By Phil Pucci
August 22, 2014
Charlotte synth pop/R&B outfit Miami Dice has reason to celebrate. They just released a new album called Premium Cut, available on iTunes, Spotify and most other digital outlets. And on Wednesday night they hosted a listening party at Soul Gastrolounge in Plaza Midwood, where they also premiered a music video for the album opener “So the Night Goes.” There were go-go dancers on platforms while the album played. There was a special cocktail menu for the evening with Miami Dice-themed drinks. That’s how it goes with Miami Dice; they may be a local band, but when they throw a party, it’s going to be more than just some guys on stage playing songs. You’re going to get flare. You’re going to get custom-made booze. You’re going to get sunglasses. You’re going to get chest hair. Miami Dice is all about fun as a rule.
I had a chance to chat with Dice members Shaun Olson (vocals, synth, bass), Josh Faggart (drums, synth) and Scott Weaver (trumpet, vocals) on the balcony outside of Soul before the video premiere. We talked about how the project was created, the new album, minimalist music, Chaka Khan and Charlotte nightlife. I was drinking something from the menu called a Vice Grip.
CLTure: How did Miami Dice get started?
Shaun: It was a solo project I started probably about six years ago. It essentially started as ideas I had for songs that wouldn’t work for Cement Stars. I kinda took them and started working on them on my own. They were always instrumentally based and it was more of an outlet for me to make music that I enjoyed personally. So it was kind of something for myself.
CLTure: When did you decide to turn Miami Dice into a band?
Shaun: As soon as I got sick of playing by myself. You know, being up there by yourself feels good sometimes, but other times you wish you had people with you. The most logical thing for me to do was work with someone that I knew could play drums and would work really well with the beats that I was doing. And I knew Josh can do that.
Josh: Once Cement Stars weren’t playing shows, Shaun asked me to fill in to play a couple Miami Dice shows. And then he was kind of like, “Hey, wanna keep doing this? Because I don’t want to play solo anymore.” I said, why not? I want to play drums so that sounds awesome.
Shaun: And then we did Shiprocked, just the two of us. Scott asked us to play. And after the show, he whispered in my ear right when we were done, “I want to play trumpet in Miami Dice.” And right then and there I was like, “I can see that working!” And we went on from there.
CLTure: What artists were you guys listening to and drawing inspiration from when you were making Premium Cut?
Shaun: A lot of 80s R&B. A little bit of hip hop.
Scott: I remember DJing here at Soul and I played Lowdown by Boz Scaggs, which is a fucking great jam. Loved it since I was a kid. And I was playing it on vinyl and I was looking at the cover, and it’s this fantastic, 70s fashion-inspired cover. He’s essentially wearing what Shaun’s wearing now. An open collared white shirt, black suit. You know, by the beach. And I thought that the sound of it, that kinda smoothed-out, mellow disco meets yacht rock vibe, made me feel like I could fit in with Miami Dice by adding horns and backup vocals. I’ve always been a fan of doing backup vocals. But it clicked because of the way that picture looked and the way the music sounded all at once.
Shaun: I listened a lot to this 80s R&B/dance band called The System. And a lot of Prince.
Scott: Chaka Khan.
Shaun: Yeah. Chaka Khan, Sheila E.. That’s a lot of what I was going for on this record. Trying to do that, but still tying in elements of the first release, Oscillator Violators, which was mainly instrumental. But mostly it was that 80s funk, R&B, you know.
Scott: My observation, just having listened to the first record and then this record, is that the funk and R&B thing comes through in some songs, but I also feel like a couple songs are headed more in a dance direction. By the way, did you listen to that band I sent you, Flash and the Pan? Did you look that up?
CLTure: No. [Author’s note: Scott often sends me things to listen to and I’ve discovered a lot of music through him. This one must have slipped through the cracks. Oops.]
Scott: Around the time that Shaun started playing me stuff and sending me tracks, we had our first talk together about production. We talked about Flash and the Pan’s version of “Walking in the Rain” which Grace Jones covers. And I would like to point out that Shaun was busting on me the other day, laughing, saying that he writes music and then I come in and talk about it like it’s a picture. Like “No, it’s gotta sound like it’s raining.”
Shaun: That happened at a show, literally. They asked me what I wanted sound-wise, I said “reverb.” Then they asked Scott and he said “I want it to sound like it’s a rainy night.” I was like “just say reverb, man.” [Everyone laughing]
Scott: That Flash and the Pan is considered really early new wave. It’s very minimal synth. Grace Jones ended up covering it and had a hit with it, but these guys were these weirdos from Wales or somewhere, and it’s this minimal synth song and it’s spoken word. The tone of it reminded me of some stuff that Shaun was playing for me that he was working on. And we ended up incorporating a speaking part to the record.
Shaun: That’s the best, finding out something you wrote that sounds like something you never even knew. It’s kinda like “Oh. Shit.”
Josh: You write it, go back and listen to it, and go “Wait a minute. That sounds like something I grew up with.”
Scott: If you listen to the beginning of “Feel for You” by Chaka Khan, the way it starts off with the echo and the delay and the beat, that’s what I was going for on our song “Diamond Shores.” I tried to copy it the best I could. [Laughs]
CLTure: Actually, my favorite songs on your album are “Diamond Shores” as well as “Mota-vation.” They make me feel sad. To me they capture a moment you get sometimes when you’re out having fun, where you just feel absolutely hopeless for one second. But then it passes. What’s your favorite on the album?
