July Artist of the Month: Avenue Eight

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Check out RockOnPhilly’s Artist of the Month for June, Avenue 8. This ten piece funk band will sure to keep you dancing this summer with their catchy pop songs and live covers. Here’s their ROP interview where we talk about their first major release, favorite spots to grab a bite after a show, and much more.

Rock On Philly: For those who haven’t heard you yet, would you mind telling us a little bit about your sound and how all of you met? Matt (keys, vocals): What a loaded question…

Franco (bass, vocals): The band really started when Matt and I met, and he came over my house to jam with me and Fano (drums). The two of us had just gotten a bass and a drum kit respectively and we would jam together all the time. We started playing out in high school and as we played more and more gigs we kept adding band members until we finally got to our ideal lineup.

Matt: We went through many phases as a band… At first we thought we were going to be a metal band. Then we quickly shifted gears and went full-out pop punk, and that was when we called ourselves “The Mob.” It wasn’t until later in high school that we found our horns and our Felipe and switched gears again.

Fano (drums): It was then that we solidified a true vision of where we wanted to go as a band and what direction musically. Everyone was on board and it really took off from there.

Franco: Most of us went to high school together and played together in school band, but there a few exceptions. We actually met Justin (guitar) because we went to the same church, Matt met Murph (trumpet) in his class at Drexel, and Joe (sax) is me and Fano’s cousin.

ROP: You guys sounded awesome back at RockOnPhilly’s battle of the College Bands at the HardRock in April! What was your experience like as contestants?

Franco: Battle of the College Bands was definitely one of the most fun shows we’ve played in a long while. When we started sharing the ads for the show on our social media accounts, so many of our friends and family were excited to come see us play a show at the Hard Rock downtown and they really spread the word. This was our first true hometown show in the Philly metro area with this particular lineup of the band so I think that was part of why the turnout was so big.

Matt: It was also just a great lineup of bands, we really enjoyed ourselves on the stage and off. It was extremely fun to meet the other bands and perform along such talented acts.

ROP: There’s so many members that make up your band! Would you consider it a collective? Sort of like Snarky Puppy.

Franco: Our end goal was always to have a big band because it offers so much versatility in the kind of music you can play.

Matt: Yeah, it’s not so much a collective like Snarky Puppy, though (although we do love them!) We have the “core members” who have been in the band since its inception who make many of the musical decisions (songwriting, direction, arrangement) and the rest of the band are happy to add a slice of their own personal style. I think it would be tough to have 10 songwriters in a band, but I’m sure as we continue to spend time playing together and fine-tuning the band’s chemistry, it could move closer to that model.

ROP: Yeah that makes a lot of sense. What are some of the positives and negatives of having 10 bandmates? Franco: One of the best elements of having a ten-piece band is that we always sound really full and can add some lush and interesting parts to the songs we write. Another huge plus is that aside from playing music together, we are also great friends and spend a lot of time together even aside from all the hours spent rehearsing, gigging or recording. If there’s one major drawback, it would be the scheduling around the lives of ten different people can be nearly impossible at times, especially during the academic year when we are spread out at different colleges. It can also be extremely difficult to reach consensus or agreement on things, from anything to album artwork to what pizza to order.

Matt: Yeah, it’s also tough to fit sometimes. We’ve become pretty good at consolidating but there are still some venues we can’t even consider playing because their stages just won’t fit us all. ROP: There must be a lot of different influences brought into the mix. Who are some of your major inspirations? Matt: Radiohead, Ben Folds, and ABBA are a few huge influences for me… I think part of what makes our band so diverse and unique is that everyone draws inspiration from completely different places and it all comes together (pretty nicely, in my opinion). Justin listens to a lot of alternative and classic rock (Weezer, Pink Floyd, Rush). Franco and Fano listen to a lot of modern rock, latin music, jazz, and funk. I guess we all listen to funk, though — that’s sort of the binding agent between us all.

Franco: We really do draw influence from just about every conceivable style and genre. When it comes to my writing personally, it’s usually very informed by the straight up funk acts who are my favorites to listen to like Tower of Power, Parliament Funkadelic or The Commodores. One of the biggest influences for me specifically would definitely be Earth Wind and Fire for a few reasons. They were a huge band that was able to accomplish lots of things in such a prolific career. They’re all tremendous musicians and their songs have parts that are so interesting to a musically trained ear, but also have great grooving beats that make you tap your foot and are accessible to anyone. I don’t think there’s a person that exists who doesn’t enjoy at least one EWF song.

