Beers, beats, banh mi: Mekong Xpress is Richmond’s newest funk band

Photo courtesy of Travis Morgan

Quentin Rice
Contributing Writer

What started as a weekly meeting of musicians at an unassuming Vietnamese restaurant on Broad Street has evolved into Mekong Xpress, an eight-piece funk band whose first album, “Common Knowledge,” comes out Oct. 19.

An Mekong, owner of Mekong restaurant who could be deemed the band’s godfather, spent months educating the musicians on food and beer before he suggested they play together.

“He just set up the back room and we just started playing,” said vocalist and bassist Todd Herrington. “Eventually we whittled it down to this eight-piece unit that has been playing since 2014 or 2015.”

The band members found a common love for soul music from the 1970s — that affinity is clear both in terms of songwriting and in recording philosophy. The music harkens back to soul groups like Steely Dan and the Commodores with creamy guitar solos over tight drums, smooth Hammond organs and funky bass grooves. They even took notes from their favorite ‘70s groups by recording the drums with closely-positioned microphones to create dry, isolated sounds.

Every member of Mekong Xpress is heavily involved with other projects such as collaborations with Bon Iver, Shakira and No BS! Brass, which makes it difficult for the members to be in the same place. That might be why this album has been in the works for about four years and why a tour has not yet been planned to promote the record.

“We don’t have a tour in the works right now, but we might be able to do a mini-run in the spring if we can make it work for our personal schedules,” Herrington said.

The album plays like a love letter to the ‘70s, pulling inspiration from James Brown, George Clinton and The Beatles, all while maintaining a crisp originality. The track “Life is a Dream” sounds like it could be the b-side to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” with its sunshiny vocal harmonies and glowing horn licks. The falsetto harmonies paired with the unstoppable guitar riff and bongo grooves on the band’s “Can’t Keep Foolin’” would sound right at home on an Earth, Wind & Fire record. The title track — which is the band’s favorite according to Herrington — is centered on a fuzzy, sometimes slapped-bass groove and an unflinching disco drum beat as Herrington croons,

“All that I want / is for you to see / that it’s common knowledge / what you mean to me.”

As a conglomerate of musicians steeped in so many different projects, Mekong Xpress has found themselves in a very unique place at the center of a plethora of different scenes in Richmond.

Mekong Xpress debuted some of their new music at a Sept. 28 show at The Camel.

“The vibe was awesome,” Herrington said. “It was really cool to see all the musicians and audiophiles there. That’s when we realized that our audience was music lovers of all genres and platforms.”

“Common Knowledge” will drop Oct. 19, and the titular single became available Oct. 9.

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