Hot Mustard: Cinematic Funk & Soul

Alex H. Krinsky on May 24, 2022
Hot Mustard: Cinematic Funk & Soul

Guitarist Jack Powell and bassist Nick Carusos had already been playing music together for over 20 years, and had even hatched the idea for a duo that mixes ‘90s hip-hop, funk, soul and Brooklyn swagger, before the pandemic brought the world to a sudden stop. Yet those particularly challenging early days of COVID-19 were also what ultimately brought their project Hot Mustard to life.

“A lot of people were supposed to be touring and didn’t have the time to focus on these other creative outlets. And then, all of a sudden, they were just presented with this giant feeling like, ‘Now is your time,’” says Powell, who is also a multimedia artist and producer. “Some people figured out how to use it, some people probably went to a bad place and some people were like, ‘I’m going to make this something positive.’ I think that’s definitely what I did.”

Hot Mustard’s 10-track debut LP, Mother Sauce, which dropped in September, showcases their affinity for late-‘60s and early-‘70s soul and funk. By onboarding Antibalas’ trumpeter Jordan McLean and trombonist Dave “Smoota” Smith, the recipe for their bright and contemporary reimagining of a golden era of music was complete. Like many musicians over the pandemic, Powell, Carusos, Smith and McLean sent tapes back and forth and built their tracks outward from what landed in their inbox.

“The music comes when things go back and forth between the horns and me and Nick. A lot of times, it’s not like a fully composed thing necessarily; it’s a concept,” Powell says. “I’m the one that produces things. Nick, he comes and does his thing and we collaborate.”

Despite the distance, and the fact that Powell had only just met McLean in person a month before this interview, Hot Mustard’s sound still bubbles over with a palpable live energy.

Additionally, Powell tasked himself with creating a multimedia experience for the project, including putting together two music videos. “It’s rooted in assemblage, binding things and putting them together,” Powell says of the videos. “The videos are [comprised of ] all old public domain images and, basically, what you find guides the process. I would like to animate everything, but it’s very time consuming. We’ve gotta pick two or three. When you’re working like that, you’re relying on coincidence. You’re creating an opportunity for those kinds of things to happen—to spark a chain of events. You just have to put these things out there and hope that the story reveals itself.”

Not only has that story already revealed itself to Hot Mustard but the musicians are also currently sitting on enough material for a second and potentially even a third album.

According to Powell, they’re still working on how to bring their sound to the stage live but they’re looking at the challenge with wide eyes and wider smiles. “It doesn’t feel like this was a thing that we did,” Powell says. “This is a thing that we’re doing.”