Frequency: Plantlife

FUNKYTOWNjack Splash and Plantlife Bring Neo-Soul Back to the Future With Time Traveller

It's probably fair to say that Jack Splash's musical vision is “unstuck in time.” He views the music he and his band Plantlife make as communications with the future, but those messages proudly display influences from the past. Aware of this past/future theme, he titled his latest disc Time Traveller (Decon, 2008) and filled it with sleek funk and wild soul recalling equal parts Prince, Sly and Rick James.

Rashida the Beautiful, Jack Splash and Dena Deadly

Alongside those funk icons, he's just as likely to mention The Cure, America, Afrika Bambaataa or Wu-Tang Clan, and to him it's all hip-hop at its core. For Splash, the time period from which the music originated and the specific sounds don't matter as much as capturing that idiosyncratic energy that fired hip-hop's block-party roots.

“One of the main things I'm trying to do is blur all these fucking lines that exist now,” he says. “I think music is much better when those lines are blurred. The more cultures that get intertwined, the more people realize how beautiful things can be. Music is one of the ways I like to do that.”

Naming Kanye West, André 3000, Mos Def, Cee-Lo and Lauryn Hill as examples, Splash says he wants “to be one of the dudes from this generation that's really pushing forward.” He's amazed that just four years after he and the dozen or so rotating cast of musicians he teams up with in Plantlife dropped their unpredictably funky debut, The Return of Jack Splash (Counterflow, 2004), he seems to be getting his chance.

The buzz around his debut led Splash to studio work with musical elite, including Q-Tip, Missy Elliott, Jamie Foxx, Alicia Keys and Cee-Lo, who was among the first to come calling. Splash and Cee-Lo's project — dubbed the Heart Attack — still awaits a full release after leaking some tantalizing singles. But all that work wasn't too much for Splash, who says he gets moody if he's away from recording too long.

For his first album, Splash used a Digi 001 interface, but he's since upgraded to Pro Tools|HD. “I had no major complaints about the 001; it used to work fine for me because I would use it just like an old-school ADAT machine or any other multitrack,” Splash says. “I wasn't really using it for all of the exciting editing capabilities; I was simply using it as a tracking device. I would try to work all of my magic on the instruments themselves before going into Pro Tools. Sometimes I think that is better because it makes you more creative without relying on all of the new technology. [But] some people who never go digital are missing out on all of the crazy stuff you can do nowadays, and some people who have never just played around with regular instruments have no idea about all of the crazy and wild stuff you can do outside the computer.”

Splash also used a variety of Waves plug-ins on Time Traveller: “I always use some sort of noise-reduction device — X-Noise and Z-Noise are pretty cool. I like to be spontaneous when I'm recording so the vibe stays right, but I also don't like too much hiss or noise. When dealing with live instruments, you are gonna get some of that, and with the noise-reduction plug-ins they have nowadays, it's really not a problem to just zap those frequencies and sounds right out of the mix.”

While he admits he's a “complete nut when it comes to getting all the new toys,” Splash warns against getting too caught up with the capabilities of software and hardware.

“With all the advancements in technology, what is very important for people to realize is that it's not the gear; the gear is only one-tenth of it. It's your vibe using that gear,” he says. “Don't be scared to go back to that SP-1200 or the actual 808, or your MPC60 or your MPC2000 or any of your old cheap keyboards. Sometimes it's the feeling more than how great and clean you can make it sound.”

Time Traveller is a thick collection of the many sides of his funky soul. Opening with the title track, Splash lays out his manifesto via an a cappella rhyme that places him on the scene during key moments in hip-hop and music history. There are other nods to classic moments in other places — he opens “Rollerskate Jam” with a shout to De La Soul — but his hip-hop is more akin to the boundless funk of an early Bambaataa DJ set than the true-school workouts of the Native Tongues.

“People have this tendency to look down on how amazing hip-hop is,” Splash says. “There's this annoying trend where people like to say hip-hop's seen its best days. But I don't feel that way. I don't hear it on the radio, but I'm always hearing stuff coming from the energy of hip-hop, and it's still fucking my mind up just like it always has.”