A Moment with Alan Evans Trio (AE3)’s Alan Evans and Danny Mayer at Rock N Roll Resort
Photos by Adam Scott
At Rock N Roll Resort, Sensible Reason had the opportunity to sit down with Alan Evans and Danny Mayer of the Alan Evans Trio (or as Alan likes to call it, AE3). AE3 started in 2011 with Alan on drums and vocals, Danny on guitar, and Beau Sasser on organ. AE3 is named for Alan Evans, the co-founder, writer, and drummer of Soulive, a funk band that has been around for over 15 years. The group has released two albums: Drop Hop and, just recently, Merkaba.
I imagined Alan Evans to be somewhat intimidating. He is, after all, a legend. However, there is a soulful side to the music that he and his trio perform and it really came out when we sat down with him. Instead of a formal interview, we got to get up close and personal and for the rest of the night, when I saw Alan Evans (and Danny too!) we would wave, say hi, and chat. Maybe it was Rock N Roll Resort’s intimate feel, but I’d like to think it also had to do with the artist.
Before I sat down to the interview, I didn’t know that we would have the opportunity to have Danny join us. As a result, I asked a lot of questions geared towards Alan but Danny was able to provide some key insight that only a bandmate can provide. One interesting example of this was when we discussed how Alan manages performing in two separate bands in one night:
SR: How do you differentiate between AE3 & Soulive in your mind when you’re playing in the two different bands in one night? Do you play differently for both of them?
Alan: I think Danny can answer that better than I can.
Danny: Yeah, I definitely think you play a little differently.
SR: In what way?
Danny: Well the music’s different. It’s definitely still Al on drums, you know that the second you hear it. But the music is different enough that it makes you play a bit differently.
Later, Danny: The tunes are not Soulive tunes. When you sent me the tunes, I didn’t think they sounded like a bunch of Soulive tunes. It’s pretty different. It definitely doesn’t sound the same, just the same atmosphere. I don’t know if these tunes would have worked with Soulive… The interpretation would have been different.
Alan: Yeah, I mean, and that’s the thing, you’re playing with different people, so you just communicate differently with different individuals. It’s just different conversations. It’s as simple as that. We’re out here talking. I’m me and I can walk over there and I’m still me, it’s just a different conversation with different people.
SR: Is that how natural it is for you? Like a conversation?
Alan: Oh yea, yea, definitely. I think that’s the case with most musicians who have been doing it long enough. It’s kinda second nature. Or first nature really.
This idea that, for Alan, music and songwriting is as natural as a conversation fascinated me. I’ve loved and played music all of my life, but never was able to break through into the level where music seeped out of me as if my brain were a radio. When you’re out on the dance floor listening to the final product, you forget that that song came out of a seed planted in the brain of one person and then cultivated and grown through practice and band work. How much work does the musician and lyricist put in to make a song? What about a whole album?
When I asked him where the creative process starts he replied simply:
I guess that a lot of things I write or record start off in a similar fashion: They all kinda start off with just me sitting with a guitar. Or singing in the shower…. [A] lot of great ideas come from me hanging out in the shower and I hear something in my head and I start singing and I just let it go. If 6 hours later or 2 days later I can come back and it’s still there then I figure is a good starting block if it’s still there.
You can’t help but laugh at the idea of this musical aficionado creating his great music in the shower. In some ways it just shows how human Alan is and that greatness doesn’t come from a synthetically created environment or scenario, but rather from the human soul. It’s also such a personal experience, taking a shower, that I couldn’t help but ask, “Do you sing in the car too?”
I do actually. One of the tunes on Merkaba I wrote the lyrics to just singing in the car. I was going to a gig somewhere and I just heard it and I just started singing [the melody to “Who Dare Knock?”] I was thinking about the song, I wasn’t even listening to it, I just had it in my head. And I was like, it would be kinda cool if I had some vocals to it. And it was the first thing that came to head, “Who dare knock on your door when…” By itself it makes no sense at all. But it sounded good. So I figured I write something around the whole thing.
What’s amazing is how easy Alan makes songwriting seem: just take a shower and it will come to you, like a conversation you have in your head. For those of us who are mediocre artists at best, you will remember practicing your solo for NYSSMA (a NY state music proficiency examination which will ultimately determine if you are qualified for All-County or All-State band/orchestra/chorus) for hours on end, until you wanted to throw your clarinet down the stairs or your parents ripped that flute from your hands and demanded, “No more!” For Alan, music is so natural, he never truly is “practicing” in the traditional sense:
I’ve learned over the years that, at least for myself, there are some people who say it’s so good to write every day. Whereas for me, I found that it just doesn’t work for me. I guess I just leave myself open to the universe and one day they just start pouring in. I guess that’s part of it. The timing [of the album] was right— not that there was a schedule, it just happened when it was supposed to happen. And it just so happened that it was very soon after our first album… and I have a couple more albums that are being downloaded just now… It’s always different. I don’t really have a method to the madness. Whatever tunes come to me, I write and then later they figure out where they need to be. I’m totally open to the process; I just don’t have a plan. Once I realize and once I stop fighting it, what happens happens… I don’t practice at all… When I was younger I used to practice and I tried to practice… I just start writing songs when I start practicing… I do a lot of practicing in listening. I listen to a lot of music. I listen to everything around me and I use it for my songwriting.
