Just the 11 of us

The Macrotones find strength in numbers
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  January 6, 2009

NO LEADERS: But the Macrotones are on point when it comes to micromanaging.

De La Soul believe that three is the magic number. My college girlfriend thought it was 55, not counting guys she only blew. But the Macrotones — a pleasantly excessive Allston-based instrumental outfit that rejects categorization within Afrobeat, reggae, and jam-band boundaries but will nonetheless be regularly lumped among those genres — believe the divine integer is 11. That's right — their group goes to 11.

Some might suspect that such a clan requires rigid hierarchical organization. The Macrotones, however, have decided there's no room for dominance in a non-political party of their magnitude. Founding members Nate Smith (bass) and Aaron Duffy (drums) arrived at that conclusion last year after joining a start-up Afrobeat alliance with a bandleader who fancied himself the bastard spawn of Sting and Fela Kuti. (Which might have been the case, you never know.) Instead of sticking out a painful Craigslist-facilitated shotgun marriage, the pair split with half the dude's crew and started fresh.

"We have 11 people now, which is a recipe for drama, but we've been able to weed it down to those of us who get along," says Nate Leskovic (trombone). "Looking back to the beginning, which wasn't very long ago at all, I'd say that we've been able to do it because we have no bandleader. That's on purpose. That was a deliberate move."

Surely everyone who's ever played in a massive outfit is grunting something to the tune of "Please — we did that same thing." No doubt somewhere in Staten Island, Method Man and Ghostface Killah are cursing the presumptions in this article. But they're all full of shit — as are you and that other dude in Bang Camaro. Orchestrating numerous heads is a heavy task every time, and the Macrotones are on point when it comes to micromanaging.

On the night of their Phoenix interview — which corresponds with the first snowstorm of the winter — they're taking turns yapping at the Middle East upstairs. It's unbelievable, but not one member seems to kick mad ego; instead of the usual not-so-surreptitious boasting, I get comments such as this one from Patrick Hurley (percussion), whose thighs are perpetually black-and-blue with self-inflicted tambourine wounds: "All of our songs are Macrotones songs — we would never really say that just one person wrote any of them. That's just not how things work with us."

They first tested their cohesiveness in public at the 2007 Hooker Street Block Party in Allston, where they played their cherry-poppin' gig. The line-up at the time — which included most of the current members — proved capable of creatively cohabitating, but there was still one major issue that threatened to undermine. "Back then we were calling ourselves Mzungu, which means 'whiteboy' in Swahili," says Aaron Duffy (drums). "And besides the fact that it was a stupid name anyway, they spelled it wrong on the flyer, so we knew right then that it had to go."

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