New Orleans has a way of bringing people together. Hosting an array of attitudes, artists, and entrepreneurs, the city has always been a natural hub for unique blends of creative spirits to grow together sharing in something all their own. In 2010, a handful of Loyola students from all different backgrounds and walks of life came together to form the instrumental party powerhouse that is Naughty Professor. Since the release of their debut album, Until the Next Time, the Big Easy-based band has shared the stage with many of their heroes, plan on starting their next album, and have been touring, spreading the good word of the city they love, call home, and that inspires them every day. Where Y’at talks with alto and baritone saxophonist Nick Ellman to get the nitty-gritty on Naughty Professor.
WYAT: How did the band come together?
Nick Ellman: Most of us met the very first week we moved to New Orleans in August 2010. Sam Shahin, our drummer and aptly named “Big Papa,” had lived here previously and joined the band in 2012 after our close friend and drummer at the time decided to pursue life as a farmer. The six of us came to know each other through the jazz program at Loyola University. After a few casual jam sessions on campus during orientation week, we promptly formed a band and booked our first show. I remember playing almost all covers at that gig but being mostly excited about performing the first song we wrote together, “Chef’s Special,” which we recorded on our album in 2013 and still play today.
WYAT: To me, Naughty Professor is its own blend of styles. Did this naturally occur or was it something the band kind of had a vision for at the beginning?
Ellman: It was definitely natural for us to blend styles because we were coming from a lot of different places musically. There was plenty of common ground, but we were especially interested in what each other was doing that was unique to the rest of us. I think we’ve always been comfortable listening first before playing, and that’s one thing that has helped shape our sound. It’s always been a collaborative group and, even from the start, each person had something to say. Sometimes there were Coltrane influences next to Zeppelin and, somehow, that felt right to us. At least it never seemed like something we should question or even talk about and maybe that’s why it worked for us.
WYAT: Y’all sound very comfortable, tightly-loose, and excited to play together. How do you feel the relationships within the group affect the way you play on stage?
Ellman: I think it has a lot to do with all of us being equally excited about creating something new together as much as we are inspired by what each individual brings to the group. Ideally the energy of our personal relationships is reflected in our music at our shows, and that personal dynamic only gets stronger on stage. It also helps that we’re good friends off the stage as well and we all love doing what we do.
WYAT: Being an instrumental band, do you ever have plans to work with guest vocalists or have you worked with a guest vocalist before?
Ellman: We worked with a vocalist early on named Mahoganee Medlock. She is a fantastic singer and used to join us on about half the songs we would play at shows. The vocal tunes were all covers, except for one original that she and I wrote together called “Now & Never,” which we recorded and released on our 2011 EP, theep. As the band started writing more original tunes we realized that’s the direction we wanted to take. We’re certainly open to collaboration of any kind, but we’re also really excited with where we’re at right now.
WYAT: What is your favorite memory from a New Orleans show?
Ellman: A show that stands out was in September 2013 at the Howlin’ Wolf opening up for Snarky Puppy. Snarky is one of my favorite groups right now and is a big influence on us as a band. Not only did a lot of our people come out but we also saw a ton of new faces in the crowd and everyone seemed very receptive to our set. We’re so grateful to have a hometown crowd that continues to support us and come to our shows. It makes New Orleans feel even more like home and that particular show was a great reminder of that.
WYAT: How do you feel being based in New Orleans has shaped your sound, attitudes, and influence as a band?
Ellman: We’re crazy about this city and couldn’t be happier to call it home. There’s so much inspiration to draw from the people, culture, and music community and it’s readily available whenever you want it. Since we first started playing together, our mentors and peers couldn’t have been more welcoming and encouraging towards the band. That has only motivated each of us to work harder while we enjoy everything else that comes with living here.
WYAT: What’s the most exciting thing about being on the road?
Ellman: There’s a certain kind of adventure in not knowing what’s happening next besides the date and time of the next show. Sometimes we don’t know where we’re sleeping after the gig, and we might play a little better because of it. It’s about as unsettling as it is exciting but we’ve grown closer as a band because of it, and I personally wouldn’t trade that for comfort. It’s also really rewarding to play for new faces and to connect with people that like what we’re doing. We’re looking to have that experience in as many places as possible.
WYAT: Any plans to record a new album any time soon? Music videos?
Ellman: Oh yes! We have a new batch of songs we’re really excited about and just now starting to turn the wheels to put the next record into motion. We’re also planning on recording live audio/video at our next show in New Orleans at the Blue Nile.
WYAT: Where do you see yourselves next?
Ellman: The next move for us is to be on the road playing as much as possible. We’re hoping to start hitting the festival circuit harder and definitely going to keep writing music that we’re excited about. New Orleans is no doubt our home outside of our van for the foreseeable future. We like it too much here to go anywhere else.
Catch Naughty Professor at Voodoo Fest on Nov.1 at 12:15 p.m. on the Carnival Stage.