John Culbreth found there was a contradiction in being a musician on tour, when–although he was surrounded by music virtually every day–there was no time to create. So, Culbreth acquiesced, deciding to keep performing until he found the time to work on his own material. As a member and co-founder of instrumental sextet Naughty Professor and having performed with a wide variety of other acts–such as The Revivalists, Vance Joy, Griz and Galactic–Culbreth’s talents were in high demand. After eight years spent on tour, though, it was beginning to look like Culbreth would never find the time to work on his solo act, something that he desperately wanted.
So, how did Culbreth go from the life of a performer to recording the funk-driven solo EP, Magic Box? He found inspiration in the stories of other musicians who created profound music in less than accommodating environments. For one, Culbreth heard that Donald Glover worked on the album Awaken, My Love! while filming on the set of “Community,” a since-canceled network sitcom in which Glover played one of the main characters. At that point, no matter where the tour took him, Culbreth decided it was time to start working.
And, since then, Culbreth’s work has paid off. Having released Magic Box–his four track EP–on July 5, he refined the sound that began as musical musings of a creative mind on the move. “The process began as a cathartic exercise to keep creative output flowing,” said Culbreth. “When it came to finishing arrangements, though, I struggled. A growing pile of unfocused musical sketches was amassing, and I started feeling boxed in by the constraints of using what software instruments I had handy. The ideas (aside from what I had already recorded on trumpet) needed soul breathed into them.”
To help find that elusive musical soul, Culbreth contacted Steve Swatkins, a.k.a. Swatkins, a talented talkbox and keyboardist for Allen Stone. “When I first dropped the tracks Steve recorded into the song [“GoKarting”] and hit play,” Culbreth explained, “my heart leapt…the song was alive! My next thought was ‘How great would these ideas sound if I keep doing this?’” From there, Culbreth contacted hip hop producer Es-K and the Nashville-based music collective Dynamo.
With his efforts to combine the sounds of so many established musicians (including Sasha Masakowski, Sam Kuslan and many others), Culbreth’s Magic Box showcases an eclecticism not seen in many solo acts. Magic Box is now available at all music stores and streaming platforms. Click here to stream it on Spotify.