When Alan talks about his songwriting in this way, I can’t help but think of any creative process. Sometimes I feel like suddenly my thoughts are coming sporadically and I have several new seedlings of ideas that I write down and save for later. Other times, I’ll think long and hard, creating detailed plans (like a full length song with every note in it). However, whereas in my thoughts I hear words and phrases similar to those in a verbal conversation, Alan is hearing notes, rhythms, melodies, and poetic words:
I hear everything and also it’s just a feeling. A lot of times I can see it too, like scenes from a movie. Like one song from our new album, the third song, “Life is hard to live.” Originally I was sitting around the house, a while back, on my guitar playing this chord progression, and then I just saw it. Like a movie. It wasn’t even like a movie, it was like real life, like a dream or experience. And then I just wrote the lyrics to that, I just wrote what I saw.
The conversation then turned to the band and we got the full background story:
Alan: One night Beau [our organist] and I were playing together. We were just playing and everything was cool and I was like, I gotta start a band with this cat. And then a while later Danny and I were hanging out producing an album for his other band. I was out in Santa Cruz for about a month and this other group that Danny was playing with, an organ trio, their drummer just so happened to go to South America the day before I arrived. So I was just there and we were playing and it all came together… Beau and Danny met the first day we recorded. The first tour was a little shaky but after that it all came together.
Danny: The connection with him [drew me in]. Playing with him over a month ruined me with playing with any other drummer. [I was saying to myself], “Man, I don’t want to play with anyone else.” It just didn’t feel right. And then he asked me if I’d be interested in doing [AE3], I didn’t have to think for a millisecond. And then the tunes started coming and I realized, “Holy shit this is going to be incredible.”
It seems like everything falls so naturally into place for Alan, even his band. Maybe it’s fate: Alan and Danny point out the weird coincidence that the trio are each born three years apart and are all Aries. Maybe it was just that they were open to the universe and it came pouring in.
I was curious if there is any tension between Soulive and AE3, but Alan says not:
Alan: We are very supportive of each other. It’s important to get outside of the one thing. Like I said, it’s all about communication and conversations. I’ll go hang out with Danny and do a bunch of playing and then have something for Soulive. It’s about expanding your vocabulary, your experience.
And what about the name Alan Evans Trio? Does that create any tension within the trio? According to Alan, Danny and Beau forced him into the name and he can’t even bring himself to say the full title on stage. However, AE3 is acceptable and has a cool look when made into a graphic. Danny explained why they were so keen on the full name originally:
Danny: A couple of reasons [why we picked the name]: the Soulive connection—he’s Alan Evans of Soulive!… He’s writing all the tunes and [acting as] the musical director and [doing the] recording and producing and engineering and art… basically doing everything for this band in a lot of ways. It’s also a different expression of his personality outside of Soulive, a more individualized Al.
Danny: Don’t even try. Just quit now. [laughs] What makes a successful band is that people get along. The music can be incredible but if the chemistry isn’t there, there is no way that band could last 15 years. It’s really important you play with people who you get along with… It’s a business, and a friendship, and music, and all these things…
Alan: You have to be willing to be ready to fail and get up and try again. It’s about people and relationships. Some people, just in life, are mentally together. You try and fail and try again and keep going… Sometimes you put all your effort into a band and no matter what you do it just doesn’t work. The people who keep trying just make it. It’s like ac combination lock: you just have to find the right people. It doesn’t matter how good you are at your instruments… I mean, it’s important to improve your skills… [but] it’s not about the individual, it about what they do together. Keep trying, don’t stop.
So, what should we expect for the future of AE3? Well, Alan already mentioned that as part of his creative process he works on many projects at once and that it’s the songs that choose what album they go with. As a result, even though Merkaba has just been released in March, there are already several songs that are in the making:
Alan: It’s like top secret, we can’t really tell you, but maybe we’ll play a tune off our 3rd album tonight that hasn’t been recorded yet… Our 4th album will be a double album. That’s going to be a “soul, rock, funk opera.”
So there you have it: intimate moments with Alan Evans and Danny Mayer, two-thirds of the Alan Evans Trio. Originally the interview was only supposed to be 15 minutes, but the conversation was so rich, so interesting, and so honest it stretched on for much, much longer. Having the opportunity to sit down with two great artists and pick their brains is so amazing and, while I feel like I’ve learned so much about AE3’s history and the artistic process Alan Even goes through, I still feel like there is so much more to learn. I can’t wait for the next album to come out and I’m glad they’ve said it’s right around the bend!
Check out a review of Rock N Roll Resort here!
Check out a past Sensible Reason interview with Alan here!