Fano: Personally for me, many artists and bands inspire me in different ways. I love the Beatles, The Who and Pink Floyd, but also admire pop stars like Michael Jackson and Bruno Mars. From a drumming standpoint, someone who has had a big influence on me would be Neil Peart. He makes the percussion a truly dynamic and integral part of the composition, and does it all while making it look effortless. I always think about that when I’m trying to come up with a beat.

ROP: What kind of stuff do you guys like to do together besides music? Franco: Like I said before, we really do spend a tremendous amount of time together, so we ended doing lots of different activities. We love games, so on any given day you’ll likely find us playing video games or cards together in between rehearsals. We practice in my basement which can get pretty hot and cramped, so we also like to get outside and move around when we can, usually to throw some Frisbee or kick a soccer ball around. One pastime we’ve taken a liking to very recently is pool basketball, which tends to get VERY competitive. ROP: What can you tell us about your record due this summer Get Up on the Get Down? Franco: It’s our first major release and we are extremely excited to get it out to the world! It’s mostly made up of songs that were composed in the last year, but there a few exceptions that had been written for a while, in some cases three or four years ago. I think the biggest appeal of the EP is that it has a lot of variety and so it’ll have a little something for everybody. Most of the tracks feature our usual uptempo style but some have more of a straight up funk feel, while others are heavier rock, and there’s even some slower Motown-style ballady fare. Despite the different styles, there still a common thread through all the tracks that I think characterizes our sound that comes from the infectious beats, the rich three part vocal harmonies, and of course the tremendous Avenue Eight horns. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOYdZJ37ko4

ROP: Earlier you guys mentioned Felipe. Can you tell us a little more about his role in the band?

Matt: Felipe definitely spices up the band. He’s just such an interesting dude… Every time we go somewhere new, it seems like everyone already knows Felipe and loves him. The dude really puts himself out there, I guess. In the band he plays auxiliary percussion, and he is VERY passionate about it. It’s incredible. He plays (and owns) congas, djembe, vibraphone, cowbell, agogo bells, tambourine, shaker, triangle, cajon, and of course, slide whistle. We try to implement as many of these as possible into our live show because it’s ridiculous, it sounds amazing and the audience always appreciates it. He gets a lot of love because he always brings the energy.

Franco: One moment that will always stick with me was after playing a show in New York and walking down the street someone spotted the band from across the street and yelled WE LOVE YOU TAMBOURINE GUY! That was pretty amazing. That pretty much sums up the Felipe effect.

Fano: There is not a greater human being in the world than Felipe Ranjo.

ROP: Any other future projects we should know about? Franco: As of now, we’re still just working diligently on rehearsing for upcoming gigs as well a beginning to put together new songs for our second release coming down the road.

Matt: We’re still putting finishing touches on the EP. It’s currently in the mixing stage and we’re working with our friend Jess Fulford to put together the album artwork. We’re also teaming up with Everloft Studios in Chalfont this summer to work on rerecording our first song “Days to Come.” We’ll probably release that as a single in the Fall.

Franco: If all goes as we would like, there is also a good chance that there will be a rockin Avenue Eight Album release party sooner rather than later. ROP: Where are some Philly venues you hope to play soon?

Matt: Philly is great because it has so many awesome clubs, so it’s really hard to narrow it down to just a few. I mean we’re playing Bourbon and Branch in July, which I’m really excited about, but there are tons more on our radar. Johnny Brenda’s is a big one. I’d also really love to play Underground Arts or the First Unitarian Church. That place is real cool. In the more distant future, Union Transfer is a must. I’ve seen so many shows there in the past year and that place is just delightful. It seems like the bands really enjoy playing there, too.

Franco: Wells Fargo is the dream. We definitely believe in dreaming big ROP: You guys have a favorite spot for post-show, late night grub? Franco: When we opened for BØRNS in New York we went to this late night dollar pizza place on 53rd and Columbus in Manhattan that is just phenomenal, so I’m sure we’ll make a return there when we perform up that way again. One place we go a lot is the American Star Diner, which is also a 24-hour place in North Wales near where we live. My personal favorite though is after a long rehearsal at my house when my dad whips up some pasta and other stuff for us and we have a nice big meal together. Those are the experiences that allow us to bond and always end up being very memorable.

Check out Avenue Eight on BandcampYoutubeFacebook, and Instagram to hear future show announcements and releases.

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