By Daniel Warrren Hill
This Alchemical Records article is read by the author to provide a multimedia experience for our audience while increasing the accessibility of our content to persons with hearing loss, low vision, dyslexia, physical or motor disabilities, or are on the autism spectrum.
As has been highlighted in this publication many times, musicians are some of the most adaptable and resilient people on the planet. However, in the last few years, even the most seasoned veterans of the industry have been put through what may prove to be the most trying times of their lives. The music industry is just as volatile as ever, and life is not easily navigated even without the threat of a global pandemic.
For the members of AZTEC SUN, there have been major life transitions since the release of their 2018 album, “In The Name of Everyone.” Houses have been purchased, careers have been settled into, and children have been born. Still, the nine members of this Washington, D.C. ‘Funk with Soul’ band continue to create, producing their forthcoming album in isolation (in stark contrast to their last endeavor), and preparing to debut many of these songs live in the coming months.
One such event, Summerbration Fab Fridays with AZTEC SUN, takes place at Reston Station on September 3 and provides what the band believes will be a unique opportunity to explore some as yet untapped potential in the delivery of their energetic signature sound. Lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Stephane Detchou describes the hidden artistic experience each venue provides the band: “It’s as much because of the venue itself and the shows and experiences that we’ve had there, but also because of what different stages allow us to do in terms of size, in terms of setup…What we are planning to do is take our time with the exposition of the songs, exploring the songs in different ways, and presenting the music and the message in ways we don’t necessarily have time to do at a festival or outdoor summer concert series.”
Longtime fans and new listeners alike will appreciate the personal touch each of their upcoming live performances will embrace, and how carefully AZTEC SUN curates the right kinds of feels into each of their songs on stage. Steph rightly relates, “We have all been starved for live entertainment, for social connection and interaction, in a way that feels, dare I say, normal?”
For members of the band, that feeling of abnormality is not just a result of experiencing important life milestones with unprecedented levels of isolation but also the result of producing music together under the same circumstances. The as yet unnamed forthcoming studio album slated for early 2022 will have been recorded in a completely remote environment, whereas the whole band was recording together with Soulive’s Alan Evans at the production helm of 2018’s “In The Name of Everyone.”
Ray Lamb (lead guitar), Shane Weckesser (bass), John Heinze (drums), Adam Kent (trumpet), Graham Robertson (saxophone), Sara Ghebremichael (vocals), Lee Anderson (vocals), and Noah Bein (keys) have all been making their contributions separately from one another and placing them together into a group track.
“There is a lot more intention that is going into our songwriting, and there’s also a high level of trust,” says Stephane. “In terms of our sound, there’s this real genuine community feel and this shared love of each other, the music, and the message we are putting forward. We are a lot bolder in our music and a lot less timid in how we are presenting it – willing to talk about things that are politically charged in terms of conversation topics, or very honest, and it’s not a departure; it’s sort of an evolution of what we started in 2018.”
The genesis of that evolutionary process can be found on tracks such as the title track of “In The Name of Everyone,” inspired by the 2016 election and written the day after; similarly with “The Healing,” which confronts issues such as gun control and gun violence but from the perspective of the healing of the victims rather than on the act itself.
For the forthcoming project, which should finish tracking at the end of summer, Stephane affirms the desire for the band’s messages to be crystal clear. “We are trying to add more emotional intensity to the record. Not that we were timid before, but I think there is no point in holding back on some of these feelings because there are some people who listen to music, and they are looking for something,” he says. “They need something with some reassurance, something to resonate, something to inspire them.”
That spirit rings true for the music as much as the lyrics. One as yet unreleased song, “Learn To Fly,” described as a jazzy soul ballad, has some really cool time signature changes that took AZTEC SUN a while to figure out. “It’s creatively interesting with a message that on the surface is really beautiful and pleasant, but also on a deeper level is quite reflective and representative of what it means to be alive in these times.”
True for all the impending new tracks has been an experimentation of the performance of the instrument as a tool for conveying emotion, as well as composition and production techniques that reinforce the idea such as a percussion, strings, doubling horn parts, and sharing the vocals more among the various vocalists throughout the record.
Go see Summerbration Fab Fridays with AZTEC SUN at Reston Station on September 3.
This musical and lyrical boldness is delivered in such a way that however you absorb those AZTEC SUN rays, you are left with a positive and uplifting glass half-full kind of vibe. Maybe it is the warmth that a brass section seems to convey so effortlessly, but even when discussing more difficult content, AZTEC SUN music leaves us feeling the way we feel after enjoying music by fellow D.C. area acts like DuPont Brass Band or Zen Warship; As if the awareness of an issue and the solution are being expertly presented in perfect detail.
The band exhibits a powerful understanding of how fans listen to and experience their songs, resulting in recordings having a more defined format while live events like ‘An Evening With AZTEC SUN’ open up various sections of those same songs for musical exploration. You can see the same kind of savvy in discovering unique offerings on various platforms such as Bandcamp and Spotify.
AZTEC SUN sets a high standard for awareness and attentiveness, the kind we’ve come to expect of many DMV artists. We know that venues and fans will appreciate their commitment to being at the very top of their game as live music once again is able to provide that epicenter for public community and social engagement, as well as the opportunity to experience the audible unveilings the band has been preparing to give us glimpses of.
Have a listen to “In The Name of Everyone” and tap into the band’s ‘Funk with Soul’ vibrations falling somewhere in the spaces between Marvin Gaye and Parliament Funkadelic, and prepare yourself for the next phase of the AZTEC SUN.
Daniel Warren Hill is an American musician, writer, and motivational speaker. He is best known as the frontman for Washington DC area Alternative Rock band YellowTieGuy, as co-founder of Capitol Groove Collective, and increasing the exposure of artists on a global scale through his work with Alchemical Records.
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