we don’t know what ‘take off’ means, exactly—but we’re all here in Seattle and that’s good for the city.”
This sentiment makes sense: The band’s essence is soaked in loyalty. It’s their secret weapon as writers and entertainers—the quality you notice first when seeing them perform and the thing most acutely remembered when the gig is done. They’re brothers on- and offstage, pushing one another to get to that next place, one step higher in the musical climb, to find the most powerful phrase to make each other go, “WHOOAAHH!” —a perfectly timed cymbal crash, the deep pluck of an open bass string, a screeching melody from horn or keyboard.
The record’s first single, “Amelia,” is named after Amelia Bonow, a veteran service-industry worker and co-founder of the viral #ShoutYourAbortion movement with Oluo’s wife, writer Lindy West. It’s a fresh breeze of a track that turns celestial and space-aged in its break. The song maintains an underlying steadiness, though, with rock-solid, ’90s hip-hop bass from the track’s writer, Flory-Barnes.
“I debated whether to call the song ‘Service Industry Crush’ or ‘Amelia,’ ” he grins. “On the one hand, it’s describing that feeling when you go into a bar or cafe and you see someone special, and on the other hand there’s meeting Amelia and getting to know her.”
The song’s mood and title speaks to the group’s conscientious core and the relationships they’ve built with Seattle folks of all backgrounds. “Relationships over time get stronger, bonds grow,” explains Lewis. “We are always trying to keep that machine oiled. With the band, we’re all so busy day-to-day, but we make time to hang even if we can’t play or rehearse. I feel like we’ve done that more so the past few years—we know our strengths and weaknesses. We know what works.”
This intimate knowledge is what allows the four to effortlessly transition between genres of sound, to build a crashing crescendo from a lighthearted piano riff. To turn a lark into a thunderous 22-minute jam complete with staccato drum solos, lightning trumpet strikes, and quaking bass riffs that sonically recall laughter, solidarity, and surprise.
“We’re constantly putting out our best and still trying to get better and better,” Lewis admits. “It’s almost overwhelming the love we get. But we want to try and reciprocate that—somehow. To just try and keep it going as best we can.”
Industrial Revelation Album Release. Frye Art Museum, Free, All Ages. 7 p.m., Fri., Oct. 9.