A little over ten years ago just prior to full on EDM artists converging on the scene, a Soulive concert was considered one of the rowdiest sweatahons aside from a String Cheese Incident show (Phish was on hiatus at this time). My how things have changed; not that Soulive still doesn’t rip it up as skillfully as any other touring band, but as audiences and fan bases get older, so do the band members themselves, along with style swings.
As co-founder, writer and drummer of Soulive for over 15 years, Alan Evans’ latest creation the Alan Evans Trio serves an inspiring and fresh organ trio lineup. Enlisting the support of good friends and talented players Danny Mayer on guitar (On the Spot Trio), and Beau Sasser(Melvin Sparks, Akashic Record) the trio’s sound proves hard driving and groovin’ with dark funky rhythms and blues lick solos. Alan Evans Trio opens a window into another side – an emotional introspection, as dark as it is powerful. We recently had the honor of talking to the always charismatic drummer about his namesake project.
A lot has happened in the last 14 years or so since you started Soulive but many probably haven’t seen you perform yet with your Alan Evans Trio. Musically what do Beau Sasser on keys and Danny Mayer on guitar bring to this ensemble that separates you from when you play with your brother Neal and Eric Krasno?
Well, Danny and Beau are different people, different players with different influences. Beau and I love Frank Zappa and Danny who was familiar with some Zappa has been fully immersed in Zappa on our long drives across the country. That is just one example of how the two bands are different.
As a drummer what do you have to listen for and bring to the stage in this trio that is different than playing with Soulive?
Most people know me as a drummer but I’m also a guitarist, bassist, singer etc. With AE3, I bring a lot to the stage. I’m always listening to what is going on during our live shows and recordings. I’ve written all of the original songs that we play which is 98% of our live show. I recorded guitar and bass on many of the songs on the first two albums. So I really know what is going on at all times and I love to hear what Danny and Beau bring to them. It inspires me to bring new things to the stage every time we play.
What made you decide to go with a similar instrumentation that you have with your other band? Did you consider involving any other instruments or musicians?
It’s just an instrumentation that I love but honestly, I didn’t really have any big plans of starting a new band. It’s just one of those things that just happened and that’s when you know it’s right. I think it’s really funny that some people have a hard time when people start different bands, especially organ trios (as I have found). I’m a huge basketball fan and I look at it like this…. Any great player in the NBA is most likely going to move around in the league a bit throughout their career. You get a good chemistry going in Cleveland but you move to Miami with other great players. The vocabulary on the court may be different but the language is the same, the game is the same. People don’t say, “why are you still playing basketball with 5 players on the court?”, hahaha. It’s the same for me with AE3, different vocabulary, same language, same game.
The Alan Evans Trio’s second album MERKABA came out in March of 2013. How has the overall reception been on it and how do you feel it stands apart from your debut recording Drop Hop?
The overall reception for MERKABA has been great. People who check it out have really been digging it. I really love both albums. They are different. Drop Hop was a nod to the Booker T. & the MG’s / early Meters era of music. MERKABA is a more modern / vintage type of vibe. I always want to keep things fresh and moving forward so whatever I do next will surely be different than the first two recordings.
How do you guys go about composing your songs? Is it based upon improvisation or do you all actually write sections in a more formal manner? What songs do you feel most define the Alan Evans Trio?
Well like I said earlier, I’ve written all of the AE3 tunes thus far. Everything starts off in my head, I can just hear the songs. Then I reach for my guitar and it all usually flows from there. It’s hard to say what songs most define AE3. I’ve always felt that there are some tunes that work better in a live environment and some that are just for kicking back with a nice stereo on the couch and vibing with. Recently though, songs like Who Dare Knock, Thor, and Cosmic Hazel Dust have been a blast playing live.
The musical landscape has changed dramatically in last 10 years. What challenges do you see amongst bands like yourself that honor true musicianship and have serious chops vs other indie rock based instrumental bands out there that are more trendy but don’t offer such talent with their instruments. I won’t say names but there’s plenty out there. Is it frustrating that other bands with less talent get the bigger festival spots and album sales these days?
I guess the biggest challenge we all face is one that has never and will never change…. We have to keep writing new music that we and our audience digs. There’s nothing new under the sun. There are always going to be bands that are getting more shine than others. That’s the stuff that is easily digested by the masses, that’s the stuff that is in the background while people shop in the mall and eat at fast food restaurants. That’s the soundtrack to normal everyday life in this world, it’s a business. It doesn’t bother me, I can tune it out. I’m going to keep doing what I do because I love it, it challenges me and I’m able to make a living at it. So when the iTunes music store, Spotify and Facebook are replaced by the next big thing, I’ll still be at it.
Aside from indie bands, what your thoughts on bigger neo funk/soul bands like Fitz and the Tantrums and Mayer Hawthorne that are revisiting the soul genre but with a more radio friendly flavor?
Honestly, I’ll have to look up Fitz and the Tantrums because I don’t know who they are. I’ve heard some Mayer Hawthorne stuff, it’s cool. Not exactly my cup of tea but there are obviously more people checking him out than me so who am I to say. I just like to hear people making music that sounds genuine, soulful.
I’ve always admired your playing when I used to see you play with Soulive when you all played Burlington, VT often back around 1999-2002 at the old Higher Ground. Those shows used to sweat and kill. What do you remember most about those early years when Soulive was just taking off?
Hmmmm, there was definitely a sense that there was a new movement happening in music. It wasn’t a large one but with bands like MMW, Scofield (the list is quite long) something new was going on in the instrumental music world. It just felt good to be a part of something that you knew people would remember.
You have a very contagious and feel-good drumming style that evokes spontaneity and charisma. Who are your prime drumming influences and records did you practice to the most growing up as a kid?
Wow, that’s a tough one. I honestly never really focused on drummers and anyone who knows me well will tell you that I don’t practice (I’ll fill you in on that in a bit). I obviously love the drummers of James Brown (Clyed and Jabo) but I love Catfish and Bootsy just as much. To me, it’s never about the individuals, it’s about the group, the band, the cats working together to create something. The best practice technique that I have is listening. I love listening and figuring out how it all works together. I think that’s why my style on any instrument of mine is mine.
Looking back at the last 14 years since Soulive burst out of the gate, there must be numerous highlights for you as a drummer such as opening for the Rolling Stones and playing the first Bonnaroo. Looking back what are your musical and personal highlights so far?
There have been many highlights over the course of Soulive’s career. One of my personal favorites is having Stevie Wonder come out and sit in with us at the House Of Blues in L.A. But beyond that, being able to travel the world, playing music with my brother is always a highlight. It’s crazy to think about the times when it was just Neal and myself down in our basement as kids doing our thing and over 30 years later, we are still doing it. It really doesn’t get any better than that.