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1. How has the city’s unique music scene shaped your sound and journey?
Tanner: There are a lot of really great musicians in Denver that naturally push each other to be better all the time. Being around so many talented players can inspire you to practice, stay tight, and deliver a strong performance. The unique concentration of talent and also mutual artist support in the music scene here has been a driving factor in pushing our sound and journey further.
Wil: The diversity and community support in Denver is unparalleled in my opinion and has helped us find a unique group of six individual voices that can come together for something truly special. We don’t fit into any one particular box, rather we have an eclectic mix of individuals with a wide range of musical influences. The depth of Denver’s scene has been paramount to creating our sound.
Nick: Considering Denver’s eclectic, multi-genre scene, we’ve always felt comfortable exploring many avenues stylistically. The whole state of Colorado seems to be very open and inviting in their tastes in live music, and Denver’s music scene is ever-growing because of it. It’s pretty cool to have been a part of it for this long.
2. Dylan Gleit and Wil Snyder joined the band recently. How has their presence influenced the creative process for “Inside Looking Out”?
Justin: Dylan and Wil’s addition to the band had a very positive impact on our record. First off, Dylan and I were able to bounce a lot of creative ideas off one another, and since he joined mid-pandemic we had time to work a lot of those ideas into songs. The excitement we’d get from each others’ writing was very inspiring and lighthearted, and it led to a lot of individual inspiration too. We ended up writing the entire album off that same energy.
Aside from his writing, Dylan’s skill in sound engineering and production were pinnacle in the album’s sound. He put an incredible amount of time and energy into making every moment of the album shine.
Wil’s addition brought a vast knowledge of jazz melody and harmony to the record. Since a lot of our music is rock-driven, Wil added a lot of color to the record with complex chords and a diversity of tones. His approach to our music is also very playful in general…and that added to the uplifting sound and feel of the album.
Nick: Their willingness and openness to others’ ideas and their ability to bring their voices into the mix cannot be understated. Dylan, specifically, was the biggest part of making this album what it was through many hours of hard work before, during, and after initial and final recordings. Dylan’s skills as an audio engineer have been “instrumental” in our development as a band since he graced us with his presence. Also, Wil is such a fantastic piano player with influences spanning all over the board. His ability to adapt and his knowledge of music theory and jazz instrumentation has been a big part of our music since he arrived. Long and short of it, the dude knows how to tickle the ivories.
3. “Flipside” tackles the “grass is greener” syndrome with a playful groove. Can you elaborate on the story behind the song and its message?
Dylan: I wrote the song back in December 2021 – I was experiencing major FOMO being stuck in the cold Denver weather while Holidaze (a destination jam festival in Mexico, which I had attended the previous two years they threw it) was happening and I couldn’t be there. I wanted to try and cope with my feelings by writing a “beachy” song, and the music for “Flipside” started to come together very quickly and naturally. Essentially, I was longing to be somewhere that I was not – that relatable struggle became the center theme of the lyrics as they started to form. More specifically, the song tells the story of an individual who has grown tired of their mundane, routine-centric life, and wants to make a major change to shake things up. So, they decide to pack their life up into bags and move all the way across the country by themselves, in search of new thrills and to reignite the spark of living. When they arrive at their new home, at first they are elated to have made it there, but over time they find themselves feeling nostalgic for their old life and routine. Once the novelty of the new city wears off, they eventually miss their old life so much that they decide to “turn around [and] head back home,” after realizing a few things: they actually had it pretty good to begin with, their hyper-focus on the negatives of their situation clouded their ability to appreciate the positives with gratitude, and the fact that they consequently took everything in their life for granted. Sometimes, when we are feeling dissatisfied with how our lives are going, we just need to stop and smell the roses, instead of longing for drastic change.
4. Your harmonies and vocal melodies are a defining feature. How do you approach vocal arrangements within the improvisational nature of jam music?
Justin: Since Nick sings lead on most of our songs, Dylan usually takes the high harmony and I take the middle. But on this record, we got very experimental. A lot of late nights were spent listening, recording, and replacing the harmonies one-by-one to find the right combinations. Instead of only singing triads (three-note chords), we experimented with extended harmonies, suspensions, substitutions (for those musicians out there)! Much unlike a lot of vocal harmonies I hear in the jam scene, we took inspiration more from 70’s progressive-rock/soul/jazz and classical music. I think this is a defining part of our sound on Inside Looking Out and as a band in general.
Nick: For me, I don’t think about vocal melody or harmonies in terms of how a jam band would deliver them. I think most of our vocal ideas come from bands from the “yesteryears”, such as YES, The Beatles and R&B heroes like Stevie Wonder and more contemporary bands like Radiohead etc. In terms of improv there have been moments of some vocal improvisation but it’s never been a big part of our improvs or “jams”, if you will.
5. While rooted in jam, you incorporate various elements of style (note: EE does not really have “electronic” elements. We do have various elements of other music styles though!) and complex song structures. What inspires you to push the boundaries of the genre?
Tanner: Seeing all types of music over the years has really inspired us and it comes out in our playing. We take a lot of pride in incorporating many styles and genres into our sound.
