Once & Future Band released their debut album on January 27th of this year and it blew me away. It’s currently sitting at the top of our Best of 2017 (so far) list and it’ll be hard to beat. It’s not often a band comes out of nowhere to release a debut of such expansive and complex material. With influences of 60s pop, 70s AOR (album-oriented rock), fusion, prog and IDM, Once & Future Band have managed to create an album that is an extremely fun and rewarding listen. In some weird and inexplicable way this album sounds like it should have existed for decades and was only rediscovered recently. More than two years in the making, Once & Future Band took the time necessary to perfect their craft with meticulous attention to detal and deliver one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time. It’s an album best enjoyed alone with headphones and no distractions so your mind can wander with the music. So go grab your favorite pair of cans and lock yourself in a room for the next 40 minutes and enjoy.
While you’re listening read our interview (scroll below the stream) with Eli about their writing and recording process.
Once & Future Band is Joel Robinow (keyboards/guitar/vocals), Raj Ojha (drums/recording engineer), Eli Eckert (bass/guitar/vocals) and Raze Regal (guitar).
Purchase Once & Future Band’s debut album here.
Stream Once & Future Band’s debut album here…
Interview with Eli from Once & Future Band…
[RP] With a debut album like yours it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t your first rodeo…it’s too GOOD. Can you explain how you guys got to this point and came together as Once and Future Band?
[Eli] Joel, Raj and I (Eli) all played together, not always at the same time, in several different bands over the past 15+ years. Even though we were doing different things musically during that time, there was a thread of common interest that we shared (60s pop/70s AOR/fusion/prog/IDM, plus a million other things). We made a few attempts at forming this band, but there was always some element missing. After Joel and Raj left Howlin Rain, they asked if I would play bass in a new project. I had always been a guitar player, but once I switched to bass we finally had the foundation we needed to really move forward: Joel on keyboards and vocals, Raj on drums and me on bass. After playing as a trio for awhile, we met Raze. We had an instant connection as we found that he was tapped into that same vein of influence that informed what we were doing. And he was an amazing guitarist!
[RP] Can you explain the name Once & Future Band?
[Eli] The name is actually a weird amalgam of obscure and undiscoverable references. The first is taken from a line by California surf rockers Andy Sherman and the Sherms 1972 single “Avila Blast”: ”I’m a beach wizard, baby/ gonna catch you by surprise / I’ll cast a spell on you, honey/ get some wand sand in your eyes”.
The second is an homage to Sacramento glam/prog band Fuschia. Comprised of veterans of the state capitol’s vibrant session scene, these adventurous musos were also dedicated audiophiles: their output is isolated to one album, only released on reel-to-reel, entitled “Purple Majesty”. This choice of format may have doomed them to obscurity, but tales of their infamous live show, with twin guitarists Helen Killer and Marie Anntoinutz trading solos while draped with a ten-foot long boa constrictor, live on in legend.
If Band seems pretty obvious, that’s because it is. It’s a reference to Band-Aid brand adhesive bandages. Because music is a healing force.
[RP] The sound on your new album is a pretty big departure from other bands you’ve been a part of in the past like Drunk Horse and Howlin Rain. What inspired/motivated the shift towards the cosmos?
[Eli] The difference between those bands and where we are now is that Once & Future Band is a true collaboration, creating music that we weaves together all that we love into our own sound. This wasn’t a conscious choice to do something different, but the natural outcome of us doing exactly what we wanted to.
[RP] This album has a lot of layers and complexities to it and it’s been put together so well. Can you walk us through what the songwriting process is like for such expansive material?
[Eli] Sometimes someone will bring in a whole song, or other times a song comes together spontaneously in rehearsal. Someone might take another person’s song out for a night on the town and return it completely changed. We work and re-work and argue and always look for the best way to express what we want to say and connect with people.
[RP] I imagine there also might have been many more layers and sounds throughout the album that you decided to strip away. How did you manage to find the right balance and decide on what to keep and what to remove?
[Eli] It’s like we’re writing a novel where we start with a premise and then put in every idea and plot twist that interests us. The protagonist sprouts wings, communicates telepathically with redwoods, and is her own father. After going through many permutations, we find the one that is the essence of the story, and that story is called “Soul Blader: The Last of the Skatelords”, soon to be a major motion picture starring Annette Bening and Gary Oldman.
