An Interview with EYMAREL

EYMAREL (pronounced ‘emma-rehl’) is an eccentric duo based out of Wilmington, NC. They had just recently played to a packed room at the "White Collar Crime" here in Raleigh, NC. I was lucky enough to catch them on one of their off days and chat with them for a bit. Laid back and very down to Earth, both Mary Frances and Lee Allen humored me in a casual conversation about the band, their music, and life on the road.

Interview by Chris Robie

Mary Frances - Keys, Bass, Vocals
Lee Allen - Drums, Electronics

HGMN: Can you give me a brief description on what Eymarel is all about?

Mary: Keyboards and drums. I play...I have four keys, I play bass with my left hand and I do a lot of work on the organ, fender Rhodes, and synthesizer work with my right hand while singing. Lee does drums and electronics, loops and samples and stuff. He picks up the bass duty sometimes to free me up.

HGMN: So timing is important?

Lee: Timing is everything. Our timing has gotten so tight...when we first started out writing music we were really adamant about keeping it pretty organic. We didn't have any loops at first. I was interested in doing it but money was a problem in trying to get all the gear to make the stuff happen. So we saved up and built up but at the start we were all organic. She did all the bass, the Hammond and other stuff and then we started to get into the loops and playing with that 'time'. It locks you in. Before we would control the time - interact, slow down, speed up and keep it real. But when you're playing with loops the loops is the leader. It's going to lead the time and if you get off the loops...

Mary: We don't just sit, play, and go. Lee pulls in and out sections, depending on the night; he can trigger all the stuff we pre-recorded ourselves. We have vocal samples that I sing and he records me. So that way I've got harmonics going on. I like that freedom because we still have freedom in the moment. I don't want to just be stuck in to this pattern...

Lee: The songs are never the same. That was our thing with the loops too. We were thinking if we're going to do loops we have to still be able to be as organic as possible and as free as possible because we do a lot of improvisation and we wanted that to keep being a part of our music while using new technology. The way we set it up, if I do the bass I'll trigger the bass line on pad one, you know; while I'm keeping the beat up I'll come over on the one and pop the bass line or something. The first trigger there might be all kind of other stuff, vocal samples, all manually brought in real time. Even that being said, once they get going that is the time. Once I trigger the bass line I can't vary from the bass line. I'm not playing every single note. I'm bringing it in on the one. It might be like a four bar phrase so I have to make sure the time is right on that whole four bar phrase or it crashes and burns. It's a big challenge trying to incorporate all that in and keep it as organic as possible, and set it up in a away where we can still be improvisational. Doing all that while playing drums, her doing the bass, singing, and all the keyboard work has been a big challenge. The timing is everything for sure. If we miss...

HGMN: What happens when you miss? Does it mess up the whole song or can you usually bounce back?

Lee: (Laughs) We can bounce back.

Mary: I know immediately. The problem sometimes is on these samplers. You know, they can just glitch sometimes. Sometimes in the middle of a show you just have glitches.

Lee: It's a common problem.

Mary: With anybody using that kind of technology.

Lee: A lot of cats have problems. I like to use the hardware samplers because it doesn't make all the samples that we have in there are our own. Sometimes I use a couple light vocal samples from Timothy Leary, quotes like that I find.

HGMN: Can you describe your musical style?

Mary: Stylistically we're very groove oriented and inspired by soul and rock music.

Lee: We've been playing for so long, like 20 - 21 years on our instruments. Through that time all our tastes and influences have been constantly changing. For me, I started out with my dad's record collection and he has all the Herbie Hancock, Tower of Power, every Chicago record ever put out. He's got all that - a bunch of soul, horn influenced stuff. So that was my initial start and after that I went through my rebellion stage. I went through rock and then heavy rock and I played in a heavy rock band. I then moved away from that to then completely getting sick of the rock scene, the heavy scene anyways. I got turned on to a lot of death metal bands. And we were by no means Death Metal but for some reason we had to be a part of that. I still love it but I just wanted to branch out from that. I started to get into the Jam stuff and then Jazz. She's got that same kind of progression. Her dad was a drummer in a variety band. They played a bunch of old soul stuff.

Mary: I took classical lessons as a child. When I met Lee that was the only time I ever broke away from that and started playing a variety of music. We've been a couple for about five years now.

HGMN: Where did you guys meet?

Mary: Appalachian State in Boone, in music school. I was up there as a music therapist and he came up and started the music therapy program and we met pretty much the first day of classes. I went into the classroom to announce a meeting for the music therapy department and we kind of progressed from there. You know, it was a love a first sight type of thing.

HGMN: Were either of you in a band at this time?

