ESG: A Family Affair


Craig 'Sayers' and Carol Lynn meet the family funk band from the Bronx whose much-sampled self-titled EP from 1981 was recently voted into the Soul Strut Top 100.


No other band can claim to have played live at the opening night of the Hacienda in Manchester and at both closing nights for the Paradise Garage in New York.


They'e still touring the world and creating frenetic dance parties wherever they go.


Craig and Carol caught up with Renee from the band at their recent gig at Think Tank in Newcastle UK to chat about recording with Martin Hannett, the joy of being rediscovered in the 90s by hip hop producers and the pain of being sampled in ways disrespectful to themselves and their music.

Mr Sayers: I first became aware of ESG through late 80’s hip hop. You were being sampled heavily back then, were you aware of it at the time, and how do you feel about that?


Renee – Well…I have mixed feelings about that. I don’t like sampling, I don’t care for it, I wouldn’t care if  I was never exposed like that, OK?


I don’t like no one stealing my music like that. Find your own damn music OK? I don’t like sampling, so it’s nothing I appreciate. I don’t consider it an art form I consider it as a rip off, just what it is.


You're ripping off other artists who are going deep into their souls to find what they find, and you're ripping them off, OK? Nine times out of ten they’re not even acknowledged, or paid, so I have no respect for sampling at all.



Mr Sayers: What about the hip hop DJ’s who where playing your records at block parties and stuff, playing it to people who may not have heard your music otherwise?


Renee: Well it’s a cool thing, ESG has crossed over into all frames of music, from hip hop to punk to pop, you know, it’s what you put into it.


Mr Sayers: How did the deal with Factory records come about ?


Renee: – OK well, what happened was this.

We were opening for A Certain Ratio, and while we were doing the sound check Tony Wilson was standing in the audience, and he’s listening. I didn’t know who he was, you know?


We’re just doing our thing, and after the sound check he came up and said “Hey!”, I said “Hey”, and he said “ How would you like to do a record?!”and I said “Sure!”.

This was Wednesday. By Saturday we were in the studio with him and Martin Hannett. I had no idea who Martin Hannet was either, you know? I was just like “Cool man, we get to do a record. Wow! Finally!”


You know, because we had been out for like a year playing, introducing ourselves to the punk scene, and the Downtown scene, so it was like 'Wow! This guy is asking us to cut a record!' But you know it was all just chance.


Mr Sayers: You mentioned punk and the downtown scene there, so how would you classify your music then?


Renee: What I consider our music to be; because I don’t like to label it; I just say ‘ESG music’ is dance music. You dance and have a good time. We’re going to do all kinds of songs, and you're going to be dancing. So I just consider it dance music you know?



Mr Sayers: So who influenced you to come up with your unique brand of dance music?


Renee: James Brown!


You know when you listen to any James Brown song, and you're waiting for him to take it to the ‘bridge’, the ‘parts’, the ‘riff’, and when he cuts that you just go wild and lose your mind? And I was just 'Wow!' What if the whole song could be like that; could be the riff, the break, you know?


Mr Sayers: So you were kind of doing what hip hop was doing, I know you don’t like sampling, but they were just working on the bridge/break too?


Renee: There’s a difference. We’re writing original music and they’re just stealing other peoples music. So, no. but you can say it’s the same formula, OK?

Mr Sayers: You seemed to play the Paradise Garage a lot. Did you play any important gigs there ?


Renee: We played both closing nights of the Paradise Garage. It was really special that they made the effort to invite us. It was a two night party and they made sure they had  everything set up so we could play live both nights because a lot of acts were “tape acts”, . It was pretty special but really sad. That club had the greatest sound system I’ve heard if my life!


The Paradise Garage was one wild party after the other! We got to meet some of the most famous R’N’B acts of the time there. Grace Jones, the Weather Girls who at the time were ‘Two Tonnes of Fun.' I’ve seen Sylvester, Gwen McCrae. These are people who we played with there and I was like ‘Wow man!”


Mr Sayers: You played the Hacienda. Did you play the opening night there?


Renee: Yes!

When people ask ‘What was the Hacienda like?’, I say “Sawdust!” (laughs) because they were still building the club when we walked in and sawdust was all over the floor.


Sawdust everywhere. The whole sound system wasn’t even in yet, and we had to sound check, so we sound checked with like half a system, and sawdust was flying everywhere, and I was like, 'Oh wow!' So we did what we did and time came to play. The sound system wasn’t 100%, but hey, we did our thing.


Mr Sayers: So where do you originally hail form ?


Renee: The only reason ESG was even put together in the first place was at the time we were living in a bad neighbourhood.

We were in the Bronx, in the projects and everything that was going on in our neighbourhood was horrible, from drugs, to gangs and a lot of young girls getting pregnant.


