For N.C. funk/fusion act Eymarel, their unique delivery of groove-heavy music is as unusual as their band name.
"We were thinking of putting a phonetic name that came from what we were doing and who we were," explains drummer Lee Allen, speaking last week from the band van in Knoxville, Tenn. "We didn't want a name that categorized us from the start and we didn't want to be limited by any genre. We jotted our names down, mixed them up and came up with the anagram 'Eymarel.' It's pronounced 'emma-rehl.' We want to demonstrate that we are two people acting as one unit."
Eymarel is comprised of only two players. Mary Frances, 25, handles the lead vocals and plays a teetering variety of keyboards (synths, organs, electric pianos, etc.). Allen, 25, plays a conventional drum kit along with electronic pads, samplers, and additional keyboards.
"People freak out when we show up for the first time," laughs Allen. "They have preconceived notions about us — like, 'Yeah, man they're just a duo.' Sound engineers think they're in for an easy night, but when we load in, they're like, 'Damn, you guys have more gear than a six-piece band!' Our philosophy on that is, in order for us to make it sound like a six-piece band and make it happen as two people, we need to stack the gear up. This is our life right now; we're not afraid of the big load-in or load-out."
Allen contributes ideas on rhythmic patterns, song arrangements, and lyrics, while Frances writes most of the song lyrics, melodies, and chord structures.
"We are together so much, all day, every day, that the collaboration comes naturally," says Allen. "Now, the songs shape us as much as we shape the songs."
The duo met in 2003 while studying for music therapy degrees at Appalachian State Univ. in Boone, N.C. They started dating, became a tight couple, and very gradually started playing together as a duo. After shaping a few compositions and writing a few tunes, they relocated to Wilmington in 2005 and put serious effort into booking regional tours, networking, and recording demos. The word spread quickly and the reactions were wildly positive from audiences of all types.
In the last year, they've shared the stage with such jam circuit bands as Jazz Mandolin Project, Shanti Groove, The Jerry Garcia Band, Mood Cultivation Project, Entropy, and Bellyfull. They've already played in Charleston numerous times, hitting the stages at Johnson's Pub, The Kickin' Chicken, and the Pour House, among other hotspots. Local fans praise the band for their skills, audacity, and off-kilter funk sound.
"We started at ground zero," says Allen. "We were into the same things, but they were so across the board that it was kind of tough focusing on a specific band sound. We knew that the things we were going to write and perform were things in which people could find meaning ... and things with a heavy groove. We enjoy the groove in music more than anything. It evolved into what it is today."
Recent demos (available on the band's website) demonstrate their fluid playing styles and high-tech chops. Allen's delicate brushwork on the slow-rolling instrumental "Stronger" and complexly syncopated footwork on "Fly" complements Frances' organ lines. In contrast, the funky workout on the peppery and soulful "Into You" eases down into a clickety groove. "Screened In" kicks off with a tricky riff (a mix of 7s and 8s, or something close), resembling the wilder sides of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jan Hammer, and Greg Allman.
Most noticeably, the duo somehow creates a full-band sound. It's amazing that Frances can hold down the groove-heavy bass lines with her left hand, jam on the chord progressions and solo on the organ with her right hand — and sing and enunciate with such a powerful voice simultaneously.
Eymarel recently recorded a six-song album titled Groovin' a Little Each Day with engineer Greg Miller at Sound on Sound studio in Laurinburg, N.C. (Allen's home town). The disc will be independently released in late July. Plans are already in the works for a follow-up live album.
"We describe it as an eclectic blend of soul, acid, jazz, rock, and funk," says Allen. "Some people think there's a heavy electronic vibe, too. But we came from listening to tons of classic funk and soul records, so that's the foundation."