Mary: I had played with some Jazz bands and stuff like that but I never actually played in a band other and there I sat in on a couple of songs but this is really my first actual band experience.

Lee: I was in two bands prior. I was in a band called Tapestry and another band called Scratched Apple. I was still in Scratched Apple when we were together. It was like at the end of that. We had some success. We played on the Warp tour and stuff like that but nothing major.

And then we started playing around together for a couple years. We dated a while before we started to get serious.

HGMN: So when did you guys decide that you wanted to start your own band?

Lee: On the first date, really. That's all we talked about. Our whole foundation of the relationship was based upon music. We were just talking about it...

Mary: Yeah. We were at a bar drinking tequila shots and I told Lee that I was in that moment in my life where I was at a crossroads where I wanted to do that. It was all I ever wanted to do but I didn't at that time have the vision just had never presented itself. Being classically trained is great but sometimes it's hard to free yourself from that structure just to be able to sit down and play. It doesn't have to be on sheet music or it doesn't have to be...with classical a lot of times it's either right or wrong. You're expected to play the exact lines of Mozart and exactly how Beethoven played it. It's a phenomenal learning tool but to break away from that for a lot of trained musicians it's very difficult. I had to go through a process of really just developing my confidence and my voice and being friends again with the keyboards versus being...I think our first conversation was about me wanting to become friends again with my instrument, being able to sit down and play what's in my heart and not...

Lee: Read the music.

Yeah, just freeing myself. That was a pretty intense process that we had to work through for a while.

HGMN: Did you guys know early on that you just wanted to be a duo?

Mary: No.

Lee: When we first started out I had two roommates that I went to high school with, both phenomenal players. This guy on bass, man, he was a smokin' bass player and this other guy on guitar and we started out just doing instrumental stuff as a four piece. We had jammed together a lot before and had some ideas and then Mary came into the picture and we really tried to start to work out those ideas and start to write some tunes.

Mary: Lee and I were very, very, very serious. His roommates became frustrated because we wanted to practice all the time. We would be up late at night and they would be trying to sleep and it just ended up weeding itself out. They just didn't have the same vision. They wanted it as a side thing because they were more focused on school. We wanted this as our life. So we tried another guitar player that was a good friend of his but stylistically it just didn't work out. At that point, we were like; we can't wait for musicians to come to us, let's just do it and figure it out.

Lee: I had this question last night, "you ever think about adding new members?" We've tried more members a lot and I'm not saying I would be opposed to never having anyone else in the band. But now, after doing what we do and the freedom that we have creatively...I don't know if I can be a full time band with anybody else. For me, personally, as a drummer I've never been a melodic creator or melodic writer prior to this. When we start writing music she will come up with ideas or I'll come up with ideas. It's very rewarding for me because I can express melodic ideas that are inside and they become our tunes and that's just so rewarding.

Mary: Lee and I, we are such a balance. He's very rhythmical based and I'm very melodic, harmony based so we kind of help each other bridge into our, like, I don't want to say our weaknesses but things that aren't maybe our natural...

Lee: Strong points.

Mary: Together we create a force that would never be the same if I play music by myself or if he plays by himself it would never sound like it does. I would be afraid at this point to add people because I think us becoming a Duo found us. It wasn't what we intended. I would love to do some tours with guest players, some horn players and stuff.

HGMN: So how would that work? You guys do a lot of loops and stuff. Is it easy for somebody to come on stage and sit in?

Lee: No. Even with the improv and the freedom that we have there's still...

Mary: We have a lot of parts.

Lee: Yeah, a lot of parts and a lot of changes. If we're going to bring somebody on stage we want that shit to be tight. You know what I mean? I'm not trying to say that we're this smokin' tight ass band but I feel like we've got to be professional with the show. I'm not opposed to having people jam at all. The way we normally work it is that we have to rehearse, get to the venue early and run the track a couple times. That's ideal. That way when we're up on stage there's no confusion. If it's not tight during practice then we're not going to do it on stage. As far as somebody just popping up and not knowing the tunes...I think it would be very difficult.

Mary: As far as the samplers go horn players could just sit right in. We write our tunes like we're in a marching band or...we try to think, what would the horns be doing? What would the strings be doing? What would the drummer and keyboard players be doing? Even guitar, it's all there. If we wanted people to play those parts we would say, alright, here's your part. Lee grew up with marching band type of stuff and I grew up with a lot of classical compositions. They're very intense parts. I think that's where the sampler came into play. We were like, hey, we got to have this horn line here...

