Austin band Kalu & the Electric Joint headlines Fort Worth venue Tulips on Sunday, July 18, with opening support from DFW’s TryMore Mojo, Dead Vinyl, and Sam Morrow. In advance of the show, we talked to Kalu James and guitarist JT Holt about what to expect from the performance, which features a new band lineup and all new music.
The first time I saw Kalu & the Electric Joint perform live, I remember thinking it was one of the best rock shows I’d seen in a while. It was raw and captivating yet also communal and, in a way, spiritual.
Kalu James is from Nigeria, but has called Austin home for well over a decade. It was there he realized music was his calling and met guitarist JT Holt. Eventually they formed Kalu & the Electric Joint, a group whose music eloquently blends rock, soul, afrobeat, blues and more. Their respective backgrounds are part of what brings such richness and depth to their sound.
“Kalu is like a beacon in some ways,” Holt says. “He’s a very special person to be around … it’s kind of something akin to the way it feels to listen to Marley: it’s very encompassing and has a wide reach in terms of where he’s drawing influence from.”
Gleaning inspiration from Led Zeppelin and Radiohead to Jeff Buckley and Otis Redding, their sound has a dynamic quality that appeals to fans of various genres. Typically they co-write the music, and James pens the lyrics.
“In songwriting, I consider myself to be a conduit in the purest form,” James says. “It’s never ‘let’s write about this or that’—it’s serving the song and going where the spirit leads it.”
The band’s latest single “Downfall,” released earlier this year, was produced at Modern Electric Sound Recorders in Dallas by Jason Burt (Paul Cauthen, David Ramirez, Sir Woman). It makes subtle references to Martin Luther King, Jr., yet reminds us of the power of love. Holt traces the origins of “Downfall” to a moment he and Kalu shared in Memphis. They were standing in front of Motel Lorraine, where MLK had been shot.
“We spent a solid 40 minutes there, just standing I silence,” Holt says. “I think that event translated into that song for sure.” They wrote it prior to the protests in 2020, but it feels like it could have been written in response.
“I’m looking forward to spreading of the message of love, tolerance, and unity in these times,” James says. “That’s what the record is all about: getting back to a place where we understand it’s all connected.”
As for the band lineup, it’s Greg Clifford (White Denim, Heartless Bastards) on drums, Johann Valles on bass, and Pearl Z on keys, guitar and vocals. (Holt says she’s like a secret weapon.)
The live show includes a few songs from the band’s last album, Time Undone(2017), but it’s mostly all new music from the band’s recently wrapped LP—official release date and title TBD.
Add in the reciprocal energy from the crowd and the other band members and fellow musicians on stage. The result is a collective experience that can only be felt by being there. “It’s very much how afrobeat feels to me—buckle your seatbelt and get ready for the ride.”
This fall, you can catch Kalu and the Electric Joint in Texas opening for Umphrey’s McGee in September and on Halloween at Levitation Festival in Austin.
Doors open at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 18 at Tulips for the show. Music starts at 3 p.m.