Modern culture likes easy categories. This thing goes in this slot, that thing goes in that box, and each will be marketed to the appropriate demographic. Maktub, however, straddle genres the way Prince and Sly Stone once did – rock played soulfully, soul with power pop grit under its wheels, and hints of jazz's improvisational bent. While this makes them a harder sell in a mass media world that wants to immediately know on which Clear Channel station to program a group, it also identifies Seattle's Maktub as a band into music for the sake of music. This fact is especially clear on their catchy new release, Say What You Mean - a carefully constructed pop album that moves them some distance from their groove-soul reputation.
"We knew we were writing a lot more pop material in the year leading up to recording. When we were playing that live, we knew it was going to be something different," states lead singer Reggie Watts, a multi-octave marvel with a grace not often heard these days. "When we got together with the producers, it unfolded into something even more different than what we'd envisioned through our writing process."
When asked what kind of music his band makes, he responds, "I usually tell them it's a rock band just because it's kinda rockin' (laughs). I also say there are some soul influences." Their brand of soul echoes the gut-level thump of Minneapolis' five-foot wonder and Marvin Gaye's relentless pressing at the edges of his chosen style. There's also the clean, cosmopolitan funk that young, white America is laying down in recent hit makers like LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, and Franz Ferdinand - a generation suddenly and excitedly aware of the Gang of Four and Roxy Music. When told parts of the new record have a strong Duran Duran vibe, especially the slow churning "20 Years," Watts chimes, "That's hot, man! Duran Duran is one of my favorite bands. They're great musicians, great songwriters." Maktub's diversity comes from a wildly diverse background.
"It's cool because it's such a mixed bag of musicians. Everybody's experienced but in different ways," enthuses Watts. "Thaddeus [Turner] [guitar] has a background in gospel music and some jazz, a lot of early '80s/late '70s R&B. Then Kevin [Goldman] [bass] never took music lessons or anything but started playing bass in dub bands so he has a deep, low-end sound. Davis [Martin] [drums] is a drum corps guy out of high school who can also play like a drum machine. Daniel [Spils] [keys] is a pretty experienced musician who's had musical training and plays piano and guitar, and he's a great songwriter. And I've been involved with music and studied music theory since I was five. The range is pretty huge in the realm of experience. When we all get together to write songs it's a cool balance. It kinda puts things in check as we're developing a collective style of writing and arranging."
Kevin Goldman & Thaddeus Turner
By Todd Bradley
The confusion about Maktub begins with their name. "It came from the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I had read the book and was inspired by it, and that word was in it - one of the only Arabic words in it. It was used by this salesman who described it as [meaning] 'It is written,' like destiny or something like that," states Watts. "We were looking for names for the band, and that was really the only one where everyone said 'Oh sure.' So, we stuck with it. We learned more about the name as time's gone on. Some people could view it as problematic at times, wondering what it means or how to pronounce it [it's "Mock-tube" for the curious]. I'm glad it is what it is."