"It never ceases to amaze me what three people can do with a guitar, drums and a Hammond organ. I recently got the opportunity to master Envy Alo's new EP and I was excited to hear so many great rock, funk, and hip hop influences, all wrapped up into their own unique sound. I can't wait to see what these cats come up with next and really hope I can be a part of it!"
-Alan Evans, Soulive
There you have it from the mouth of Alan Evans, the drummer of Soulive, one of the most popular jazz/funk fusion bands on the planet: Envy Alo, a trio of young Front Range musicians, are already well on their way to a bright future after only eight months of existence as a group. While their instrumentation is the same as Soulive, and they obviously share a lot of the same influences and tastes, these boys definitely have their own distinctive thing going on: a stew of jazz, funk, rock that is not only technically impressive, but tremendously exciting and infectious, and definitely dance-friendly. I couldn’t stop moving the last time I saw them live!
In anticipation for Envy Alo’s upcoming performance in The Pamlico Sound’s latest Funkstravaganza (five funk bands in one night at Cervantes’ Other Side this Saturday, June 18th), I recently spoke with keyboardist Aaron Pettine and guitarist/vocalist Kevin Hinder to get some insights into their process, progress, and plans. Check it out:
You guys have been around for less than a year and are already making pretty big noise on the local scene. How did your group come together, and what do you think were the key elements in your rapid rise?
Aaron: Kevin and I knew each other from attending James Madison University in Virginia for our undergrad studies. After we both relocated to Boulder, we met Tyler Gwynn (drummer) through mutual friends. After a few jam sessions with him, we knew we had a unique sound and chemistry and decided to move forward as a band.
Tyler and I both had been playing in other Front Range bands for a while now (Booster and Tenth Mountain Division respectively), so that helped us attract some of the fans from those bands to see this new project. We had developed great relationships with many of the local venues too, who were gracious enough to offer Envy Alo opening slots and gigs within our first few months of being a band.
Kevin: Another key element was just the initial drive that we wanted to do something different. A lot of bands in the area have that typical “jam band” sound, and we really wanted to create something unique. We had the tools already in place individually to do something new, and so far it seems like people enjoy it!
With your unusual and rather sparse lineup- keyboards, guitar and, drums- you create a very full, rich sound. How do you accomplish this?
Aaron: It’s simple really: add a synth bass line, swirling organ chords, furiously fast, yet tasteful jazz-rock guitar licks, and a danceable funky drum groove, and boom, that’s our sound!
Speaking of sound, I hear echoes of a lot of familiar sounds and styles within Envy Alo. The obvious comparison would be to the great funk-jazz trio Soulive, but not all your influences seem to be so contemporary. Some of the “organ trio” groups of the 60’s come to mind, as well as the solid classic groove of Booker T. & the MG’s. Who have some of your main influences been, both compositionally and in your individual styles as players?
Aaron: As a keyboard player, it's legends like Jimmy Smith, Booker T., Herbie Hancock, and Stevie Wonder. I also got a lot of my influences from current players like Neal Evans (Soulive/Lettuce), and Beau Sasser (Kung Fu) as well. I’d say my biggest influence is John Medeski from Medeski Martin & Wood, who I was lucky enough to study under in 2015.
Kevin: When I was a kid, I went through a heavy Hendrix phase, and was into heavier rock and the blues. But as I got a little older I started listening to bands like Phish and Widespread Panic, Derek Trucks, and Umphrey's McGee. I would say Jimmy Herring is probably my favorite guitar player out there, but when I really started studying music, my focus shifted to jazz with players like Pat Metheny and John Scofield (probably #2 to Jimmy Herring for me).
Your music is rewarding on both an intellectual level and a visceral one. Musicians get plenty to appreciate in terms of skill and complexity, while your average concertgoer gets a solid dose of dance music. Has this been a conscious thing? How do you approach creating music like this?
Aaron: [It has] absolutely been a conscious thing. We want to challenge ourselves in the music we write, but we also want it to be accessible and fun for the listener and concertgoer. Finding that happy medium can sometimes be the toughest part but it's one of the great joys of writing our own music.
One of the things that keeps your music interesting and exciting is while your primary focus is clearly on the funk/jazz side of the spectrum, there are also occasional flavors of rock. Where does this varietal spice come from?
Kevin: I think listening to an extremely wide range of styles helps us to draw on those influences and place some of that into our own sounds. Whether it’s conscious or not, it definitely comes through in all of our playing and writing. A Tribe Called Quest is a big influence in that regard, since they mold hip-hop with jazz, funk, rock, and more all into their sound.
Yet another thing that sets Envy Alo apart is the fact that not all of your stuff is strictly instrumental; you have some actual songs with well-written and interesting lyrics. What songwriters have influenced you?
Kevin: I’ve been listening to Jim Croce a good bit lately, and his lyrics are so well developed, funny, and his flow is so good. The obvious ones come to mind [too]: Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards. I also love Jerry Joseph. The imagery in his writing is so strong and deep, you can tell he has really been through some shit and has a lot of demons and skeletons in his closet, so pulling on his writing is big for me.
Do your compositions come completely realized from individual band members, or are they more often group efforts?
Aaron: It’s a little bit of everything. A lot of earlier tunes came to be through us just jamming, liking something, and putting some structure to it. Recently, Kevin and I have been doing a lot of writing on our own, either chord structures or lyrics or both, and then we get together and finish it up with Tyler.
Listen to Envy Alo's debut EP One Time:
I’m very excited for your performance at The Pamlico Sound’s Funkstravaganza show this Saturday. Can the audience expect any special treats from y’all at that performance?
Aaron: Yes! We will have some special treats in store. We are very excited to play our first show as Envy Alo at Cervantes’- it’s one of our favorite Denver venues!
What the hell does “Envy Alo” mean, anyway?
Aaron: It’s a play off of the Spanish word “envialo” which means “ship it”. It’s a term we use when we need to spur one of us to really rock something.
Kevin: Basically, we just replace every verb related to doing anything with “ship it”.
Watch Envy Alo's live performance of "Manic Depression":
I never could have figure that one out on my own! So what’s on the horizon for Envy Alo? Where do you see yourselves a year from now? Anything our readers should know about in advance?
Kevin: We have a summer full of dates we’re ready to announce soon, and we will be playing some of the bigger local venues too, so we’re pretty jazzed about that. We were just booked to play at a music festival in Taos, NM in September, which will be our first festival. Sometime in the fall, we plan on recording a full length album. We’ve been talking to Al Evans from Soulive about recording in his studio out East, so we have some pretty lofty goals. We’re ready to dive in headfirst and become the best and most unique band we can be!
All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.