Philly’s James Poyser is happily one of the Roots, and he’s in it for life. He played on and produced bits of the local heroes’ 1999 opus Things Fall Apart, which just received a fancy 20th anniversary reissue, and officially joined the band as a full-time keyboardist in 2009.
But being a member of the prolific hip-hop group, who are also the house band on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, doesn’t give him as much time to write, produce, or compose as he did before. And Poyser was pretty good at that, too — he won a Grammy for best R&B song in 2003 for cowriting Erykah Badu and Common’s hit “Love of my Life.”
Poyser is looking to change that, starting Friday, Oct. 4, with a show at World Café Live. Poyser’s first Philly solo date since joining the Roots allows Poyser to curate a night of local live soul and hip-hop (such as &More), as well as jam with old friends, such as one-time Prince bassist MonoNeon, drummer George “Spanky” McCurdy, and Philly saxophonist Jaleel Shaw.
We caught up with Poyser while he took his morning train into Manhattan from his home outside of Philadelphia. “I commute every day because I don’t live in New York — can’t afford that with a family,” he says with a laugh.
All of those years of working on records, writing and producing, doing a little bit of touring — at that time, everything was changing. The whole music business was turning around. I had settled in for family life. Stability like this would really set me up. It was and still is a great opportunity. I’m around a bunch of guys that are like family, and get along in a job that is fun.
Can’t beat that. It’s a blessing. Look, records aren’t selling, so everyone makes their money on the road. I’m on the road every day, but in one place: on TV.
It is. I’ve grown into that. Besides, the real me is a bit of a jokester. There’s nothing but jokes among musicians, a lot of gallows humor. There’s a lot of laughs to be had with guys you’re that cool with, whether in the studio or on the road. It’s just another side of us. I mean, Black Thought is one of the greatest, most serious rappers of all time.
Yes. But, Tariq is also a funny, funny guy. I would like to say I’m funny too, though I don’t think my family thinks so. We also get to play all sorts of music, playing different genres and idioms every day. It would have been easy to stereotype us as just being a hip-hop band before [The Tonight Show], but, as the world sees, we play all styles of music.
I have to. There’s something in my DNA that goes stir crazy if I don’t do other things. No joke, being on the train several hours a day, up and back, gives me leeway. I don’t want to be bored with myself. Actually, when we first started The Tonight Show, I noticed I would get upset with myself if I didn’t get an opportunity to play or write outside the band. I haven’t played in Philly, but, I do jazz quartet gigs in New York City every chance I get.
I’m trying to see who is looking for what material. At the same time, I still get approached for certain projects. I’m scoring documentaries. This “job” job allows me to not be super hungry.
I have so many new tunes. I should get them on iTunes, stuff with cats that rap and sing, as well as my solo stuff. I want to play more, and this Future X Sounds gig is a way in. I want to do more.
I try to keep in touch with it through my network of friends. But life changes when you get older. Unless I’m out there already playing, once it hits 11, I’m ready to go to sleep.