The White Stripes and Black Keys rock the blues with a guitar attack. Like the Bad Plus, the Claudettes brandish a piano instead. But the Claudettes have created their own fanatical fusion of blues and soul-jazz—like Ray Charles on a punk kick. Imagine an amped-up piano hybrid of Otis Spann, Ray Charles and Mose Allison, joined by a jolly madman drummer and conducted in gonzo fashion by Raymond Scott. File under: post-burlesque? Neo-vaudeville? Cosmic cartoon music? You’ve never seen an instrumental duo like this. Add Claudette’s new hires, match-made-in-heaven singers Berit Ulseth and Zach Verdoorn (who also plays a mean bass), to the mix and you’ve got a band like no one else on the scene.
Inspired by the ’60s piano-drums blues recordings of Otis Spann & S.P. Leary, Johnny and Michael formed their duo—but a wealth of influences and passions entered their quickly evolving instrumental sound. Witness the one-two punch of “New Orleans Yard Sale” (with its stomping Crescent City sound) and “Infernal Piano Plot…HATCHED!” (a breakneck blues that Looney Tunes surely would have copped). Listen to Ray Charles go off the rails on “Deep Soul for High Society,” then stand back as all hell breaks loose on another dynamic double-shot of creative composition and wicked improvisation: “Motörhome/Land of Precisely Three Dances.”
“Since age 15, I’ve always had my own blues band, wearing ties and blazers and playing Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Ray Charles, Freddie King and Howlin’ Wolf—and also a rock band or punk band. I always tried to keep those two scenes and sounds separate,” Johnny says. “This time, I decided to cram it all together into one band: the thousands of hours listening to the blues masters and figuring it all out on the piano, the amphetamine rush of punk, the classical piano lessons—and, first and foremost, the desire to make something new and personally expressive out of it all.”
That’s why the Claudettes’ debut is peppered with time-capsule blues like album opener “Stumblin’ Home Satisfied” and their spin on Little Brother Montgomery’s classic “Tremblin’ Blues—but also a schizoid trip like “Chin-Up Tango” and the positively Schumann-esque album closer “Do You See It Too?” There is something antique and nostalgic about the Claudettes, with shadows of Tin Pan Alley lurking in the chord changes… and yet something altogether fresh, alive, excited and exciting.
On stage, Claudette’s drink specials scroll across LED displays pinned to the band’s shirts (e.g. “$5 domestics on Sunday with dinner and Champagne purchase,” “MONDAY NIGHT: DESIGNER NIGHT! You design shot, I design price”). Like everyone else here, the Claudettes live and work in the age of distraction in today’s America. How degrading it feels to hone one’s craft for years and tour the great festivals and concert halls of the world only to wind up competing with flashing beer promotions, 10-cent chicken-wing offers, sports on 20 TVs and a room full of faces illuminated by iPhones. And yet, the Claudettes still get out there and tear it up nightly, because they love this music—and because they will receive $50 fines from Claudette if they are late or complain.
The Claudettes expanded their sound yet further on the 2015 release “NO HOTEL” (an Independent Music Award nominee for Best Instrumental [Mainly] Album”). Late 2016, they entered the studio with producer Mark Neill, who helmed the band’s forthcoming album, a full-on foray into vocal songs (still replete with instrumental derring-do!).