Wil: My bandmates’ musicianship inspires me every time we get together. Not to mention their wide variety of musical tastes. Those were the first things I noticed when joining. I immediately thought, “Damn, these guys are true pros… nothing is off limits!” My brain bounces a lot anyway, so I love that we can move in and out of any genre fluidly, which is a lot of fun especially in the improvisatory sections of our songs. So, while we do incorporate electronic elements and complex song structures, those are only two of our tools in a colorful bag. Personally, I love when we go into some Neo Soul or Classical territory. Playing “Clair de Lune” at the Dillon Amphitheatre was one of my favorite moments.
6. Sharing the stage with Scott Page and having Tanner Bardin jam with Umphrey’s McGee are amazing! What did you learn from these collaborations?
Tanner: These were really cool experiences that helped level up our musicianship. Like with Umphrey’s McGee, I’ve been learning their songs since I was 15 years old, so even though it was like I was training for that moment my whole life, there were still a lot of nerves involved. Their drummer is one of the best in the business and a world class player, for a band to have to have a new drummer playing that part that is so key to their sound, I’m sure is very stressful. So I had to come that much more prepared to make sure they would be comfortable with me on stage. I can’t replicate Kris Myers, he’s the best there is. So I tried to do my best to serve Umphreys’ music and tried to emulate Myers as best as I could while still putting my own style into it. These guys are pros and you have to come at it with their same level of professionalism and diligence, and not only play your part well as a player but be a good hang and easy to be around, and make everyone’s life simple.
Wil: It helped me solidify the belief that we belong. As a musician, self doubt can creep in at any point. Having the people we have always looked up to include us in the same boat is truly heartwarming and so reassuring. I was especially so proud of Tanner for the UM gig. He worked so hard and served the songs so well. Tears. Joel Cummins of UM is my teacher, so it was extra special to see my boy up there with one of our favorite bands and my teacher. Scott Page was a blast to hang out with and I look forward to playing with him again. That whole Burning Man experience truly felt like a dream. Simply put, I learned that we’re right where we need to be, and to keep going.
7. Inside Looking Out: This album title seems introspective. How does it reflect the band’s current mindset and the themes explored on the LP?
Justin: At first, Inside Looking Out reflected a lot of what we (as a society) went through during the pandemic…literally being locked inside, looking and longing to be outside. But as time went on, the material started to reflect the story of a post-pandemic band navigating a new industry. Although we had the time to write a full album during the lockdown, we knew getting it in front of people would come with a new set of challenges. Feelings of isolation and uncertainty set in, both individually and as a band. It felt like a wall between us and our success. But as time went on even further, Inside Looking Out became very contemplative. The blankets of texture and vast lyrical content struck a new sense of wonder in me. The ‘Inside’ reflecting ourselves, our society, our planet…Looking ‘Out’ at the possibilities, the potential, the cosmos. Ideas seemed bigger, thoughts seemed deeper, feelings seemed stronger. It was a hopefulness I hadn’t felt in a while and something I wanted all our fans to experience. In the end, I will always see the record as a psychedelic journey through the complexities of life. It touches on every-day thoughts and occurrences but with a hopeful and colorful perspective.
8. Grandiose Soundscapes: You promise “Inside Looking Out” will elevate your sonic presentation. Can you tease any specific production techniques or sonic experiments fans can expect?
Dylan: I’m an audio engineer by trade, and I produced and mixed this album. This is our first album since I joined the band, so naturally it’s going to sound a lot different from our previous releases. Particularly, I think fans will notice a wider, more immersive soundscape with a lot more clarity in the mixes. You can really hear every layer in each song with lots of definition. Expect lots of “ear candy” that will continue to surprise you with every listen, especially in headphones.
Wil: I have a vocal harmony with a sample of macho man Randy Savage one place in the album. See if you can hear it! It’s my moment to shine.
9. Denver Gems: You’ve rocked Mission Ballroom, Cervantes’, The Fillmore, and The Ogden. Any hidden gems in Denver’s music scene you’d recommend our readers check out?
Tanner: Jazz night at Meadowlark on Mondays is gnarly! They have amazing players there, some of the best in Denver.
Wil: I’m personally a big fan of Levitt Pavillion and Dazzle, the jazz club. I play at Dazzle and just love their new location. Levitt is an outdoor marvel of Denver offering so many free shows with amazing talent.
10. Future Visions: Beyond the new album release, what excites you most about the next chapter for Eminence Ensemble?
Tanner: All of it! One thing we are developing in 2024 is collaborative sets with some artists we have a lot of respect for, we are excited to share more about this as plans progress!
Wil: I’m excited to see where this rocket ship goes. I’ve found my people. The last 2 years have been such a blessing for me. I’ve always been a black sheep, and finding the right crew has given me a strong foundation to truly take off. Not only as an individual but with a team. A team that supports each other and loves each other. Not to mention all the goofy fun we have every time we hang! I can’t wait to see the next chapter unfold. Meeting tons of new people, dancing across the country with my favorite people, albums, more content, tours, big gigs, bring it on!