Five-piece instrumental jamsters Eminence Ensemble are definitely one of Colorado’s up-and-coming live instrumentalists. They hesitate to call themselves a jam band, but with Colorado’s rich history of jam-based instrumentalism and the Colorado natives themselves so adept at synching the pieces , to NOT call them a jam band would nearly deny their ability to lock it in. With their upcoming at Snowball, Eminence is really stepping out into the larger world of festival gigs (they rocked it at Sonic Bloom last summer), and sitting with the band we sense a palpable excitement that this is a huge month for the group.
Eminence Ensemble is Zac Flynn (bass/production), Justin Neely (guitar/rap), Tanner Bardin (drums/vocals), Nick Baum (percussion/vocals) and Adam Revel (keys). Check out this video of them captivating the crowd at the Fox (saxophone – Clark Smith), and give yourself a nice soundtrack as we look into the minds of the Ensemble.
UFO: So you guys have a huge couple of weeks coming up. How busy have you guys been lately?
Adam – basically since December 23rd we’ve been rehearsing for these next couple of weeks. That was our last big show as the ensemble, up in Breckenridge at 320 South. And since then, we’ve been in the scientific process of making these songs perfect for the next couple of shows
UFO: Tell me about the specifics of what’s coming up for Eminence. How are you approaching this slew of shows you have coming up?
Nick – Full throttle!
Zac – Thursday we’ve got Eminence Trio playing the Fox with Zoogma: it’s gonna be Adam, Tanner and I, with some special guests. The next night on Friday, we’re going up to Agave in Vail, and we’re really excited to play the official Snowball pre-party. Our good friends Lost Optical are going to be opening for us. Then Snowball next Friday! We’re playing at 3 o’clock.
Tanner – We truly are not supposed to advertise the after-party, because it’s at a house these guys have. They don’t want like 5,000 people from Snowball coming, y’know what I mean? If you happen to find us at Snowball and we tell you the address, then you will be there.
Zac – Then we’re playing Cervantes on March 10th, the next weekend, which is the Humboldt Wholesale corporate party. Last year it was the biggest event at Cervantes, so we’re pretty excited to be playing with big names like Boombox. We’re going to be on the Other Side from 9 to 11.
UFO: Between the Fox, Agave, two sets at Snowball, then Cervantes, that’s like eight hours of stage time. Do you think hypothetically that you could play for eight hours straight and not play the same thing twice?
Nick – We have the ability to be able to do anything off the top of our heads. Since we’re all really comfortable playing with each other, it comes naturally. We could take one of our songs we’ve already written out, and we could put an improvisation in the middle and whatever comes out is what it is. So we could literally make a song that we normally play for four minutes and turn it into twenty. [Laughs] We’ve done it before, and it’s kind of scary, but we do it. Some of the times it actually comes out pretty good, and we can rely on that.
Justin: Our last shows on December 22-23 [at 320 South] we basically wrote two songs on the spot. We improvised two twelve-minute songs, and we literally went back through the recording and learned them, and we’re playing them now so now they’re in our set as actual songs.
Zac: We also love to learn covers and try to bring other people’s work into ours. We’re bringing different genres for every show.
Nick: We’re not going to tell you what covers, but they do tend to mix the show up pretty well.
UFO: Any clues as to what these covers are? For example, would you be willing to say, “One of the bands is from the 90’s, there’s a chick in the group…”
Nick: Okay, you got us, we’re covering the B-52’s [Group laughs] Love shack, baby! Well the element of surprise, that IS what a cover is. We’ll be playing a song that’s (fast-paced beatboxing), then we’ll go into (sings) “If you’re living off the wall,” y’know, Michael Jackson. That’s the beauty of the wide spectrum of what we all listen to and what we love to bring to the table. When it comes to covers, we all love it.
Tanner: The reason we would play a song like ***** ** ******* versus a different cover is because no one would expect it. Like, why was the first set a techno-trance-dance party, and now it’s **** ******* *** *******. (ed. note: the band requested this cover remains a secret for the Agave show).
Nick: A cover, a lot of the times we’ll do our own thing with it. But some you have to play as-is, because of the meaning of the song and what it can do to people energy-wise. That’s why it’s great when we’re playing techno going into metal, because why not? We’re up there playing our instruments, the sky is the limit for what we do musically. That’s the beauty of the cover.
UFO: As far as the energy you’re trying to evoke with five musicians onstage and a lot of different influences, there are a lot of possibilities there. But surely you have some favorite vibe to perform: what is your favorite vibe to foster with your music?
Adam: Definitely a dance party, with lots of drops and lots of big build-ups. Excitement generated through dynamics and building sections from nothing to this huge tidal wave that hits you in the face and knocks you down. And then dancing! When I think of going to shows and what I want to do, I just want to dance! I don’t want to just stand there and watch, or kind of bob my head, like at rock shows sometimes I find myself bobbing my head, everybody else is bobbing their heads. And I think everybody in this band is on the same page, we just like it to hit hard. That’s the common link.
