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The New Respects on growing up gospel, discovering Hendrix, and the joys of Aretha Franklin 

click to enlarge With two Red Rocks bookings already under their belt, The New Respects are more likely to win Grammys than Dove Awards. - CODY MYERS
  • Cody Myers
  • With two Red Rocks bookings already under their belt, The New Respects are more likely to win Grammys than Dove Awards.
Nashville soul-pop band The New Respects didn’t choose their name as an allusion to the Aretha Franklin hit “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” although that would have made sense given that the young band’s frontwoman is the daughter of multiple Dove Award-winning gospel singer Nicole C. Mullen.

In fact, the band didn’t choose the name at all. Originally, they were performing as The John Hancock Band, which guitarist Alexandria “Zandy” Fitzgerald admits was inspired by the name of the lead character in the Will Smith superhero movie Hancock.

“In our defense, we were like 16 at the time,” she laughs. “So when we started looking for a new name, our A&R person came up with The New Respects. We thought it sounded old and throwback, so we were like “Sure, yeah!” And then somebody pointed out that it’s like paying homage to Aretha, so at the end of our sets, when we headline a show, we’ll sing that chorus. And it always gets the crowd hyped, because I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t know that song.”

Meanwhile, the music world is rapidly becoming more acquainted with the band itself. It’s rare that an act will get booked to play Red Rocks once — let alone twice — before they’ve even released their full-length debut album, but Fitzgerald and her bandmates are now among those chosen few. Following the release of last year’s debut EP Here Comes Trouble, they opened for Needtobreathe at the historic venue, and will return there Sept. 9 as the opening act for O.A.R.
“We’d just kind of hoped for regular things, like being able to go out on tour,” says Fitzgerald, “so playing Red Rocks before our full-length album is even out is unreal. And playing it for the second time in less than a year is also kind of a miracle, in and of itself. We’re just as shocked as you are.”

Actually, it’s not all that shocking, given the quality of last year’s contagiously funky single “Money.” After its release, Rolling Stone named them as one of the year’s “10 Artists You Need to Know” and recommended them for fans of Alabama Shakes, Elle King and Lenny Kravitz circa “Are You Gonna Go My Way.”

The guitarist gets the Kravitz comparison a lot, she says. “I think that’s more of like a visual thing, though, like we’re both black, I play guitar, and my hair is like his used to be.”

Fitzgerald and her bandmates, who are all in their early 20s now, grew up in religious households before moving into more secular musical realms. Along with her twin sister Alexis and their brother Darius, who handle bass and drum duties, respectively, Zandy’s a home-schooled preacher’s kid; cousin Jasmine Mullen, meanwhile, is the aforementioned gospel singer’s daughter. As teenagers, they all toured as backup dancers for Jasmine’s mom.
Now they’re making music that’s more likely to win Grammys than Dove Awards. “We were always living in both worlds, but when we were young and kind of sheltered, I didn’t really know what I was missing when it came to listening to Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and things like that,” says Zandy. “But no one in the community ever really questioned or looked down on what we wanted to do. It was more like making sure that you’re still representing what you believe, and you can do that anywhere. It doesn’t just have to be in the church.”

Compared to its predecessor, the newly released Before the Sun Goes Down is a more diverse and polished affair, ranging from the chilled-out ’80s vibe of “Hands Up,” which finds the guitarist doing her best Nile Rodgers impression, to pop radio-friendly tracks like “Something to Believe In.”

As for her own playing, Fitzgerald agrees with the suggestion that her style is becoming more versatile: “Oh yes, praise God it is! When I first started playing guitar, I was really into John Mayer’s cover of Hendrix’s ‘Bold as Love,’ and so I thought that in order to play rock ’n’ roll, all my pedals needed to be turned on, I needed to have my amps super loud, and then I could just play. But now I play a lot of Stratocaster to get a cleaner sound. I’m learning the art of finding tones that stand out but don’t compete with the rest of what’s going on.”

As for where the band’s music will go from here, Fitzgerald doesn’t rule out the next album incorporating a bit more classic soul in the Aretha Franklin vein. “I don’t know if that would be super surprising,” she says. “There’s something very beautiful about the way she would sing about love, about joy, and about the hard times. It was always filled with such passion, and everything she was saying felt like it was her own story. So I think, as we continue to write and learn and live, that could be something that will come out in the records. You never know. We don’t want to say no to anything we haven’t tried yet.”

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