10 Apr Featured Artist | Bantu | Shake It (Everybody)
Like many songwriters, Terry Mills A.K.A. Bantu, has a love for music that spans several genres from Beethoven to ZZ Top, with Salsa and Motown being the main sources of inspiration. When he moved from New York to L.A. in the 1980s, he met two guys, Len Chandler and John Braheny who founded the L.A. Songwriters’ Showcase, which for many years was the premier organization devoted to supporting and educating songwriters. The showcase featured “cassette roulette” where the wheel would spin, and a publisher or other music industry representative would select a song and give a critique.
“Holding your breath, you hoped your song would be selected, while at the same time being very nervous about the critique. It was quite exhilarating!”
As a result of his involvement with the showcase, he decided to try his hand at producing. He bought a TEAC 80-8 recorder and a mixer, and converted a spare bedroom in his house to create a home studio. This is when he began trying to write his own songs, and figuring out how to optimize the 8 tracks with techniques such as bouncing tracks, punch-ins, and overdubs. He never took any courses in recording engineering, but managed to figure out how to get pretty good sound from his equipment. He made two records released on his Apple Brothers’ Production label, which surprisingly found their way onto YouTube years later! After a few years of trying to be an independent producer, the realities of life kicked in, and he shifted his interest to completing his education. He earned a PhD in sociology from the University of Southern California (USC), and spent the next 20 years in higher education. In 2017, once again bitten by the music bug, he decided to put all his time and energy into making music. “In many ways, I have come full circle, which feels really natural to me.”
What’s the inspiration behind “Shake It (Everybody)”?
I wanted a song that would get everybody who listens to be engaged in some way. So, I thought, “how about a line dance song?” I didn’t want the lyric to be too prominent, as it was the groove that I was shooting for. I just wanted people to have fun with this tune, whether you dance to it, or nod your head, or just tap your feet.
“I wanted to write a song that wasn’t political, wasn’t expressing a ‘beef about something,’ wasn’t about this or that. It’s just about having a good time!”
How do you manage your time as a songwriter?
It’s interesting how we can adapt ourselves to different situations. Although I continue to be involved in academics, I now have the luxury of controlling how much time, and under what circumstances I do that. The main challenge for me now is deciding when to sit and write, when to study (I watch a lot of videos from Berklee College of Music), when to work on my ProTools skills, or when to put on my A&R hat to evaluate my songs. In many ways, I lead a very charmed life for which I am truly blessed!
How do you develop your chord progressions?
I feel that I am very rudimentary in how I construct my songs. I first figure out what the root note is. Then I pull out my “circle of fifths” chart to see what the chord progressions will be. I’m not really an accomplished musician, so mostly, I try to match what I am hearing in my head to something I can play on the keyboard. I listen to other songs that I like to find a good tempo and key then I go from there. One thing that I do think is an important element of my songs is the sound of the vocals. I really love this singer, Steve Arrington who was the front man for a group called, “Slave.” His vocals always sound a little “off” to me, but there’s something about his sound that really moves me. So, I strive to get a vocal sound that touches on that style.
What kind of role do you think music creators are playing in the universe, or in the society? What’s your ideal state?
As a music creator, I see my role as spreading love, and expressing universal experiences. Making something, where nothing previously existed. That’s my ideal state. As Shakespeare said, “If music be the food of love . . . play on.”