Tanner: God gave rock and roll to you, so don’t forget it.
UFO: It’s funny you talk about it as if you were laptop producers. Clearly you guys are not going for that same aesthetic, no matter how techno-y or dance-y it is.
One of the things that makes you unique is all your world influences: Zac, you’ve been in African Highlife ensembles and jammed with Victor Wooten, and Adam has played with The Motet for a long time. This is not just some pentatonic-based riff jam, this is really informed by a lot of really cool influences. Knowing that, what do those builds and drops look like for you? How do your influences translate into something that could be described as builds and drops?
Nick: Dubstep does create that energy from that drop. But all different kinds of music have that point where it creates that moment where you’re just like “FUCK yeah.” I’ve seen The New Deal so many times, and that’s pure, live house music. And they have these moments where you’re just like “Yeeeaaaah!” I’ve seen that at dubstep shows, I’ve seen it at metal shows, I’ve seen it at all sorts of shows. You can get that from anywhere.
Tanner: We have the ability to do a lot of different things. We can play dubstep, or we could play a Latin groove, or a metal riff or a techno whatever. We have the ability to do that, so we use it to our advantage.
Justin: When we do the builds, it’s not like the drop is even louder and more powerful than the build. Sometimes we build it really high and then get quiet. The way the audience reacts to that is pretty sweet!
Nick: There’s so many different emotions you can convey from an audience at a show playing the kind of music we do. We do provide that poppy drop, intense shit that people love, but at the same time, being musicians we’re not going to do THAT every time. We could build it up into another song, or drop it into nothingness, it could just be a bongo playing. That alone creates different energy.
UFO: With five people onstage, how do you communicate with each other? Do you have a band leader? Are you all telepathic?
Zac: We’re all pretty collaborative about it. We like to share our creative process together. The four of us have been playing music since we were 16, Justin and I have been playing since we were playing, y’know? And bringing Adam into the band, he’s as easy to work with as anyone else in the group.
Justin: On stage we usually plan right before the drop by looking at each other and nodding. We’ve been doing this lately — just playing as little as possible. Because there are five people, it’s so easy to step on someone or for it to just be a jumble of sound. But we look at each other and really listen to each other; I’ll lock into to Nick’s conga’s or Tanner’s hi-hat, or I’ll hear something Adam plays and base my playing off that.
Adam: It’s a mixture. There’s certain songs that are totally through-composed, like everything is a exactly certain way with a section that’s open. Then there’s other songs that are totally open with nothing composed. In each situation, the most important thing for all of us is to listen to each other. If you’re playing a song you already know, you can make it really tight just by focusing on the kick drum, or if I’m playing something in the lower register, is it going along with the bass? Y’know, so when we’re in more of an open section, it’s equally as important just to listen. You can feel it coming around where it’s a bigger moment in the music, like at 32 bars or 8 repetitions of a line or whatever. We’ll either hit at those points and change it into something else, or just keep going through it and continue to build the section. But it’s up to each one of us to listen and see what will help the music the most at that moment. It’s really fun and it totally keeps you on your toes.
UFO: Which of those two different modes are you going to employ at these upcoming shows? I’m sure at Snowball, you might really want to choreograph it, and for the afterparty you just go with the flow.
Zac: Snowball is such a huge opportunity for us, we’re trying to put together a really heavy-hitting show that’s gonna catch people’s ears. While we won’t be jamming as much, so to say, we’ll be playing a lot of free parts and open sections. We rarely will write a set-list and follow it.
Nick: That’s where it finds it’s own beat. A song can find it’s own spirit when you leave it like that.
Tanner: The longer the show, the more we improvise. At Snowball, we only have 40 minutes, so you gotta start here and end there. Here we are, boom, see ya later. Otherwise if you start improvising and going crazy, pretty soon you have ten minutes and it’s like shit, we’ve only played two songs. We really gotta watch the clock at Snowball, more so than at Agave where we can play two sets and do whatever we want, really.
UFO: Do you see it as a challenge that you have to condense one of your most important shows into that small of a time?
Nick: I will say it’s a challenge, but we welcome it. It’s something we need to accomplish.
Tanner: Snowball is more like a studio set. In a studio you have X amount of time to do it, otherwise you’re paying more money. At Snowball, if you play over they’ll freak out and not invite you back. So you gotta go in there ready to go.
Justin: The hardest part was picking the songs. We can play what, like four or five songs at the most? And we have 25 songs to pick from.
UFO: After this string of shows, it’s gonna be time to put together a studio release. I’m sure Snowball will be a good primer for that. Do you think after this big run, you’ll have those four or five songs that will be on record? Is this a trial run for the eventual studio sesh?