Lee: It's not like the parts are super challenging. We're not trying to say that. It's just that we like them to be right on. I don't have to worry about my sampler missing a note or getting too buzzed and not being able to play... like I said; it would be great, especially for bigger shows. I could envision a horn section and I would love to have a string section on some of the tunes. The vision that we have for live shows if the budgets there I think would be out of control. We would have like a four piece string section and maybe a three piece horn section. I don't think that we would ever have a bass player, maybe guitar. The way we communicate with the bass and drums, it's the root of our groove. I would hate to say that I would never have this or never have that, its just having to find the right cat to fill those shoes. We're just definitely selective.

HGMN: With you guys being a couple how does it work being on the road a lot? I know that it doesn't work all the time...

Lee: Actually, it does.

Mary: We spend everyday together.

Lee: Every minute.

Mary: My sisters, everyone, are like I don't know how you do it. We are meant to do this together and that's why we were brought together. Somehow on the road we never run out of things to talk about. (Laughs) We've got levels in this relationship. We've got personal, business and we've got music...

Lee: I think a good point to bring out is that when we go out on stage we can't have any problems with the relationship come out to play on stage. So that being said it forces us, if there were any problems, to work it out instantly so that when we hit the stage there won't be any problems. It's forced us to really work on communication. So there's never a problem that's like, lingering. The music has really helped our relationship, our personal relationship.

Mary: It even balances with business. He takes on different things than I do. We don't even plan that out. It's like I love numbers, books, and all that and he does all the equipment. He repairs all of our vintage gear, our Hammond, Fender Rhodes... everything balances out somehow. I think at this point we traveled together enough that we learned how to make it work on the road. Maybe at first it was a little bit of an adjustment but now I don't know what we would do. It would be hard not to be together everyday. I guess it's just a part of our life now.

Lee: We love it. I love every minute of it, every aspect of it I love except breaking down on the side of the road. I don't love that.

Mary: Me neither.

Lee: I'll be changing the tire, eighteen wheelers driving by... Every other aspect of it is way more than I expected and I love it. I think a lot of people get burned out on it from being out on the road so long. For me, man, it's an adventure. We're adventurous people and we adapt well. I think that we were just made for this.

Mary: The other thing that we have on our side is that we're not leaving something behind. We are home together, that's our home in our Van, wherever we are. It's been very helpful for us just to pick up and go. I know that's a challenge for a lot of bands. We're very fortunate to be sharing this together. There's nothing really holding us back. If we can stay on the road for a year we'll do it if we had the money. What else are we gonna do? (Laughs) I would like to get out West but that's hard. It's so far out there.

HGMN: I hear from a lot of bands that when you go out West for the first time you lose money...

Lee: We had a tour planned but we would have lost so much money so we had to back out. I hate doing that. Luckily we really communicated strongly the reasons why were doing that to all the clubs that we had lined stuff up with. Everybody was pretty understanding and very supportive and they were like, whenever you're ready come on out here and we'll do another date. I don't think we burned any bridges there. We definitely did all that way ahead of time.

Mary: It's just so far between cities, you worry about breaking down. I know Dubconscious has broken down a couple times out there.

Lee: Yeah, every time they've been to Colorado the bus breaks down.

Mary: That can potentially happen to us and our rig. That's when shit on the road gets stressful. That's when things get hard. It can sometimes even be dangerous being in areas that you don't know. Every time we go to places like Miami and New York I hope that we get in and out without problems.

Mary: New York is tricky, especially pulling a trailer through town.

HGMN: We've broke down several times on the road.

Lee: In New York?

HGMN: No. We broke down on the Jersey turn pike...

Mary: Who's we?

HGMN: Me, Lee, and a few of our volunteers. We do a dozen or so festivals a year.

Mary: In that old RV he's got in his yard?

HGMN: He got another one.

Lee: So that was the old one?

HGMN: Yeah. I think the last time you guys were at the office he had Keller's old RV.

Mary: Yeah, yeah. That thing looked like it had been around.

HGMN: (Laughs) It was like Russian roulette ridding around in that old RV. We drove that thing to Coventry. That's when we broke down on the Jersey turn pike. I think we broke down in every state along the East coast in that RV. I know because it was Keller Williams's old RV it was pretty sentimental but we were relieved when Lee finally sold it. He bought another one that's not as old and it has only broken down twice in two years. That's really good compared to like every other trip.

Mary: That's the toughest part about being on the road. I hate being on the side of the road and I hate when his life is on the line. I have to just take deep breaths. We've had some close calls.

Lee: On the bright side it's forced me, because of our budget and not having to take it to the shop all of the time, to figure out how to fix shit. I've pretty much re-done our entire trailer, man. I've re-done the bearings and spindle. I've put new leaf springs on that bad boy. Every single thing on that trailer I've pretty much replaced (laughs). Changed a tire...changing a tire is common knowledge but...

