"We're not just covering songs. We're rearranging them and making them fresh for new audiences to carry them on," says Itai Shapira of The Decoders, a group that started out as a studio project but took on a life of its own.
The concept is this: Each song the act performs is re-configured with a new generation (and Los Angeles) in mind.
It all started when Shapira was talking to Richard Rudolph of Music Sales Group, a UK music publisher that owns the rights to hundreds of thousands of songs. He wanted to reinterpret songs from their catalog.
Rudolph suggested Jamaican styles, and so Shapira asked friend and trumpet player Todd Simon to collaborate. Simon, however, was burnt out on working with reggae bands, and so suggested a late '70s/ early '80s reggae disco vibe.
Shapira then brought on his UCLA college friend and musician Adam Berg. The trio was formed and the sessions began.
All three of them normally work behind the scenes as musicians and producers. Shapira plays bass and has recently been touring with Rhye. Berg plays keys and owns Manifest Studio Productions in Santa Monica. Simon works with artists such as TV on the Radio, Antibalas, and Quantic, and is a band director at a community charter school. He once had his students learn to play Dr. Dre.
Working on songs from artists like Earth, Wind, and Fire and Stevie Wonder, the Decoders have moved into styles including cumbia, Brazilian, and psychedelic soul.
Each of their renditions feature a guest vocalist, like Noelle Scaggs from Fitz and the Tantrums covering Dionne Warwick's "Walk on By," and Coco Owino from Quadron covering the Ruby and the Romantics' "Hey There, Lonely Boy."
Taking The Decoders out of the studio was not in the plans, but they've done it. While performing last summer at the Levitt Pavilion Pasadena their reimagined version of "Inside My Love" by Minnie Riperton (a Chicago soul legend and late wife of Rudolph) Rudolph was there, in the crowd with a big smile and tears. (Full disclosure: I was the program director for Levitt Pavilion's concert series.)
"It was the biggest compliment to see him feel that our work was carrying on the spirit of Minnie," says Simon.
Currently, the Decoders are working on their next compilation album to be released this fall, Adventures From Paradise -- a tribute to Minnie Riperton.
The Decoders play this Saturday, August 17 at Nola's in Downtown.