The mantra of E.O.E. is “unity through diversity,” and it’s not just talk. This band, which will play two shows in Bend on Sunday (see “If you go”), walks the walk.
The group explained in an edited e-mail interview:
“It comes through everywhere,” guitarist Billy Franklin said. “The multiplicity of genres in the music. The interpersonal relationships of the band members. Our drummer is from Venezuela, the MC is from the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans (read: black), the guitarist is straight honky (read: white), and our bassist is Jewish. Ethnic barriers are nonexistent in the music and in the tour van. Much of our friendly banter is probably illegal in many Western states.”
As illegal as the banter might be in the West, E.O.E.’s sound is just as popular out here. The band has toured the western U.S. relentlessly for the past few years, beginning the day before Hurricane Katrina slammed into E.O.E.’s hometown.
The storm and resulting devastation in New Orleans kept the band on the road for longer than expected, which was both a curse and blessing, Franklin said.
“We were forced to stay on tour for a while. Katrina caused some personnel changes, and some of the members of the band ended up living in Colorado, so playing meant touring since we weren’t all in New Orleans,” he said. “But ultimately, the experience brought the band together personally and musically, and helped us focus our energy on the message of unity.”
There’s that word again. Unity. E.O.E. is serious about bringing people together through their highly energetic mix of funk, rock, hip-hop, reggae and more than a little Latin flavor.
Franklin and bassist David Hyman drive the funk-rock train. MC Koan brings a hip-hop element to the sound. And drummer Gabriel Velasco, naturally, blends in his Latin percussion leanings. Add in politically minded lyrics and an eye toward not only rocking parties, but making people think, and you have a band that clearly isn’t afraid to aim high.
“We definitely want people to experience joy. So we won’t be smashing them over the head with a socialist agenda. The idea is not overtly political,” Franklin said. “We’re poor enough to shop at Wal-Mart if we have to, and we use fossil fuels. The message is inside the music and if people are open to it, they won’t miss it.”
They won’t miss the groove, either. E.O.E., it seems, is soaked with groove, thanks in part to its deep roots in one of America’s most vibrant music cities.
“In the New Orleans music scene you’re dealing with a high level of musicianship. A lot of musicians play a lot of different styles, and most of them are good at all of them. This raises the level of everybody’s play,” Franklin said. “(And) the New Orleans sound … grew out of Caribbean rhythms, so Latin, reggae, and New Orleans music all come from the same place and the same basic rhythmic patterns.
“What we do is bring in all the music we love and employ everyone’s musical vocabulary into the style. That’s the fundamental idea of the band,” he said. “We enjoy the compositional challenge of integrating genres and moving between (them) within songs and within performances.”
With all members back in New Orleans and off the seemingly endless post-Katrina tour, E.O.E. is focusing on the future. The band is already performing most of the songs that will be on a new record, and it has signed with Bend-based booking agency In The Pocket Artists to make sure touring runs smoothly. And all that time on the road will, no doubt, help E.O.E. to continue to solidify its sound.
Because while these four guys inject a message into their music, they also know what most people want to do when they see a show.
“We definitely want people to dance, a lot and without inhibition,” Franklin said. “We work hard on our grooves and we love playing, so usually that’s the easy part.”