by Malik Hall
Apollo, the Olympian deity, is associated with being the god of numerous aspects of our society: music, philosophy, truth, healing, prophecy and obviously the sun. All of these items could also be associated with the genre bending act known as Photosynthesizers. Whether they were traveling through the cosmos forging songs or just deciding to make an appearance once in a blue moon during their absence in the RVA scene, it seems they will permanently be dropping their flag down in Richmond with their debut album, “Apollogy.”
Why did the 11-year old band finally decided to drop their first album after so long? “It just felt right. We’ve gone through so many transitions, and there were some periods of time where we thought we weren’t going to make it,” said Maurice “BarCodez” Jackson, the bands emcee. “Apollogy” is fueled with eclectic themes and double entendres that tie together everything from technology to the human condition, love, art, and politics, and usually all these themes are incorporated in one song. The album name and cover art can be connected to both the Greek god and to the spaceship that went to the moon in 1969. There are also 11 songs on the track, which is another nod to the moon landing.
BarCodez Jackson, guitarist Josh Bryant and keyboardist Wade Puryear’s band has constantly rotated different members over the past few years, which probably has fueled comparisons to the Roots, something that BarCodez would like to avoid. “I feel we were being typecast in a way. Anytime you’re going to be a band and have an MC and singer in it, people are going to compare you to the Roots, Erykah Badu or the Fugees. It’s not like they don’t have influences on us. They do. We also like Radiohead, we like Björk and all of these other influences. It’s just so funny how like everyone tried to nail you into a genre because it’s easily digestible. I don’t know. Nobody listens or eats one thing you know,” BarCodez stated.
Currently, the other associated members are Billy Nguyen on the turntables/MPC, Matt Groves on the drums and Laura Ann Singh, Toniraye Moss, and Macy West on vocals. With so many different band members from different musical backgrounds, and the band not being defined as a hip-hop group, you’d think things would get complicated when trying to finalize their sound.
“The process is ever changing. Maurice may have a random idea that sparks something. Wade may have something he’s working on, and the collaboration takes it somewhere. One of us may write the song out and talk through what it feels like. The most important thing about us working together is the sum of our parts as a whole. It may require us scrapping one thing or running with some piece of it. I thoroughly enjoy and cherish that,” said Bryant, the band’s guitarist.
Style wise, Barcodez has a flow that is impossible to mimic. The tempo isn’t too fast to keep up with, but he doesn’t take breaks in between his rhymes. He perhaps has too much to say and not enough time. Barcodez covers pressing topics as a gateway to larger themes that highlight the divides our country faces, such as the dismantling of Colin Kaepernick’s career and school shootings. As an African American male, Barcodez makes sure he keeps his music true to himself, which of course is about the black experience. But he also extends the struggle to what it means to be an American and even further to what it means simply to be human.
“Hoed Us/To The Cold/Crush
Gold Rush/To The Coal/Dust/We’ve Been Undermined
Neighbors Dye Tribes/Divide/Racial Diatribes
These are lyrics from Terms and Agreements, the opening track of the album. The song itself basically speaks on the hypocrisy of our culture and how we cherry pick certain (some) pressing matters but completely ignore or have disinterest in the suffering of certain groups and the loss of human connection. Terms and Agreements is really a song about society and its many oppositions, and for me to tell you what it’s about is I would have to tell you why it’s not about. For me it’s about everything: from women’s rights, social economics to art,” said BarCodez.
Madbox Made’s Matt West directed the Terms and Agreements video, the only one for the album so far. It features Barcodez speaking in a town hall with focus on actress Akiba Robinson, who is the only attendee. She goes crazy over what the speaker has to say and also the surrounding attendees’ reactions— or lack thereof— as they understand this as the norm of our society.
“Apollogy” isn’t all a coded message that takes several listens to understand, as Barcodez shows a more vulnerable side of himself in No Rams. In this song, he speaks of his strained relationship with his father. Another cut from the album, Humano, is a soothing Latin pop song sung by Laura Ann Singh. Surprisingly, these were two of three songs they decided on before creating the rest of the album. “Apology” was a recurring theme that we were going through. Early on we kind of had this rule book where if the records couldn’t address the tone or apologize, we weren’t gonna put it on the album,” said BarCodez.
The album release party was held at Northside’s new hot spot, Fuzzy Cactus, and was a good testing ground to see how the album would go live. “It is so fun to see how each of us brings our own element to how it is done live. This album was built primarily between myself, Maurice and Wade. Laura Ann Singh came through and blessed us with some amazing vocals as well. But it was important for the live performance to really reflect each of our tastes and strengths. So far so good!” said Bryant.
Richmond will be seeing more of the art of Photosynthesizers as they are obviously not the “new group” in town. “We feel like we’re at the start again at the starting line. Cause like, like people kept running, people kept running when we took a hiatus. You know what I’m saying? So like we got to catch up.”
Photosynthesizers has one upcoming show for the Hail Sagan science and art themed event at Gallery 5, a part of the monthly First Fridays along with Goldrush.
VCU Alumni, Malik Hall fell into writing by accident, but the best things in life are unplanned.”Music is permeates the soul is a language that is understood by everyone, why wouldn’t I want to write about up and coming artists.”
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