May. 08 2006
Alan Evans

Alan Evans

Soulive

TAMA :How did you first get started on the drums?

Alan : Well, I don’t have any specific memory of starting drums at all, but I come from a very musical family. I started gigging out really young. I knew I wanted to be a musician, but to be honest, I didn’t think I was gonna be a drummer. I wanted to play drums, and started playing really young, but I then I got into other instruments as well. But because cats knew that I played drums, I would always get called for things.

TAMA : So you had a kit in the house?

Alan : Oh yeah, we had a couple. My brother (Neal, plays B-3 organ in Soulive) started off playing drums as well. And then he started playing piano when he was around 7.

TAMA : Did you ever have any formal training, or were you pretty much self-taught?

Alan : I wouldn’t say I had any formal training, but my father showed me some things. Actually, he showed me a lot of things. But it wasn’t like, sit down and read this, or practice these rudiments. He just taught me feel. I would be playing down in the basement, and if it wasn’t grooving, he’d show me what was wrong. One technique that was really cool is that he would get behind me and hold my hands around my wrists while I was playing. It was literally like teaching a kid how to ride a bike. He would show me how to play certain things by actually holding my hands, and guiding them through the motions. So I’d get the feel, and then he’d let go… and if I lost it, he would grab them again, and get me back in the groove. So that’s really how I learned. My drumming is all just feel. People come up to me sometimes, and ask “what’d you do here?” And to be honest, man, I really don’t know (laughs). It just felt right to me. So I mainly just play by ear.
That’s another great lesson that my father taught me – how to listen. He’d put on a record, and say, “Hey Alan, who’s playing the sax solo on this tune?” Or, “who’s playing piano right there? Who’s playing bass?” That got our ears trained to really listen to what all the musicians were doing.
I’m not the kind of cat who has like a million drum videos or anything… it wasn’t that kind of scene. It was just about music… enjoying music and listening, and learning what everybody else is doing.

TAMA : Were you also learning to play other instruments at the same time?

Alan : Yeah, I started playing guitar when I was 12 or 13. So for awhile, Neal and I had a band, where he was playing drums and I was playing guitar, and we had a bass player. We would play some gigs and at parties. And I eventually started playing keys, in the past five years or so. I’ve always messed around with it, but Neal was just all over it.

TAMA : So you guys have been playing together since you were kids?

Alan : Yup, definitely.

TAMA : When did you guys actually form Soulive, and how did that come about?

Alan : That started in 1999. I had gotten out of playing music for a couple of years, just needed a break after this one band that Neal and I were in. Eventually, when I wanted to get back into it, I had an opportunity to move out west, and started playing with some other cats. It was the first time that I had ever done a sideman thing… I’ve always been the one that started the band. But the sideman thing just wasn’t for me.
So I called Neal, who was studying at the Manhattan School of Music at the time. He had been there for maybe a year and a half, and was kinda tired of it. He was older than a lot of cats that were in his class, and he’d already been out on the road and toured around the country, so he just had a different perspective.
So we talked, and decided that it was time to get something going again. I moved back East, and we started looking for some other guys to play with. We actually started out as drums, organ, and vibraphone… but we only did one gig like that. Then Eric, our guitarist, jumped in and that was it.

TAMA : What is the instrumentation of the band?

Alan : Well, it’s me on the kit, Neal plays the B-3 organ, and has a bunch of other stuff, like bass keys and clavinet. And then Eric is on guitar. Sometimes we have horns with us. For vocals, I sing, and Eric’s been singing a little bit, and sometimes we have a separate lead vocalist come out with us… just depends on what we’re feeling like at the time.

TAMA : What’s the writing process like in the band?

Alan : Well, everyone writes tunes on their own and brings them to rehearsal, shows the others the parts, and we just take it from there. But even though we all write stuff on our own, it definitely takes the whole band getting together and playing to really make it a Soulive tune.
We’re gonna start working on a new record soon, and we’re going to all get together for a writing session. We haven’t really done that before. Occasionally in rehearsal we’ll get onto an idea and build off that, but we’ve never really dedicated any time to just writing together as a band, so I’m looking forward to that.

TAMA : Are you guys looking to go in a different direction for this album?

Alan : Oh yeah, definitely… always (laughs). Every album we do has to be different.

