Monday 15 July 2019

Alan Evans: "The Surveyor" [Interview] (+ "GetToKnow..." exclusive)

As part of jazz collective Soulive, drummer Alan Evans, along with brother Neal on keyboards and Eric Krasno on guitar, solidified themselves as the premier jazz act for the hip-hop generation.  Through their releases with Blue Note Records, Stax, Freestyle Records and their own Royal Family Records, Soulive released a range of albums navigating a course that took them from jazz to hip-hop to soul to blues, and a body of incredible music along the way.

But with the Alan Evans Trio, Evans looks set to match Soulive's towering achievements by recreating that magic as part of a new dynamic of three: 'Drop Hop' was released in 2012 and was swiftly followed by the spaced out funk of 'Merkaba' the following year.  And now, five years later, 'The Wild Root' could be set to be Ae3's tour de force.

Partnered with guitarist Danny Mayer (On The Spot Trio, Eric Krasno Band) and organist/keyboardist Kris Yunker (On The Spot Trio, Jen Durkin & The Business), the album is very much a product of the timing and circumstances all naturally aligning to birth this stunning record.  Named after the cafĂ© that Evans, Yunker and Mayer would visit before each recording session, the collaboration was initially supposed to be about three friends reuniting and playing together with no final product in mind but when the stars align, the stars align.  That joyous energy carries over to the recording we have now - from the crashing drums of the title track opener to the melodic groove of 'The Surveyor', the lead single 'Black Rider' and the sublime closing of 'Sanctuary'.  It's a 5-star masterclass of contemporary soul music.

While the five year absence since the excellent 'Merkaba' was a lengthy one, it's incredible Evans was even able to make 'The Wild Root' happen at all - between starting his record label Vintage League Music and developing a roster which includes the fantastic UK funk & soul act Crowd Company, whose sophomore album release, 'Stone & Sky', was produced by Evans; there's also his contribution as a member of Matador! Soul Sounds whose debut album was released last year through Color Red Records.  There's actually very little Evans can't turn his hand to - drummer, producer, songwriter, vocalist... his is an unparalleled talent and it's easy to see why he can have a hand in the wide range of projects that he's been involved in.

We're thrilled to have secured time with Alan Evans to discuss Ae3 and the new album 'The Wild Root'.  To further celebrate the fantastic music of Alan Evans, we're releasing Blue-in-Green:RADIO's GetToKnow... special exploring his music through a diverse range of projects including Ae3, Soulive, Matador! Soul Sounds, Crowd Company, Nigel Hall, Lettuce and much more...

Congratulations on the upcoming release of the new Alan Evans Trio record: this must be very exciting being the first album after 5 years?
We are definitely excited about this album.  It doesn’t feel like it’s been five years but I guess we all have been really busy.  I certainly felt like no time had passed once we were in the studio though!

How did you meet Danny Mayer and Kris Yunker and come to form the band with them?
I met Danny and Kris years ago in San Francisco after a Soulive show at the Fillmore.  I was hanging out across the street at [an] after show at the Boom Boom Room and Danny introduced himself to me.  He told me about his band On The Spot Trio and expressed interest in having me record their first album.  It didn’t seem long after that initial meeting they flew out to my studio and we were recording that album.  We had such a great time hanging out we just stayed in touch.  Things just grew from there.

How would you say the creative process of writing, producing and recording new music usually works for Ae3 projects?
Well it has evolved over the years especially with this album.  In the past, I wrote all of the songs and had a very clear idea of what I wanted.  To be honest, we didn’t have any expectations with this new album.  We thought that if we ended up with a couple of songs we would be happy with that.  I knew that this time around, I wanted for us to see what would happen if we got together in the studio.  So a good amount of the writing was happening on the spot.  As things progressed and we saw that we could make an album, I brought a few songs to the table that I thought would fit the vibe.  Danny and Kris did the same thing.  It really was a collaborative effort.

How does 'The Wild Root' compare to past Ae3 releases like 'Merkaba' and 'Drop Hop’?
Hmmmmm.  Good question.  Well I obviously love those albums but ‘The Wild Root’ is definitely my favorite.  Even though it didn’t feel like a five year break, I think you can hear it.  In a good way that is.  We all experienced a lot in that time away and we brought all that we leaned to this album.  It’s just a really good representation of where we are as people and artists.

What led to the birth of your record label Vintage Leage Music?
I am constantly writing and recording music and I wanted to have an outlet for all of it.  I’ve never been a fan of having to classify music in any “genre” so I just go with anything that comes to me.  I’ve had a difficult time in the past with trying to explain that to labels so I figured I could do whatever I wanted if I had my own.  With that said, I don’t want VLM to be just about me.  We have some other releases coming out that I really love.  VLM is just another way to express myself as an artist.

Another Vintage League signee is the excellent Crowd Company whose music you've had a big hand in: how did they initially come to your attention?
Years ago, Robert Fleming from Crowd Company emailed me about mixing an album for another band of his.  He really dug what I did with the album and we stayed in touch.  A few years later he was telling my about Crowd Company and how he would love for me to record / mix / produce their first album.  So they all hopped on a plane and came over to record ‘Stone & Sky’ here at Iron Wax.  During the session, Rob was asking me questions about the best way to put out the album and I told him about the label I was starting.  I guess it all just fell into place from there.  I just really dug their vibe and thought they would fit in well with what I envisioned for the label.

If you were introducing Ae3 to a prospective new fan, which song from your catalogue would you recommend they listen to?
That’s a tough one!!  Well I guess I would go with what I’m really feeling at that moment so I would go with the title track 'The Wild Root'.

Who would be a dream artsist for you to either record or perform with?
Someday I would love to record with my good friend Chris Stillwell from the Greyboy Allstars / Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe.  We have played hundreds of times together but I would love to get in the studio with Chris to work on something together.  He is hands down one of my favorite musicians ever.  He is just a wealth of knowledge and I know something really special would happen.

I'd love to ask at least one question about Soulive if I may: how do you look back at the band's legacy, successes and releases over the past 20+ years of making music together?
Well it certainly doesn’t feel like we’ve been at it that long.  I’m really proud of everything we have done and continue to do.  It just feels effortless when we get together and we always have fun.

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