On Asia & NuGruv's newly updated website, asianugruv.com, the claim "Halifax's Ultimate Party band" defies you to disagree–taking a look at its upcoming gigs is like browsing through a what's-what of festivals and events all across Nova Scotia. Certainly they are one of Halifax's hardest working bands, beginning as the backup band for Shauntay Grant in 2005, nine years later they are a 12-piece band (with dedicated sound person), playing a mix of old school hits and some stealthy originals at nearly every event–wedding, corporate, civic, you name it–the city has to offer.
"We've been doing a lot, getting a lot on the go, everything is just snowballing honestly, you think you get a little break but then...boom. But it's good, especially in this city," says bassist Nathan Symonds. "I think it's because we're doing something different, it's not every day you see a 12-piece band, people see that and say 'Oh my heavens!'"
This year at Halifax Jazz Festival, Asia & NuGruv play a free daytime concert, a switch from last year's opening slot for Lee Fields and The Expressions, which Symonds says was an amazing experience, but something about the family vibe of an afternoon gig just suits them better–besides, they're already playing the Casino that night.
"The daytime stuff is my favourite," says powerhouse vocalist Asia Parsons. "I work at a school and I see kids all the time who recognize me from a festival." Adds Symonds: "During the day we're not just there to provide entertainment for a club, it's more of a family thing." Symonds and Parsons are engaged to be married in September, and won't be playing their own wedding. "People ask that all the time," says Symonds, laughing. "We will have entertainment but we won't be the ones doing it."
They still practice in Symonds' basement every Wednesday, and though they fill out the band's sound from a family of musicians in Halifax (the idea of a full horn section was sparked by their first sax player, Rob Crowell of Deer Tick), "the rythym section never changes," says Symonds. "The foundation is tight and it stays that way."
Symonds points out that it's not their full-time gig–Parsons and Symonds have day jobs–but they are able to straddle the line between corporate gigs performing the feel-good covers that have made them a go-to staple, and fulfilling dreams of recording their own originals.
"We're pretty much a show band, a working party band, but it's an accomplishment to put out our original stuff," says Symonds. "I'm not saying we could switch to doing all originals–we've come this far playing covers, and we aren't going to turn our backs on it now–but I do want to put it out there. We can have best of both worlds, we can be involved in the industry with our originals, and still do the other gigs with covers."
With the originals, lyrically Parsons stays true to herself. "I try to write about what's going on in my life, relationship stuff, just having fun," she says.
Their original music has the same throwback sound as the covers they select, and that R&B, soul, funk, old school genre is close to their hearts. "People will listen to an old school song like 'I Can't Wait' by Nu Shooz, and say, 'I can remember being back in my living room dancing with my friends,'" says Parsons. "Our motto for awhile was 'taking you back and bringing you back'– that's what we try to do."
What keeps the band steady rolling nine years in? "Love of the music," says Parsons.
"But also the people," adds Symonds.
"We have people coming up to us afterwards and tell us they were having a bad day but we lifted their spirits up," says Parsons. "That makes my day."
Asia & NuGruv
Saturday, July 5 at 12pm