TAMA : Any idea what that new direction may be?

Alan : No, not yet (laughs)… nah, we didn’t know. We’ll know once it’s finished, I guess (more laughs).

TAMA : Let’s talk about equipment. Can you outline the current setup that you’re using?

Alan : Yeah, it’s a Tama Starclassic Maple. In the studio I’m always changing things up, but on the road it’s pretty simple. I use a 20” kick drum, 10” rack tom, 14” floor, and usually about 4 cymbals – 2 ride cymbals, 2 crash cymbals, and hi-hat of course.

TAMA : What about your snare drum?

Alan : I have a 5.5x14 Starclassic Maple, and I also have a steel shell drum, that’s kinda similar to the Stewart Copeland model. So it just depends, mainly on the room, which one I’ll use. But lately I’ve been using the maple snare more.

TAMA : What kind of sound do you look for from your drums? Any particular tunings?

Alan : I just tune them till they sound good to me. I like a fairly tight crack out of the snare, but a lot of that is achieved just by the way I hit it. I don’t like a really high, piccolo-type snare. I like drums that have body to them. Definitely more Bonham than ?uestlove… ringing and everything. I just like the natural sound of the drums… no muffling or anything like that.

TAMA : So you’re happy with the Starclassic Maples?

Alan : Yeah, definitely. But it’s funny, cause I was at the NAMM show recently, checking out all the new Tama stuff. And it’s been a few years, so I decided to get a new kit. I really just wanted some different sizes, you know. I’m cool with the drums, and the color and all. But I was checking out the website, and saw the new Starclassic Bubingas, so I decided to get some of those. I’ll be getting bigger sizes… a 22” kick, 10” and 12” rack toms, a 16” floor, and a 6.5”x14” snare, in the Ultraviolet Sparkle finish. I always use just one rack tom, but I like to have different sizes to swap out. So I’m really excited to get those bubingas and check them out.

TAMA : When you guys perform live, how much of the material is rehearsed, and how much improvisation is involved?

Alan : Well, there’s chaos within structure. We all know the forms of the tunes, and then there are solo sections, so we just work off that. But it also depends on the setup of the band. We’ve gone back to just a trio now, so in that configuration, it’s a lot easier to expand on forms of tunes and go other places. But when we have horns or singers, we usually stick more to the script. So it’s not some free-form, space jam stuff, but it’s also not the exact same every night. It’s really about using our ears, and listening for cues. Eric will be taking a guitar solo, and you just know by his phrasing when he’s ready to go back to the next section of the tune.

TAMA : As you mentioned, in the past you’ve worked with horn sections and other instrumentation. Why did you guys decide to keep it as just a trio for the latest record?

Alan : We go in and out of phases, you know. We just got off a couple of years of having a horn section, and we didn’t really realize how long we’d been doing that. Recently we did a gig where the horns couldn’t show up, so at first we weren’t sure how it would go. But then we did the show, and it was a lot of fun, and we realized what we’d missed. So now we’re back into the trio thing. But I’m sure after doing the trio thing for awhile, we’ll probably hook up with some horns again or with somebody else, and that will be great, so then we’ll go off on that tangent. So we’re constantly evolving. The only real conscious thing about what we do is that we know that we don’t want to do the same thing all the time. We’re always looking for something different to do, or a different way to play the song.

TAMA : Which drummers and/or other musicians have influenced you the most?

Alan : Well, it’s always changing, but there’s definitely a few that were particularly influential when I was growing up. Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix… Bonham. I thought his playing was just amazing, his whole approach to music. I like cats who really have their own thing. You could drop the needle on a record and after half a second, you know exactly who it is. I love that. James Brown was also a huge influence. Those would be the guys who I would say really opened my eyes up when I was younger. As I got older, my taste broadened a lot, so now different things are influencing me all the time, different styles of music and artists. But I can always go back to those cats if I’m in need of some inspiration.

TAMA : Do you have any advice for aspiring drummers?

Alan : I would say just to have fun. I know a lot of cats who are amazing musicians, but spend too much time in the practice room. I think there’s so much more to bring to your music than just what you shed. Just life in general, conversations with people, reading books, just checking life out… it’s really important. And really try to put your own voice into your music.