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    Meet Small Time Napoleon. This quartet feels classic--like 1940's classic--with a modern sound. They play a touch of many genres which attracts fans from a variety of ages. Small Time Napoleon frequent local outdoor festivals and this year they can play new tunes because they are releasing their first full-length album this spring. Stay tuned for some album news. In the meantime, guitarist Jeff Thomas answered some questions to get us more acquainted with Small Time Napoleon.  

    LC: Describe your music to someone who has never heard of you.

    JT: We try to incorporate swing, rock, pop, folk, and some blues and funk elements. We have a pretty strong jazz influence, but jazz means different things to different people so some may not hear it as much as others. We rely heavily on improvisation, we communicate with each other on stage, and some of our chord progressions follow what most consider to be jazz theory.

    LC: What’s your musical background?

    JT: Three of the four of us have degrees in music from Bellarmine University or the University of Louisville. Apart from our formal educations, each of us have experience as sidemen or band leaders. Dan Hardin has been playing in and around Louisville for around ten years now, picking up standards and writing tunes throughout the years. Dave Neill started playing rock on an electric bass, moving to the stand-up bass in college and becoming a well-known sideman locally. I started on the guitar with an interest in rock before being drawn to jazz and playing in various groups around town. Ryan Fowler has played drums throughout college and recently moved to Nashville where he was quickly picked up as a touring drummer for a country singer-songwriter.

    LC: Where did the name Small Time Napoleon come from?

    JT: Our name comes from a Tom Waits lyrics from the song “Diamonds and Gold”. The full lyric is: "Small time Napoleon’s shattered his knees, but he stays in the saddle for Rose. And all his disciples they shave in the gutter and gather what’s left of his clothes." We’re all Tom Waits fans. Not sure why that lyric won out over the countless other great lines from Waits, but it seemed to sit with us well enough.

    LC: Who are some of the band’s biggest influences?

    JT: From a songwriting point of view Paul Simon and Elvis Costello are probably on top of the list. We each have strong jazz influences ranging from Count Basie to Wes Montgomery. Musicians like Rufus Wainwright, Blossom Dearie, and John Hartford are up there on the list. Tom Waits haunts us.

    LC: What is Small Time Napoleon’s writing process like?

    JT: Usually either Dan or Jeff will write the bones of the tune--lyrics and chord progressions. Then the band will sit with it, adding harmonies, suggesting dynamics, and/or reworking the overall arrangement. Dan and Dave are great at hearing harmonies. Ryan and I usually shine when reworking the groove or suggesting specific arrangement ideas. After we have a tune near the way we like, we inevitably play it live and do something completely different.

    LC: Your first full-length album will be released this spring. What can we expect from the new music?

    JT: This album will be a departure from our EP, but remain true to our current live sound. When the band formed, Dan and I hired Ryan and a bassist, who ended up not being able to make the session. The night before we went to record, Ryan suggested we hire Dave. So the EP was recorded with, essentially, one rehearsal prior. The band has now played together for over a year and so our sound has evolved. This LP is proof of that. We have tunes that are very reminiscent of our earlier swing sound, but we’ve also reached towards more rock, pop, and blues related sounds.

    LC: Your music has a wide appeal. You can play with folk, jazz, rock, and more. What effect does this have on choosing the sound of new music? 

    JT: We try to write and play music that we enjoy. We don’t want to play the same style or sing the same lyrics over and over, so we introduce new things that interest us. There doesn’t seem to be a conscious effort from any one of us to change things up, but over time we all end up moving in one direction or another.

    LC: What's one thing that could improve Louisville's music scene?

    JT: Hard to say, the music scene here seems to constantly improve on its own. There are regular jazz sessions hosted at several local bars. Open mic’s seem to be everywhere any night of the week. WFPK is beyond great for local musicians, they’ve helped us and several of our friends tremendously. Mayor Greg Fischer has musicians at city hall once a month for a music series and is active in the arts. And the talent here is notable: My Morning Jacket, Tim Krekel, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Wax Fang…not to mention the numerous bands around town that seem constantly on the verge of “making it”. Maybe if there was one or two medium sized listening rooms. We did our EP release at Uncle Slayton’s which has since closed. If another place like that opened up, that would be nice.

    LC: Besides the new release, what can we expect from Small Time Napoleon in 2015?

    JT: We have a number of larger shows planned for this year in and around Louisville. We’re working with a few people to help us plan more shows out of town and start establishing ourselves further out in the region. We’re also working on up-ing our Youtube game. We have a new camera, some lights, and more experience with editing and production. We’ve been posting Youtube videos since the band’s beginning, but we’re hoping this year we can get some really nice looking pieces online for people to see who don’t live near enough to Louisville to drop by for a show.

    LC: If we were to find the Small Time Napoleon guys at one local establishment, where would that be?

    JT: We used to hang out at Mulligans quite a bit, but since that closed we’ve struggled to find a new regular spot.

    Photos provided by Small Time Napoleon and courtesy of Small Time Napoleon Facebook page. 

    Will Ford's picture

    About Will Ford

    Covering Louisville music like it's the 6 o' clock news. I've covered Forecastle, Louder Than Life, Moontower, Starry Nights, and Louisville music news for 3 years. Follow me @parasiticnoise

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