Meet Philadelphia’s Vintage, Soul Quartet, The Sermon!
The Sermon! is a tight-knit quartet that performs classic soul, funk and jazz with a modern twist. The band brings a unique, well-rehearsed, yet loose vibe to any occasion. Sharp dressed, sporting vintage instruments, these guys love to play! Many fans recognize the band by its signature instrument, a Hammond B-3 Organ (affectionately named Lorelei).
In addition to performing private events, galas and wedding cocktail hours for clients of Mole Street Artists, the band keeps a busy live show calendar and finds time to record original music. The band consists of Don Allaband (Bass), Mike Lynch (Drums), Rob Mastrippolito (Guitar) and James McLaughlin (Hammond Organ). We took time out with James to find out more about The Sermon!
The Sermon! has been known as one the hardest working live bands in the Greater Philadelphia music scene. What’s your estimate of how many live dates the band typically does in a year?
We’ve played every Friday night for years now. I think we’re definitely lucky to be a band with monthly residencies in some fantastic venues in the Philadelphia area. Our private event schedule has become more and more busy in recent history, as well. I’m not sure of the specific number, but our gig calendar was definitely healthy before the pandemic!
On stage, The Sermon! can morph with ease from low key, laid-back jazz to a full-on funk soul explosion. How would you describe the band’s musical style?
I’ve described it as “Aggressive Soul Jazz.” I think we are able to read a room well and are always aware of the audience’s mood. If we’re in a smaller club and the crowd seems to be on the conversational side, we take note and adjust. If they seem to be with us from the downbeat, we are apt to open things up!
Back in March the live music scene worldwide went dark due to COVID 19. How has the band adapted to not performing and not being in each other’s company?
I haven’t talked to those guys since! (I kid). Although the frequency of communication has declined along with the gigs, we’ve busied ourselves with trying to get our new record spread around different platforms and social media. We also recently recorded a virtual Cocktail Hour set which was streamed on the net. We ‘d love to do more of that in the future.
Over the years, you’ve had the opportunity to open for some of your musical heroes. Tell us about one of your highlights and what made it special?
Although The Sermon! has opened for some serious acts (Booker T, Jon Cleary, The New Mastersounds are a few that come to mind), I’d like to share a memorable personal experience. A few years ago, I sporadically toured with Chubby Checker. I found myself opening for the Beach Boys in Airway Heights, Washington and was walking off the stage after our performance when a hand grabbed my arm from behind a speaker column. I turned to see Beach Boy, Bruce Johnston, staring at me, yelling, “Hey! That was fantastic playing! You’re in the right line of work kid! Keep it up!” That man has been in one of the biggest American bands of all time for the majority of his life, so I was, umm, floored. Truly an encounter I’ll never forget!
In May of last year, the band packed up its vintage instruments and headed south to record what became its third full-length album, “Nashville Cinematic.” Tell us about the studio / location where you recorded and why you chose that specific setting.
Well Rob Mastrippolito, guitarist in The Sermon!, is a Nashville addict. He’s been down there countless times, and after a band meeting about where to make the next record, I think Rob mentioned Nashville. Rob and I have a mutual friend in Nick Bullock who engineers at The Dog House, a small studio tucked away just outside of Nashville proper, so that would be the spot. At first it seemed daunting, but Rob offered to head-up logistics. From booking studio time, flights and accommodations, renting and driving the van; Rob single-handedly made it possible!
I remember the studio had such an unassuming yet inviting vibe. As we rolled up the driveway towards the studio, we noticed the studio door was painted a striking shade of red. Upon entering, you could tell the space was designed to conjure creativity. Cool gear, cool furniture and a “homey” feel. We said a quick “Hello” to Nick, loaded-in, got sounds and we were off. Any after-effects of the previous night’s shenanigans while seeing amazing music on Broadway were brushed off, as we wrote a song on the spot called “In through the Red Door,” which wound up being the album closer. It was definitely an inspiring place to work!
Are the eight tracks band originals or covers or a mixture of both?
The tracks are all Sermon! originals. Some were ideas that we’ve had for years, but as I mentioned earlier, there was some magic in The Dog House that inspired us. Songs started to present themselves right away and we went with it.
How would you describe the music on the album overall and how is it different from previous releases by the band?
This album was a multi-faceted departure for the band. We wanted to try and add some other colors to the palette that were of a more soundtrack feel. Instead of “When is this?”, I thought “Where is this?” Using effects and space allowed for us to achieve a sound which accomplishes that goal. I think this record couldn’t have been made by a younger version of our outfit, as we embraced a mentality that leaned heavily on feel and vibe, as opposed to notes and arrangements. I think we were all pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
Is there any significance or meaning behind the album title (Nashville Cinematic)?
Ha, nope. We were being as literal as possible. We thought, “We’re in Nashville and this has cinematic sound. Let’s call it ‘Nashville Cinematic.” Very complex…
How long has The Sermon! been together as a band and what is the glue that keeps it together?
The Sermon! started as a backing band for Hammond organ great “Papa” John DeFrancesco in 2005. When he left West Chester in 2006, I got approached about being in the band. Speaking for myself, I consider these guys to be brothers…after being in a band this long, I’ve seen some stuff with these dudes! A love of organ music ties us all together, but the bond of countless nights of slugging it out can’t be overlooked. Time spent on the bandstand is invaluable and irreplaceable for any act, and The Sermon! has logged some hours. I feel lucky to be in an outfit that finishes everyone’s musical sentences. We’ve been able to weather some storms and enjoyed some sunny shores along the way. The current storm will pass. I’m excited for live entertainment to make a triumphant return so I can get back to making music with the family again!