HGMN: You said that you had some close calls?

Mary: A week and a half ago we had a blow out in rush hour. It was in the morning. We drove over night. It was just a part of the road where they put those...

Lee: Guard rails up on the side, the cement walls.

Mary: Yeah, so we couldn't get off. It was rush hour and it was an on ramp and then an off ramp.

Lee: And we had just a little bit of space to do what we needed to do because we couldn't pull all the way off. I was worried about people not being able to get over or run into the back of us.

HGMN: So the tire blew out?

Lee: Yeah. It just blew out, man. I had like a foot of space between the white line and tire. It was rush hour and all these cars were blowing by my face, man. I was like, holy shit, I gotta do this quick! It's just dangerous. We've had a lot of close calls. We actually got hit in NYC. Somebody hit our trailer and it didn't do any major damage to the trailer. It tore their front end up and they didn't even stop! We were like, fuck, let's just keep on rolling, man. There ain't no where to stop. Everything's cool. I'll check it later, ya know. Shit, man, it gets crazy! We've got a 14 foot trailer too, man. First time we pulled in to the HGMN office Lee's like, "damn that's a big trailer for a duo." (laughs)

Mary: We're about to ditch that thing. We're trailer hunting now. It's a tough business. Making it happen day in and day out has really's such a journey. There are so many ups and downs to it.

HGMN: Are you guys working with an agency?

Mary: Yeah. We're working with Macro-Management now.

Lee: We just signed with them.

Mary: Staring in January. As far as booking goes it's McDaniel productions. Travis McDaniel does our booking. Up until now we've done everything independently.

Lee: McDaniel productions, he's booked for us from the start. He's been a vital part of our success, honestly. He toured constantly with us for those first two years. He's not always with us now. He's got a job. He works for the Charleston Pour House. So he's not always free to pop out. He used to run our sound, he would be our roadie, and he's helped me fix shit on the car. He's been that third wheel that's really been important to be with on the road.

HGMN: So the name, Eymarel, is that both your names put together?

Lee: It's an anagram of our names.

HGMN: Was that your first choice?

Lee: No. We explored a lot of other options. Nothing was really serious. At the time we were exploring those options we didn't really have enough material to start playing live. When we started playing live it was always Eymarel. A lot of people mispronounce it or they're timid because it's definitely a foreign word. It's definitely hard to remember so we've gotten some flack for that.

HGMN: You guys have an album out. What's it called?

Mary: That debut album is titled "Groovin' a Little Each Day" and was recorded in 2005 at Sound on Sound Recording Studio in Laurinburg, NC with engineer Greg Miller. Our new album is being recording at City of Progress Studio in North Miami with DJ Le Spam and is expected to be released in the fall of 2008.

HGMN: How did you meet up with DJ Le Spam?

We played several shows with The Spam Allstars in early 2007 at "The Atlantic" in Gainesville, FL, "Respectable Street" in West Palm, and "The Social" in Orlando, FL. DJ Le Spam was interested in producing some new bands and suggested we come to Miami and record a couple of tracks. We headed down in June of 2007 for the first session where we laid down the first 2 tracks. The vibe was smokin' hot during those sessions and we really got interested in using a lot of the vintage gear at the studio to help develop a really unique sound for each track.

HGMN: So as far as style, sound and quality, how much different will this new album be compared to the last one?

We approached the recording of the first album very organically in the way that we recorded only parts we could reproduce live using minimal layers in sound texture and playing extended jams and solos. In the new album, the approach is different for several reasons- one being that we've played over 350 shows all across the east coast between the two albums and our sound has developed a lot since 05' and has been influenced by the music, musicians, and culture from traveling. With that being said, we're layering more sound textures, vocal harmonies, drum tracks and have developed a taste for vintage synths and gear that gives each song it's own identity. Overall the new album is more song oriented stylistically mixing retro synths and effects, pop-esque melodies, slammin' beats, deep bass, and rich soulful organ and vocals.

"If you're like most people, "Groovin'" gets bumped from your daily to-do list for more pressing schedule conflicts, like school and work. Without having an allotted time, "Groovin'" gets smashed into little more than a communal mid-shift toke break with the guys from the graphics department. But for Wilmington, North Carolina, keyboard and drums duo Eymarel, the soul-satisfying act of groovin' is an everyday occurrence." ( Terra Sullivan, New Times Broward, Palm Beach)

Join Eymarel at their next Wilmington show on Saturday, Feb. 9th at 16 Taps, located downtown at 216 Princess St., or check out for a show near you and come Get Your Groove On!