The Black Noise Create Soul Music Outside of the Box

The Black Noise (courtesy of the band)

Long Beach duo Black Noise has been playing shows at bars, clubs, weddings, gender reveal parties, and any other venue that’ll have them for close to a decade now, but they’re just now finally starting to see their bank accounts start to maintain themselves because of it.

“I just turned 30, so I’ve been trying to stay consistent and keep our shows and the money we make from shows consistent to save up and fund stuff like a tour and recording,” says singer Donovan Brown. “It’s become almost like a job — but it’s a job that I like. It’s really just been us trying to find opportunities to play music and make money off of it.”

Along with guitarist Victor Ujadughele, Brown’s adventures with Black Noise have seen him not only partake in concerts as a performer, but also as the driving promotional force behind some of the South Bay’s top local showcases. From rooftop parties to quiet open mic nights and everything in between, the songwriter’s become a major player in the Long Beach music scene both on and off the stage. But for anyone looking for advice on how to balance the dozens of responsibilities that come with success in a DIY music scene, Brown’s not exactly the best source.

“I don’t keep up with anything,” Brown laughs when asked about his schedule. “Everything is all over the place, and I just try to maintain what I’m doing. Things sneak up on me more than I’d like to admit these days, but my girlfriend helps a lot with keeping all of the events straight. They’re all monthly events, but they add up since there’s only four weeks each month. Honestly though, it’s been kind of refreshing that we can make money playing music full-time now.”

On Wednesday night, Black Noise will be joining some of their oldest friends in the music scene when they take the stage at the Wayfarer in Costa Mesa. Although fans looking at the bill might not know the openers, Complexions is actually the new project for Adrian Watkins — a multi-talented musician and vocalist (formerly known as Asleep at the Gate) who’s known Brown and Ujadughele for several years — while Charles Fullwood’s friendship with the duo actually goes back to the beginning of their musical journey together.

“We’re actually playing with one of the first guys we ever linked up with in Charles [Fullwood],” Brown says. “We played at a Cambodian showcase at a middle school a long time ago, and we saw him play there and started booking him for shows. Then it wasn’t long after that when we met Adrian [Watkins] when he was with his old band, and we started booking them as our openers too. They both stopped making music in recent years for their own reasons, but recently came back to it, so this is kind of a reunion for all of us.“

Beyond this week’s show, Brown believes that the lineup may be a preview of a potential upcoming tour for the three acts. After all, they’re all big fans of each other’s both as musicians and as people, and that last part goes a long way with the guys in Black Noise. To go along with the duo’s own socially conscious actions, Watkins takes his charity a step further by donating all the proceeds made from his concerts to causes like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and getting clean drinking water for Flint, Michigan. But as much as Brown likes to sing his fellow songwriter’s praises, Watkins has just as much appreciation for Wednesday night’s headliners.

“I’m just really excited to get back together with [Black Noise] and see how they’ve grown as a band,” Watkins says. “I haven’t gotten to see many of the shows lately, but they’re one of the bands I used to see pretty consistently, and I know they’ve really been working hard. I feel really grateful and honored just to be in the same space as them and be able to be myself and have my own cause with the donating and all that. I always talk with them about how everything I do is beyond being a musician and an artist, and at the end of the day we all want to really experience what it feels like to be able to connect with people. It’s really great to be able to share that with them.”

Aside from their appreciation for one another, one of the few things the three acts on Wednesday evening have in common is a lack of easily definable genre. Although Black Noise have tagged themselves as “The Future of Soul Music,” they certainly don’t fit neatly into the “neo-soul” category that’s taken off over the last handful of years. As Brown sees it, the duo is perfectly content to continue bending the rules of various genres and defying any race-based expectations — even if sometimes it means people have to open up their minds a little bit before they become fans.

“What people have been saying for a long time is that it’s hard to put us in a box, and I think that’s because Victor and I listen to all different kinds of music, so when we come together, we just make whatever we feel like making,” Brown says, before listing his influences ranging from Radiohead to Stevie Wonder. “When you’re trying to get signed to a label or trying to get booked for a show, people want to know what kind of music you make — then they see two black guys and figure it’s hip-hop or neo-soul or R&B. That’s a double-edged sword because people want to classify you, but they also want to know if they’re going to like you or not. I think people should just be open to liking anything.”

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