Being a person who grew up on jazz and classic rock, I jumped at the chance of learning more about The Savanna Underground. The curiosity of wondering if our future generation will be immersed in all the music our parents grew up on and raised us on comes to mind often but there’s finally a sound, I think, most of us have longed for. Petals Of Yellow Fire is timeless and classic combined with futuristic funk. With slick beats and groovy horns, making you want to tap your foot all day long. Check out my Q & A with Matt van den Heuvel below.

You play with Michal Menert and The Pretty Fantastics, how long have you been playing before then and is this your first solo project?

I’d been playing for a good 10 or 11 years before, though only professionally active for 2-3 years prior. While the compositions are all mine on this album, the feel and groove of the whole work is greatly influenced by the playing styles of those who recorded with me, so I can’t quite call this a solo project, but yes, I have put out an album previously of original material with many of the same players called “Savanna Radio”.

What’s the background of The Savanna Underground? The players/instruments, the overall sound, how it all became about.

This project began directly after I released my first album “Savanna Radio” a few years ago. I wanted to explore how all the styles of music that had been influencing me at the time (jazz, blues, afrobeat, music from Mali, etc) could interact with more modern instruments, ideas, and production techniques.  See, all these great traditions of music that I enjoy (mentioned above) were wildly innovative for their time, and I really admire that facet of their music. Take Afrobeat for an example: you had brilliant and virtuosic players like Fela Kuti and Tony Allen combining Funk and Jazz with the music happening in Nigeria and Ghana in a way that people had never imagined. They managed to stretch the perception of what people had previously thought possible in music by blending and reinterpreting their influences in a highly innovative and unique way, and that is why their music continues to be an inspiration. You could say the same thing about the work of John Coltrane, or Jimi Hendrix, or any truly great musician… These individuals didn’t just sit around and try to compose in the style of whatever was happening 10 years prior, they pushed themselves relentlessly to explore new ideas and continuously redefine themselves and their playing. This method, this forward-looking approach, is what The Savanna Underground represents, and one I will continue to pursue in all my musical endeavors for as long as I remain active. 

Now regarding the technical production of the album: All of these tracks originated in my small bedroom studio and came to fruition via a very gradual process where I recorded these works as they were being composed. Once the composition was more or less finished, I’d take them into a professional studio and record drums over everything. Thankfully I had some very talented friends who were willing to record with me and take the music beyond my means. 

What’s the inspiration behind Petals Of Yellow Fire?

Musically? Being a music enthusiast and feeling the excitement of those musical giants who pushed the art form to where it is today, as well as hearing the ideas contemporary artists are putting out. The name itself is a metaphor for sunlight, or “rays of sun” I copped from Oscar Wild’s writing. I like how the title refers to something we usually only think of one way (sunlight), but, thought of this way (as “Petals of Yellow Fire”), “sunlight” takes on a whole different and beautiful imagery.  You can see how this relates to the the musical process I’m exploring.

What do you anticipate is next for The Savanna Underground?

Well, I already have another 4-5 track EP in the mixing process, so there’s that… I’ve been incorporating more space rock, synths, and drum programming into the mix. Hopefully some performances too!

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