Atwood Magazine has partnered with LiveSyphon to showcase live music from across the country. The latest in our series features Washington, D.C. band AZTEC SUN.
Join the funk, feel the soul. AZTEC SUN have their tagline down, and it is completely accurate. They are effectively the first positive thing I have heard out of Washington D.C. in the past year leading up to The Election. Just try to be cynical while watching their live video playing “No Time for Love” for a sold out crowd in DC. The moves and the groove create an electric environment, prime for dancing and for once in your life not minding being so close to your neighbors. AZTEC SUN claim to draw inspiration from Metro rides in DC, and it is music like theirs that could perceivably transform a disgruntled, crowded group of riders into slowly smirking, foot tapping, communal pals.
“Funk with soul” is the more consolidated tag AZTEC SUN like on their music, referring to it as their own “new school sound.” Once again the tag works, probably because of the historic DC influences that they are playing with. They shout out funk, go-go, and soul as being primary players in their musical inspiration, and it clearly shows, especially when they get into their synchronized hops and crouches. In partnership with LiveSyphon, Atwood Magazine is proud to present AZTEC SUN. We let the band speak for themselves on what makes their music a non-partisan revolutionary tool in rebuilding a fractured community through the power of really good music.
Look out for AZTEC SUN’s debut EP Set You Free, out now, and experience a real taste of Freedom.
Meet AZTEC SUNHow did AZTEC SUN form?
AZTEC SUN: “AZTEC SUN” was founded in late 2012 when four strangers met in a Washington, D.C. rehearsal space to jam. Initially, the 2-guitar-bass-drum group’s sound erred on the side of Funk-Rock; but the members’ underlying affinity for classic Funk and Soul would eventually fuel their search for a fuller, more soulful sound complete with keys and a horn section. Today, the band is an eight-piece ensemble comprised of diverse musicians channeling their cultural backgrounds into a new school sound we call “Funk with Soul.” In many ways, it is a collective of musicians with a sound that evolves and expands based on members’ ideas and changes with the music scene around it.
Did you have any specific goals or universally-shared missions for your music?
AZTEC SUN: Our mantra, “whatever makes you dance,” drives what we do. We want to pull people out of their shells and enjoy themselves through movement. We’re trying to create a safe space for healing, for expression, for processing the world around us. If we can get people to resonate and move with our music, then the mantra is fulfilled.
How do feel your music translates on recordings? You seem like a very energetic, inspired live band; do you feel like your 'niche' is with live music?
AZTEC SUN: At the moment, our niche is definitely with “live music.” Performing is easy with our genre of music because there are a lot of ways we can entertain a crowd: calls-and-responses, catchy hooks or melodies, extended improvisations and dance routines. On our EP, Set You Free, I think we did a good job of translating that energy through (mostly) live tracking and allowing for some of the inconsistencies that would happen at a live show.
What, if any, difference is there between AZTEC SUN’s recordings and live performance?
AZTEC SUN: We wanted to keep the EP’s songs as concise as possible so that the overall product is cohesive and easy to listen to. Live, our performance is designed to entertain the eyes and the ears: we’ll exaggerate dynamics so that breaks hit harder, encourage our crowd to sing along or dazzle them with our synchronized steps… all with the purpose of fully engaging our audience.
How do you take the live performance into account when writing songs?
AZTEC SUN: Since our music is based around “the groove,” there’s generally a lot of room for adapting a song for a live performance by extending and improvising certain sections of song. In our writing, this can simply translate to planning a moment in the song when we can vamp for a while. However, many moments of our performance will be conceived on stage. Sometimes one of us just feels something, “gets lost in the music” – starts moving a certain way, reimagines a melody or rhythm and it becomes something larger that the group will absorb on the fly and turn into a new part of our show.
How do you approach songwriting with such a big band? How do you get so many working parts to fit together?
AZTEC SUN: It varies. Generally, one member will share a demo with the rest of the band. If there isn’t any draft arrangement included, we’ll write the remaining parts by jamming during our rehearsal. From there, getting the parts fitting together is a matter of trying not to over-saturate every part of the song with every instrument and keeping the song dynamic from start to end.
How would you describe an AZTEC SUN concert experience?
AZTEC SUN: High-energy, lots of dynamic shifts, infectious, all the way live. Inclusive. An escape. A party. Sweaty. Soulful. Lots of joy on the stage.
How has Washington, D.C. influenced your music?
AZTEC SUN: D.C. has impacted all of what we write about. Funk/Go-go and Soul have deep roots here, and these genres are the primary influences on our rhythms; but our sound is also an amalgam of the many experiences we’ve had in the city. Everything from metro rides to new/lost relationships to the diverse perspectives of the world we live in. It’s a place we all love, for all its uniqueness and faults. Beyond that, we enjoy giving back to D.C. by using our “Funk with Soul” to break the work week and provide some relief to people searching for a way to get the daily grind out of their body.
Do you feel like your music is political in any sort of way in such a political place?
AZTEC SUN: At times, yes, based on the topic. One of our songs, for instance, “Revolution,” is a socio-political piece that describes different faces of social unrest and calls for community as a healing force. Ultimately, though, our music is our response to the world around us. AZTEC SUN’s goal isn’t to promote or align ourselves behind a specific ideological perspective; rather, we want to create community around us through music.
Your debut EP comes out this December! What can we look forward to on the record?
AZTEC SUN: December 10th at Songbyrd in Adams Morgan! The EP is a six-song preview of what we sound like: Funk, Soul, Afro-beat, Blues and Jazz. It will be a chance for us all to simply celebrate with all of our friends, fans, and other artists within the city that have supported us and been there at every milestone in this project. It’s going to be a huge dance party to close out 2016.
What was the most difficult part of the EP experience?
AZTEC SUN: Live tracking some of our more complex songs with a metronome was tricky…especially because as an 8-piece we tend to feed off of each other’s energy and get lost in the groove. In the studio, we had to remind ourselves to focus on sticking to the metronome and not improvising too much. In the same vein, we also had to practice getting out of our heads and trusting our fingers to do the work we’d trained them to do. Too often in moments like that you forget to trust yourself, you forget to let go and have fun. For the band, that is always the test. If we can remind ourselves that this is fun, then the recording will go rather smoothly. If we’re trying to do too much or trying to remember how we played something exactly like a week ago, it will be a nightmare of a recording process.
What was the easiest part of the EP experience?
AZTEC SUN: Announcing the EP! It was a great learning experience and it motivated us to start making plans for a full release with newer songs, arrangements and instrumentation. Also listening to it on speakers on full blast!
What is the future for AZTEC SUN? Do you have a vision for your music/sound?
AZTEC SUN: Our plan for the next 12 months is to record an album and to continue branching out to markets beyond the District. We’ll be working on playing some festivals, collaborating with new bands and getting in front of new crowds to see how people respond to our “Funk with Soul”. Overall, we want to keep growing and testing how far our project will go…so we’ll keep multiplying our opportunities for AZTEC SUN to evolve. Our sound has already been changing and maturing since we recorded the EP; and with the way our creative juices have been flowing recently, we’ll be chomping at the bit to get back into the studio to produce a full-length offering of our sound come the new year. Stay tuned!