Feeling a bit puzzled and excited, your eyes dart from one end of the stage to the other as you see Chris rapping and playing the bass. You'll catch Nick playing trombone with one hand on a synthesizer and John, the vibraphonist, jumping up and down, mallets in hand, as you try to follow Eli's sticks as they fly across the drums. Watching four musicians transition seamlessly between an array of instruments, you may find yourself dancing without even realizing it. This is what it's like to see The Easy live.
Local hip hop quartet, The Easy, will be performing with George Porter Jr. and the Runnin’ Pardners on July 18th at The Varsity. In light of this upcoming show with the musical legend that is George Porter Jr., we sat down with The Easy to find out more about their unique sound and journey. The Easy is comprised of Nick Garrison, Eli Williams, Chris Polk and John Mann.
The Easy released their first album in October of 2014. Their compositions began as funk and instrumental and have since transitioned into the realm of hip-hop. Their journey began as part of a larger group, accompanied by a lead singer and guitarist, but they have since whittled down the lineup. Their experiences with different members and evolving sounds makes for a compelling story about a band that continuously reinvented itself in order to adapt.
John Mann explains, “We had experimented playing with 7 people in the group and a lead singer in the front. It ended up not working out so we parted ways. When that happened, we weren’t going to stop there so it opened up a whole new outlet for us to start venturing into more music that we were influenced by, like hip-hop and dance music. Instead of focusing on soul and funk with a lead singer, we started branching off into what we are now.”
That resiliency is what makes The Easy’s story so captivating. Chelsea Layne recalls recruiting the band to perform at JiveFest ‘14. Just before the show, they unexpectedly parted ways with their singer. Thinking they would need some time to restructure, she asked if they wanted to drop out of the show. “I asked Nick if they’d be able to pull it off without a singer - but he was adamant about performing. Confident they could pool their resources, they decided to make it work. And come showtime, they absolutely did. I was blown away with what they’d pulled together. I’m sure it was a stressful situation but they turned it into something even more valuable because they gave local singers platforms in addition to having a great set. It totally fit the spirit of the event.”
Restructuring their material to focus on the instrumentality of each musician, the Easy began to evolve their music into what you might hear today. That malleability would come in handy again. Shortly after recording their first album, another member of the Easy decided to pursue a different musical route. “One of the hardest things about being in a group that will have any longevity is having all your members have the same vision, be geared toward similar goals and have the same sound.” Garrison said. The four lasting members of the band understood the rarity in that alignment, and instead of bringing in another musician to fill that element, they decided to pick up the slack. Garrison notes, “We didn’t want to add anyone else, we were going to take it from there and nurture that,” Garrison said. That’s exactly what The Easy did; they pushed themselves to create something new and energetic, and true to themselves.
"By the time we got down to four members it forced us to expand our individual sounds. We asked ourselves, ‘Rather than feeling limited, what could each one of us do to add something to what we already had?” Garrison remarked. Commenting on their sound without a guitar, Polk explains, “We stretched our instruments to encapsulate that sound that we’d grown accustomed to - those extra layers that the four of us weren’t previously applying, we had to start creating that ourselves to get the sounds we wanted.” Members of The Easy can regularly be seen switching instruments and maneuvering around the stage. Whereas Chris Polk was previously the only singer in the band, Nick, Eli and John began contributing to the vocals. Garrison began with adding layers on the synthesizer, and vibraphonist John Mann began multi-tasking on the synthesizer and keyboards, Eli Williams added an electronic drum kit, and both percussionists layered on the bells and whistles to extend their sounds.
The Easy has a unique sound that is difficult to describe. Their music covers a broad spectrum that’s danceable, contemporary and soulful. ”A lot of our songs are extremely different. People are always trying to fish around, ‘How did he get that sound? How is he doing that?’ It keeps the audience interested for every song. None of our songs sound the same.” The audience stays interested enough to keep coming back. They’ve built a steady and capacious fan base in Baton Rouge, piquing the interests of hip-hop, funk and jazz fans alike. They’ve performed alongside rappers and jazz quintets, outdoors at the Blues Festival, even inside the Hartley Vey theater.
The band expressed gratitude and surprise that people would want to see them perform again and again. “People are always really excited to come see us even if they saw us the week before,” remarked Mann. “It’s humbling that people really like our product enough to come back week after week,” Williams added.
The Easy as the hip-hop quartet that we know today was able to transition past obstacles that cause many bands to break. Their perseverance has created a really strong foundation. They also attribute their success to the strong musical community they have had the opportunity to grow with. They express gratitude toward one mentor in particular, Doug Gay, founder of Baton Rouge Music Studios, who understands the importance of nurturing our city’s musical community. "Part of our sound is reliant on Doug's generosity," said Garrison. Doug supported The Easy from the beginning, giving Garrison and Mann jobs at BRMS amd even giving The Easy their electronic drum kit.
Baton Rouge Music Studios (BRMS) offers excellent music education and performance-based programs to Baton Rougeans, focusing on community development in the process. “Baton Rouge Music Studios has been a part of our growth, from teaching to rehearsing in their facilities. BRMS is a really important part of the music community here. These kids have a great opportunity to learn from musicians who are actually part of the local music scene here which is something I never had when I was younger,” Mann said.
Garrison added, “We might be inspiring those few kids but Doug is a huge inspiration to us. He toured the world, taught private school and then dropped it all to start this dream of his, BRMS, which is flourishing. It’s cool for us to see that because there’s this master musician who has decided to give back to the community. Not only is he giving up-and-coming musicians jobs and experience teaching but he’s also furthering the music scene in Baton Rouge.”
Go see The Easy this Friday and in the words of Nick Garrison, “go support everyone’s shows, not just ours.”
~Chelsea Layne and Emily Jean
Photos by Nicholas Martino and Chelsea Layne
You can find the Easy on Facebook, Twitter and on Instagram @the_easy_music
Check out their website here
Looking for tickets to the show on Friday with George Porter Jr.? Click here