Shaun: I think you nailed it pretty close. “Mota-Vation” was one that I worked really hard on, and I feel like every element of instrument that I recorded on it was really special. And the vocals just kinda came. I was going to ask certain certain friends to help vocally. But I recorded the ideas I had, and I was like, “Well, shit. This sounds good enough.” I do feel passionate about “Mota-vation.” “Diamond Shores” was the last one we did for the album.
Scott: When Shaun sent me “Diamond Shores” I told him, “OK, you just kinda had a breakthrough.” It was his first outing vocally. There is a beautiful part, about there quarters in, kind of like a breakdown, and it hit me that Shaun just found his voice in that part.
Josh: “Buy Sexual Get One Free” marks the first time I collaborated with Shaun in a way that stuck as far as a song stem. We were just messing around one day, and the synth part came. So that’s a personal favorite. It’s my first contribution to Miami Dice outside of doing a live arrangement. But “Diamond Shores” is my new favorite because it’s different. And I get to do a little more on the live arrangement for drums. Like, funk beats.
Scott: Josh gets to play the dopest drum parts on that song.
CLTure: I really like the sense of restraint on Premium Cut. Do you appreciate minimalist music? Is it hard not to get carried away adding tracks when it’s just you by yourself holding the reins?
Shaun: Absolutely. But at times it’s easy to keep it simple. I feel like it’s all a matter of a point in time. You may finish a song and feel that it’s great. But you also may listen to it again a little later and find this one little extra thing to add the track. I’m a huge fan of minimalist music. It’s all about trying to capture a vibe. It’s something different for Charlotte.
Scott: It’s interesting to me that you’ve asked that. I am not a hugely accomplished trumpet player; it’s just something I picked up for fun. But when we’re working or when Shaun sends me a track, my two points of reference are Giorgio Moroder and Burt Bacharach. I talked to Shaun about this one day, Burt Bacharach has my favorite little flourishes of production. All you get is “ba-da-da-daaa” or a “dee-deee” of a horn. And that’s all you need.
Shaun: Trumpet has always been my favorite of the horn section. Just to have Scott involved has brought the project to another level of sound. Especially throwback-wise. I love jazz. It’s really nice to hear that trumpet come in on certain parts of the songs.
Scott: Chet Baker is my favorite. And I like Miles Davis, but Chet Baker is like this, “da-daaa” and Miles Davis is like this, “ba-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da.” You know what I mean? And I honestly like the “da-daaa” better. [Laughs] By the way, is this cheesy for me to say? I joined this band because I like these guys and they were already doing something I like.
Shaun: The whole journey has been really fun so far. It’s because we’re not being so serious about it. With Cement Stars, of course it was always been fun, and we’d get together and record sometimes. But Bryan has a new project going on. And we’re happy with what we’re doing and it’s a lot less stressful.
CLTure: I think I know what you mean. My band is my favorite thing in the world, but when something is that important to you, every little decision becomes scrutinized. When you start something on your own, initially on the side, it’s a lot more laid back.
Shaun: Content flows easier. I was in Cement Stars with my brother, and we are both equally creative, as are the other the members of the band. And it can be harder when everyone wants their ideas to be evolved. But when it’s one person with the sole idea, the content flows a lot easier and the others can add their thing to it.
Scott: I was with these guys in the car, and we had this kind of “the rules of Miami Dice” moment. It was that everyone’s opinion matters, and there’s no reason to argue. We’re not going to fight. And we’re only going to do shit if it’s fun. And the final rule is that we always wear sunglasses on stage. Those are the Miami Dice fucking bylaws right there.
Josh: Sunglasses are definitely a bylaw.
CLTure: Miami Dice puts me in a nightclub in LA in the 70s. What do you think of Charlotte nightlife in 2014? What are your favorite spots?
Scott: Shiprocked. [Everyone laughs] [Author’s note: Shiprocked is Scott’s every-Thursday-night party at Snug Harbor. It’s almost always the the most fun thing to do in Plaza Midwood that night of the week.]
Scott: Soul [Gastrolounge] gets mad props for being one place in Charlotte that holds it down with old school house DJs and straight up disco. You don’t get that in any big dance clubs anymore. This tiny restaurant gets old school Chicago house DJs and Detroit DJs, and they fly them in. That’s amazing that we have a restaurant in this neighborhood where you can come in on a Saturday night for free and hear dudes that fucking packed clubs in the 80s and 90s. And we love the Milestone. That’s where you get the rock and roll side of things.
Shaun: Snug Harbor. Everyone knows that is the spot. It’s a good spot to come and do your thing and play your music. They’re bringing people together of all types.
Josh: Yeah. Never a bad night there.
Scott: Dude, at Snug Harbor you get a hip hop night, an old school country night, Shiprocked—which is kind of anything-goes—you get live music nights. You get a flea market. You get everything. And the reason they do it right is that every motherfucker who runs it played in a band. And they understand the plight of the touring musician and all that. Many clubs I’ve played, the sound guy won’t speak to you, and they act like they don’t give a fuck if you’re there. But those guys have been there, and they treat you nicer.
Listen to new album Premium Cut by Miami Dice