Eric Boss, by Robert Alleyne

“People liked it; people really liked the record,” says Eric Boss as he recalls the moment legendary DJ Gilles Peterson gave the Pendletons song, “Gotta Get Out,” a spin on his show Worldwide. “After Gilles got onto it, you could actually see the momentum!”

Eric Boss is one half of Bay Area-based funk group the Pendletons. “Gotta Get Out” is a smooth, funky record that recounts the many trials and tribulations of life. Peterson liked the record so much he choose it for the relaunch of his “Brownswood Bubblers” series. While the momentum builds around the Pendletons, Boss is taking aim at building the same momentum around his solo work.

Eric Boss has had a storied career in the Bay Area hip-hop and funk scene, from touring the world as Blackalicious’ DJ to being half of the Stones Throw-signed soul/funk duo Myron & E., Boss has been a constant fixture in and around the Bay for around a decade. His latest project, A Modern Love, is an opportunity for the veteran musician to take his sound in a new direction, one that Boss seems to be relishing. “It’s a bit different in that the genre it’s pulling from is a little more mid-to-late ’70s,

[with] a touch of the early ’80s,” he explains. Boss is working with Bjorn Wagner of the Mighty Macambos (and his brother Stefan) to create a sound rife with flare and funk. The first single from the project, “Closer To The Spirit,” was released this summer.

Funk and soul music has often been the sound of political change. Boss’ new record draws from an era when women, African-Americans, the LGBT community, and other minority groups were fighting for equality as divisions were being exposed in US society. Fast-forward 40 years, and the similarities between then and now are frighteningly apparent. I ask if his new music will speak to any of the turmoil in society at the moment. He pauses before responding with sincerity: “On some songs, yes…I have one song that I wrote with Ishtar called ‘Try Me,’” he says.  “It touches a lot on what’s going on in America today — as far as dealing with police violence against unarmed African-Americans…it deals with not only that subject, but the subject of being a bit downtrodden in the US,” he explains. “It’s a bit political, but the thing that I like about it, moreso than anything, is [that] it’s a hopeful song.”

Eric Boss, by Robert Alleyne

Hope is an important element in music for Boss, and he shares with me how music can take on a spiritual form, helping communities deal with crisis and the issues of our times. “It’s almost like a religion to some folks,” he profoundly offers. “When you hear a song like ‘What’s Going On’ (by Marvin Gaye) or even, flash-forwarding, when you even hear a song like ‘Self-Destruction’ by KRS-One…my idea is to make a song similar, in that you address an issue,” he offers.

We talk at length about the challenges faced by musicians at different levels when trying to take a stance. “I’m not on a major record label, but I think a lot of artists that have more notoriety and more popularity, they probably don’t do those type of records because they may get some fallback from the record label,” he explains with empathy. “As long as you’re making the good time, have-a-party, feel-good, do drugs, smoke weed, bitches and hoes [music], if that’s what’s popular, then they want you to do that. But, if you step outside of that, you could jeopardize where you’re at with your career by trying to take a stance.”

Eric Boss, by Robert Alleyne

We also speak about what happens when people join forces to make a difference. “I just wish people that were in higher levels, with bigger record contracts — people that have more notoriety, I think if they all banded together and took a stand…[think about] ‘Self-Destruction.’ Look how big a record that was,” he says earnestly. “You had a lot of the hip-hop community banding together to do that.”

“Self-Destruction” was released in 1988 following the death of a fan at a Boogie Down Production and Public Enemy concert. The record united a slew of East Coast Rappers including KRS-One, Public Enemy, Heavy D, and Doug E. Fresh for a song to promote peace. “I think that was an awesome time,” shares Boss. “Not only were these artists coming together to try to help make a political change, but they were trying to better the neighborhoods…when you bought their records, they had the stop the violence stamp on it,” he remembers. “It was them purposely trying to say, ‘Hey, we understand that this message means more to a lot of people,’… This music is [touching] a lot of people, so why not teach them something well?” he says.

“It would be awesome to see artists come together and do something like that, something for the people, especially Black children, Black youth, Black artists, because all the top music in our scene always has sort of been Black music.”

Eric Boss, by Robert Alleyne

While A Modern Love is his immediate focus, with the Pendletons, he has a musical project he can take his time on — although the start of the project was unexpected. “The Pendletons was sort of a fluke,” he confesse., “We didn’t mean for it to be what it became.” The humble beginnings of the band was in a “dingy bar in Chinatown,” the old location of weekly funk night Sweater Funk where Boss would spend much of his time. “I went there [because] I loved the music,” he shares gleefully, “For me, I used to always tell John [Blunck, co-founder of Sweater Funk] it reminded me of when I was a kid riding around in Newark, New Jersey in my mom’s car…’This is all the music that used to play on the radio!’”

It was here that Nick Aspect introduced Boss to Daniel Meisenheimer (aka Trailer Limon). The pair instantly hit it off, impressing each other with their in-depth knowledge of funk and boogie music. It was this shared love of the scene inspired them to put a little money together — “maybe a few hundred bucks a piece” — and press some 45s. “I think we only pressed like 300 of them and in a month’s time the records were going for like 50 bucks,” he remembers. “People were really, really, really clamoring to get them.”

A copy of their first record, Coming Down/Waiting On You, sold for over $177 on Discogs just last year. Despite this fever, the Pendletons has always been very much a slow-burn project. “We both have stuff, families, and all of that jazz. There is just a lot going on with the both of us… it’s fun, and we don’t mind taking our time with it because we’d rather have quality over quantity,” he says. “Having four good tunes is better than having eight…sort of mediocre tunes.”

Eric Boss, by Robert Alleyne

The way in which Boss and Meisenheimer came together is very much emblematic of Boss’ career as a music maker. “I can’t tell you the amount of people that I’ve played with in one incarnation of something that I’ve done, you know?” he says with a broad, loving chuckle when I ask about making music in the Bay Area. “The Bay’s not tiny-tiny, but the Bay is relatively a small place,” he says, “if you are a musician, or a DJ, it’s easy to get to know everybody in the scene…I think that’s what makes it strong.”

“When I got here, it was different from the East Coast because on the East Coast a lot of my friends were like, ‘Oh, yeah. We need to go to the studio and make these songs and take them to get a record deal.’ Whereas here, everybody would be saying, ‘We need to go to the studio and press up our own tapes, or press up our own CDs, or press up our own records, and take them to the store and sell them to the store and make the money ourselves!’

“I really like that about the Bay Area. The do-it-yourself attitude, it can’t be beat. It’s amazing, and it’s still here to this day.”

Working with others has taken him all over the world, and he unexpectedly found his music resonating in parts of Europe. You can see the sparkle in his eye as he recounts times spent in Europe, sharing music with friends and strangers. Boss likes to have new cultural experiences, and gets bored if he stays in the same place too long. “That’s something that I should probably blame on Blackalicious,” he says jokingly. “I toured with them at one point [for] probably a few years straight…If I came back home to the Bay and was at home longer than a month, I started just to feel strange. I started to feel like I need to go somewhere.”

I ask whether he feels like the Bay is now his home. He ponders the question for a short moment. “I did feel like this was my home until I found out a week ago that my building in San Francisco is being sold, [so] I’m probably gonna get kicked out!” he says. “At one point I did feel like this was my home, but now I feel like it’s probably a stopover to a greater thing.”

Gavin Turek, Le Vice, E Da Boss
The New Parish
November 17, 2017
9pm, $12 (18+)

E Da Boss, Midtown Social, The Jack Mosbacher Band
The Independent
November 24, 2017
8:30pm, $15