Giants of West Tennessee: An Interview with Memphis’ own Southern Avenue

NOTE: This is the latest in an ongoing occasional series about notable figures from my home region. This one is unique because, instead of a nostalgic look back, it’s about something brand new.

This interview needs two introductions to set up the context.

Number one: when I was growing up, WHBQ-AM out of Memphis was the radio station, a Top 40 melting pot that played anything if it was popular. So it was possible to hear, say, Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” followed immediately by “You Light Up My Life,” followed by Jim Stafford’s “Spiders and Snakes.” As a result, its listeners discovered whole genres of music they might never have otherwise. To have that same effect now, in this niche-market world, you have to really go search for things. It’s no longer serendipity, it’s a treasure hunt.

Which leads to…

Number two: I stumbled across Southern Avenue on one of those treasure hunts. The first thing I saw was a clip of the band playing “Don’t Give Up,” the first track of their debut album. I was intrigued by their Memphis origin, and unique visual lineup: five people, three black, two white, two women, three men. They had a girl drummer, a singer who owned the stage, and a sound I hadn’t heard since those days of WHBQ: unashamedly joyous soul. Plus they were signed to the legendary Stax label.

You can find out the band’s background here, but the story is in the music. So check out the clips along with the interview below, and at the end, leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of their CD.

One of the things I really like about your new album is something I loved from the funk and soul I listened to as a kid: it doesn’t wallow in rage or anger, but instead exhorts us to stay strong, find love, dance instead of cry. Was that a deliberate choice?

Thank you for noticing that. Yes, it’s always in our mind. Life is so short and we get only one try. Music for us is a language that connects people together and through our art we manage to touch people and make them feel belonging, loved, and excited. That is a true blessing.

An aspect of the band that fascinated me when I first ran across you online was the mix of gender, race, and nationality. That’s such a powerful statement in these dark, divisive times. How have audiences responded to that?

We don’t think about it, really. We just love each other and love working together. At our shows you will find people of all ages and cultures. We hope our music will bring people together in a way that inspires them.

Ori, I grew up close to Memphis, so for all its cool stuff, it was still just the city down the road. It wasn’t until I got some distance, both in age and geography, that I really appreciated it. Coming from a different culture, what did it represent to you?

Growing up, I listened to a lot of Memphis music, Muscle Shoals, and Motown. I really love blues and jazz. I’ve been listening to Stax records since I was 8 years old. So I’m kind of living my childhood dream. Memphis, just like Israel, is a place where you have to work hard and be the best at your craft if you want to succeed. It is a cultural center geographically and has a long history. So I can really relate to the vibe here. I’ve become a better person and musician since I moved here, 4 years ago.

Tierinii and Tikyra, as Memphis natives, when did you become aware of the musical history around you? And how did it feel to realize you could become part of it?

Even before we signed with Stax, Memphis has showed us a lot of love. People here really want to see us make waves and want us to represent the city well when we are on the road. And we make sure we always do.

How has the city in general, and the music crowd specifically, responded to you?

The history of the music of Memphis is something we learned about through school, but as we got older we understood the meaning and the feeling behind the music. To be a part of it, to have something we created become a part of a legacy, that’s the best feeling in the world. The city has been extremely supportive and loving; it feels like we are all a part of something great and momentous.

Southern Avenue CD

Thanks to Southern Avenue for taking time to answer these questions. If you’d like a chance to win a copy of their CD, leave a comment about your favorite soul band, artist, or song.

One Comment on “Giants of West Tennessee: An Interview with Memphis’ own Southern Avenue”

  1. Good stuff!! Old-school, but updated.
    As for songs: “Midnight Hour” for sure, & ANYTHING by Otis Redding.

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