My mom was seeing these girls getting pregnant, and I was like really interested in music and I said ‘you know’ we were watching all these concerts and things, and I was like “I can do that, I can do that!”, and she was like “OK”.


So she got us these instruments for Christmas and said “You said you can do it, do it…Now put your money where your mouth is!”, and we were like “Oh, man! We’ve got to do something now”.


So we started practising, and practising each day. So the instruments were to keep us from the bad stuff going on in the streets around us. My mother was the type of person that if she bought you something, you better not waste her money! (Laughs)


Mr Sayers: What about the reissues of your music, Soul Jazz etc?


Renee: Soul Jazz in 2000 was the first reissue of our music.

We really, really appreciated it. Soul Jazz put us back in the limelight and they were really behind us. We’re not with them anymore but we’re still doing our thing.


What we’re doing now is we’re just putting out our own music on formats like ‘CD Baby’ and downloads and things like that, just putting it out ourselves. The record labels are a tad too much hassle! (Laughs)


Mr Sayers: I take it Soul Jazz approached you guys?


Renee: Yeah, it came out of the blue. I just thought it was interesting, I had no idea who they were, and then I found out they were the kind of label that put out reissues, and supported a lot of Afro-American artists.

I thought they were really cool, and you know the relationship with them was really, really good. It was a good run, but we’ve moved on.


Mr Sayers: So is there any difference between the UK/US fanbase/audience?


Renee: Everywhere we go, and I mean 'Wow!' I’ve been all over the world, Japan, Australia and ,

everywhere we go we’re well received because no matter where you go people want to dance, and we get out there and give them what they want! We give them a good old party and stuff. A lot of energy and it’s always cool.


We may not always speak their language, but they’re always rocking you know, even in Japan we sold out and they were rocking and I’m sure they didn’t know a word I was saying, but they felt the music that was for sure.


Mr Sayers: So how’s the recent batch of dates over here been for you?


Renee: Every night, the audiences have been fantastic, and it’s always cool because it seems like each time we come out the audience is getting younger and younger, they’re younger than my kids, so it’s really. really cool! (laughs)


Mr Sayers: Any new projects coming up?


Renee: Last year we did the ESG - Closure album, and now we have something coming out called “What more can you take?”. It’s pushing further the issue of sampling, we did “Samples don’t pay our bills”, now “What more can I take?” It’s like all the things they’re ripping from us.


What’s really, really burning in my bones right now is a rapper using the name E.S.G, and it’s like come on man, you're stealing our music and now you're going to steal our name?

Come on man! There’s no two Rolling Stones! I’m talking that artistically, no two acts have the same name. It’s just not done, you know?


I’m going up to the person and they’re saying he’s a rapper and you're like a band, and I’m like, no, no two bands are not supposed to have the same name, because when he winds up with one of my royalty cheques we’re going to have a problem. This stuff is tripping me out as I’ve never seen this done in the course of music history!


Carol: With regards to sampling, does that mean you never got any recognition for that at the time, and you never got royalties or anything?


Renee: ESG, first of all as a mainly female group, all woman, OK?

These male rappers, not only are they ripping the music off, but they’re talking about a woman that she’s a bitch, she’s a whore or somebody's slut and that’s not what ‘UFO’ was written for!


I’m a woman and I don’t appreciate you using my music to degrade woman, OK?


So I have a big issue with it. They take the music, then they come to you and they’ve already put it out. So you have to settle or really drag out a long and expensive court case. So they clean up and settle with me and sure, they clean it up but it doesn’t clean up what they’ve done to disrespect women, so I have a problem with that.


Carol: I think one of the best things is that ESG are a strong bunch of females playing live music.


Renee: Right! Iif you're trying to go out there and say to young women you can do it, you know, why am I allowing them to disrespect women like that with my music?


I want them to know that I don’t want anything to do with it , you know? It just happens and I have to deal with it but I really have no respect for what they’re doing.

You see what I’m saying? It’s very, very disturbing for a woman. Go do it with someone else’s music, don’t do it with mine.


You know they just take it, you know what it feels like to me? It feels like in a way, it feels like they’re raping our music, like you're raping a bunch of females. The record companies are like “Hey, it’s OK, give her a dollar, and go clean up!”, and I don’t like that, OK?


Mr Sayers: So to you it’s theft and then they’re insulting you ?


Renee: Yeah, it’s very insulting, and it’s insulting other women, so it’s not just me.


Carol: You're saying this is going to be your final tour, is that right?


Renee: –Well…(Laughs) We’ll see, never say never, and we’ll hang in there as long as it’s fun, right?


I mean it’s fun, I always have fun, I have fun when I see the audience having fun and dancing. You know as a woman matures, you just got to stand and chill a bit, rest up and then get back out there!


Craig 'Sayers' and Carol Lynn


February 2014







Photographs: © Dan Graham

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