Adam: I’m sure some of these songs will end of up on the record. For sure they will, in fact this will probably mark the end of these song’s lives, we’ll start phasing them out into the newer stuff we come up with. That’s kind of what you want as a musician, to write a song and then get it on record; that way, you can kind of let go of it. I have this weird nagging feeling until I record something I really like, that my life is incomplete and if I died now, it would be a terrible travesty. There are a few songs I agree that should be recorded. They’re really good, they’re at their moment where they’re in their prime.
UFO: Isn’t that a backward approach? Bigger artists would put something out on record and consider it the beginning of the song’s life. Since you haven’t relied on any releases like that, I guess I can totally see why that is how you frame it.
Justin: We definitely have those songs we want to record, but I personally want to put one or two new songs on the record that you can premier, do the opposite of what Adam said.
Tanner: It’s fun to store a song away for a long period of time and then think about it a bunch, then play it again the next year. We’ve done that with a few of these songs that we’re playing, we’ve not played them forever and now we’re playing them again better than they’ve ever been.
Nick: The song “Sinister” and “Little Bit,” we hadn’t played either of those songs probably in over a year and a half. I think we played “Sinister” at our first real show together, and then somehow it slipped, we never played it again. We actually forgot about it! [Laughs] Then we listened to it and it was like “Oh yeah, that is one of our songs.” I think it was because we had to gather more material for a show, like “Wait, are those the only songs we have? Wait, oh yeah!” And then it came out really cool. We obviously changed it up, but right now it’s my favorite song to play, it’s got the most emotion to it for me.
Zac: Going back to your question, we have some big shows coming and obviously we’re going to try to reach a large audience with them. But as far as a recording goes, through the wonders of digital media and YouTube and such, our following has known our songs for a year or two already by watching our live shows. But we’re still writing new stuff, we just wrote a new song yesterday, and there’s so much material that we just want to bring a good spectrum of us to the recording.
Justin: I think what I’m looking forward to is simplifying these songs to put on an album. Almost all of them, even if they are through-composed, have an open section, and I think it will be cool to show people the “other” version of the song. I think it’s really cool when bands put out an album and it’s a totally different side than what they show live. We can put so much little production stuff in it, and get it down to the very smallest of things.
UFO: What was the last moment you guys had in the rehearsal space that clicked?
Adam: For me, the real spark of creativity was jumping at our show in Breckenrige at 320 SOUTH. We had this open section of a song we were making up, and a couple sections we had NEVER played before in songs we’ve played a lot, we completely changed the way the song goes. As far as fans go, that’s why that happens. There’s an interaction and people are vibing, and it makes the band vibe. Half of what’s going on in the room is the people in the audience. To the fans, I’d say thank you for vibing with us!
Justin: We love our fans, and when they’re dancing and showing energy, yelling and throwing themselves around, it makes us keep want to make that happen, as opposed to four people standing in the room and they’re looking down on you and you SHOULD be playing better. That’s the voice that destroys a person’s playing. “I should be better because those people aren’t dancing.” The more fun they’re having, the better the show.
UFO: And maybe that’s what made it possibly for you guys to come so far?
Justin: Oh, yeah. Our first show at the Fox, we had never been close to a crowd like that. It turned out so well, the music was that much better. All of us were playing to our capacity, we weren’t second guessing because the crowd was full-fledged cheering their asses off and getting down; there was no reason to NOT play our best, I guess.
UFO: So how do you think you’ll sound when you’re at Snowball, deep in the shit? What is that moment going to create on stage?
Nick: We all feed off the energy the crowd supplies, and I don’t think any of us have played in front of the number of people that will be there. So I think some of our best music is about to come out. I’m going to be so confident, I just know it, and our support it going to be right there in the front and it will feel so good. It will be our biggest show; it has to be.
Zac: I know we’re all going to kill it, because we can have so much fun together and play in the moment. I trust all these guys a lot.
Tanner: …and we’re all from Colorado, we’ve all grown up here since day one. When I go up on stage, I feel like Colorado has our back. We haven’t gone too far outside of Colorado except for Utah, and that was a whole ‘nother story. We took 300 people to the middle of Moab with a 2,000 watt generator and a shit-load of subs and PA’s, light rigs and smoke machines and threw a huge party for four days. But… people help you play! The more the better.
Justin: Since Snowball is the biggest gig yet, it’s a mix of pressure and the crowd cheering us on. I’m hoping it’s the biggest crowd we’ve ever seen, so that makes us subconsciously want to play better. But if all those people are into it, we’ve got nothing to worry about.
Nick: For our fans, I want them to know they are definitely our best friends, and they are welcome to sleep on our carpets. Not all of them, but… within reason. They are the reason we are at Snowball, there’s no way we’d be where we are without them. Our friends told their friends who told their friends, and those are our fans. And those people we don’t even know, so those are our real fans! People come up to us on the street and say we kick ass, and man, that is awesome. Word of mouth is how it’s always been done, but Snowball, if I see eight of my closest friends, I’ll be totally stoked.
UFO: Definitely look forward to the coming month! And hopefully you emerge on the other side with a home run.
Adam: At least an RBI, y’know?