West End Blend has been playing its own form of funk, soul and jazz in venues all over the Northeast, and while fronted by vocalist Erica T. Bryan, the eight member ensemble honors the classic retro sound while contributing a dance party flair and verve when they perform on stage. Currently, the band is on tour and in this interview drummer Sam Horan talks with the Ithaca Times about the group’s music and their upcoming performance in Ithaca.
Ithaca Times: You have a rich backstory – can you talk about how the group formed and what keeps you going?
Sam Horan: The band started back in 2012 right after we had all graduated college. Most of the band went to college together at The University of Hartford studying music. Once we got out of college we were pretty burnt out on jazz so we decided to start a big dance/ party band for fun. The band started as a 15-piece ensemble. We would play every Thursday at a local bar/ hot dog joint in downtown Hartford. We had that residency for close to two years which really got our live chops up along with really learning how to work a crowd week after week. Seven years later, we are chiseled down to an 8-peice unit but still keep that dance party vibe going.
The love and support we continue to see from our fans keep us going. We celebrate our victories both big and small. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that keep us going. Other times it’s playing for a sold out hometown show to really keep our heels dug in.
IT: You have a recent single out now titled, “Dangerous,” tell us about the inspiration for this song and how it came about?
SH: Our lead singer Erica T. Bryan had this to say about the lyrical inspiration of this song: “‘Dangerous’ is an important message, written with love and respect, about love and respect. It’s addressed to not just West End Blend audiences, but people everywhere as a reminder that we need to look out for one another. And sometimes that means giving others the space they need to be comfortable and independent. Other times it means stepping in and speaking up when a situation just doesn’t seem right. I wrote this from the perspective of someone in a one-to-one relationship, but it applies to many. Just open your eyes and ears, and respect the people around you. There’s a reason this subject has garnered so much attention lately, but the concept isn’t new. Exercise a little empathy. That’s what it really comes down to.”
IT: The band is creative in the jazz and funk music you perform. But talk about which artists’ or other bands’ music has influenced West End Blend’s music and direction?
SH: We definitely have a lot of love for the classic funk/soul bands from the ‘70s and ‘80s but if you dig a little deeper, you will hear a lot of other diverse influences in our music. We have some Dead-heads and Phish fans in the band but we also have some big hip-hop and neo-soul lovers as well. Artists like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo, J-Dilla and more have a big influence on our writing. There are other songs that are definitely just rocking songs with influences like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Rolling Stones etc. At the end of the day, each person brings their own flavor to the table to make a delicious “Blend.”
IT: What is the songwriting process like for the band and are you working on a new CD in the coming year?
SH: The song writing process is very collaborative and varies from writer to writer. Almost every person in the band has a song they wrote in our repertoire. One writer might bring in a simple set of riffs recorded as a demo and we will build on that. Other writers will bring in fully written out charts and we will fine tune them to fit our sound and vibe. It all depends, but the one constant is that we tend to run our new songs live quite a bit before we record them.
In terms of a new CD, we do have a full length album in the works due in the fall or spring of 2021, but in the meantime we will be releasing another single this Spring. This will be the first full length album since 2015 and the first full length album as our current 8-peice ensemble. This album will definitely be the best representation of who we are as a band currently and we can’t wait to release it to the world.
IT: Some artists enjoy the touring and the work it takes--what would you say is the most exciting things about touring as a group?
SH: The most exciting thing about touring for us is meeting and making new fans. It’s always surprising to play somewhere new and to meet someone who knows our music. On the other hand, it’s also great to meet someone who has never heard of us and for them to come up to us after a show to tell us that they are our new biggest fans. Also, we love trying all the great food from city to city.
IT: Would you like to add anything else about your music or the upcoming show in Ithaca?
SH: Ithaca has always been great to us. There’s a seriously talented music scene up there and we are just happy to be welcomed back each and every time. We’re hoping this upcoming show is one for the books.