[RP] How long did it take to develop and write each of these songs?
￼[Eli] Each one is different. Some took months, others took a few hours. Some snuck in the back door and just waited around for us to notice them. “How Does It Make You Feel” was initially written about 17 years ago.
[RP] Your music is anchored in space, but the lyrics seem to have their roots in love and heartbreak. Can you share the source of inspiration for the lyrical themes?
[Eli] The not-so-young person’s guide to navigating the internal maelstrom of fucked-up relationships, ego warfare and the passage of time.
[RP] Where did you record the album and who did you record it with?
[Eli] Basic tracks (drums, bass, grand piano) for four of the songs were recorded by Phil Manley at El Studio in SF. For the rest of the songs all basic tracking, vocals and overdubs (so many overdubs!!!) were recorded by Raj at our Once & Future Space.
[RP] How complete were the songs and ideas before you recorded them?
[Eli] Most of the songs were fairly complete at time of recording. But some went through major changes after the fact. We enjoy experimenting in the studio during the recording process, sometimes arrangements aren’t fully formed until we start layering and teasing out the production. Each of these songs had to go through the long, dark night of the soul but they came out better for it.
[RP] Can you walk us through what the recording process was like? For example, Do you record live as a band or one part at a time? Or a combo of both live with overdubs?
[Eli] We record drums, bass and keyboards live, sometimes with scratch vocals as well. Then re-record the keyboards and start layering on the other elements. Then re-re-record those keyboards and elements. And then layer some more. On a few songs we also re-recorded the drums after the fact. Sometimes the vibe of the song doesn’t present itself until the arrangement and recording is a little more fleshed out. We end up re-recording some elements to get in line with the space we created after the initial tracking. On almost every song we derive a few of the overdubs based on bass parts, sometimes Raj and Joel will hear a riff or bass run and build an entire layered part off of it.
[RP] How long did it take to record the album?
[Eli] It took over two years to complete. The last 8 months or so was hard work. Recording hundreds of harmonies is time consuming and not necessarily fun. You don’t want to see what happens behind the scenes at the sausage factory.
[RP] How much of the record will you be able to play live?
[Eli] All of it!
[RP] ￼Does what you’re listening to at the time of writing and recording an album influence you at all?
[Eli] To some degree, but not to an extent that we can quantify. We all have been formed by the music we grew up with and new influences are internalized, but we aren’t young saplings easily swayed by the breeze. Often the influences that actually end up inspiring a song are not what people would ever expect.
[RP] After the recording is complete how involved are you in the post recording process (ie. mixing, mastering, effects, etc.)?
[Eli] Raj mixed the album and the textures and atmosphere he creates for these songs are a huge part of our sound. Tape transfer to 24 track reels from a Trident Console was done over the course of a few days by Jason Kick at Santo Studio in Oakland and we were heavily involved in that process. Mastering was done by JJ Golden.
[RP] Do you have a philosophy or methodology when it comes to mixing an album? What guided the decisions you made while mixing?
[Eli] To make it sound like it has always existed in this form and could not exist in any other. Like Mr. Rogers putting on his sweater and sneakers, it just feels right. The main elements are always bass, drums and vocals. Everything else exists to illuminate the world these elements reside in.
[RP] How did you guys connect with Castle Face?
[Eli] John Dwyer heard our EP and emailed us asking if we wanted to put out an album. That’s either romantic or mundane, not sure.
[RP] I was hoping to see you guys at the Bootleg Theater on Feb 4, but I saw it was cancelled due to Joel suffering from a pinched nerve. Do you guys have an idea of when you’ll be able to tour again and where you’ll go?
[Eli] Nothing concrete as of right now, but we definitely have plans to tour this summer. Stay tuned.
[RP] What are your plans for the future? Do you have an idea of what you’re going to do for the next album yet?
[Eli] We have songs for days. There are about 30 songs in various states of production that didn’t make it on the record. There are unrecorded songs falling out of drawers and hanging from the light fixtures. Can’t wait for you to hear the best ones!
[RP] Finally, I’m always curious about how other people consume music. Do you have a favorite ritual, place or activity while listening to music?
[Eli] In the car, on the interwebs, in the living room, dancery or social hall. Everywhere music is happening is a ritual, a conjuring of arcane magic that always feels miraculous when it hits you in the soul.