Artist to Artist: The Endangered

Los Angeles-based collective The Endangered defy categorization, and that’s a good thing.  With a broad array of individual and communal musical influences and with each member of the band boasting his or her own artistic accomplishments, to attempt to define their sound, style, and vibe would greatly diminish the whole of what they bring to the table.  The band, which was officially formed in 2009, is comprised of guitarist Nick Block, bassist Frank Abraham, drummer Gene Coye, and vocalist Maiya Sykes.  The name, according to Sykes, came about because each of the musicians felt that the music they loved, the music they wanted to perform, was disappearing from the musical landscape.  One listen to The Endangered’s debut eponymous EP and you know that this is no ordinary musical experience: Soul-filled, funked out, jazzed up, moody blue, and rock n rhythmic, The Endangered deliver their gorgeous mélange to audiences craving something fresh, something inspired.

Having firmly established themselves as one of the hottest bands on the LA music scene, The Endangered stand ready to conquer the rest of the country–and the world–with their genre-bending tunes and phenomenal live performances.  Just days ago, following a killer performance at LA’s Hotel Café, The Endangered released the live recording of the show on SoundCloud.  As the band continues to gig in and around Los Angeles promoting The Endangered, makes plans to tour nationally and internationally and to release new music, they made time to chat with SoulTrain.com.

SoulTrain.com: Tell us about your writing process.  Four artists, four unique perspectives to pour into one cohesive piece after another.  How do you accomplish this when you’re creating together as a band?

Maiya: We hash out an idea–one of us will bring an idea to the table, and we’ll hash out the musical form first, which we all have a say in.  Then I’ll usually do the melody first and the lyrics second…everybody has input on everything, but that’s usually how we start out from top to bottom.  For one song, Gene brought most of the ideas to the table and the chorus but not the rest of the lyrics.  For another song, Nick had most of the chord ideas but he didn’t really have melody ideas, but he had lyrics.  What we try to do with our band is bring ideas to the table and keep playing it until we feel comfortable with it sonically.

Nick: Our core philosophy is, whether or not someone comes to the table with an initial idea or writes 75% of the chords, we all feel at the end of the day that we all put so much creative input in. We appreciate the input we get from each other so much that we consider each song equally written by the four of us.  Whether it’s “Dollars”, which Frank came to the table with, or “Calling on You” where I came with the initial chords, or “Milk and Honey” where Gene came with the initial chords, at the end of the day we all love the process of rehashing ideas with each other and making it as collaborative as it can possibly be.

SoulTrain.com: Nick, Gene, and Frank, you studied the arts at rather prestigious institutions: Cal Arts (Nick and Gene) and Berklee College of Music (Frank) respectively.  With so many fine and performing arts programs disappearing from public schools in particular, how well do you see young aspiring musicians faring in the future, as it becomes less common for arts programs to be part of students’ comprehensive education?

Gene: It’s up to us as musicians and leaders in our communities to be there for the younger crowd coming up, because they don’t have arts in school like we had…[take] every opportunity we have to display our art for them and nurture them and make sure they’re interested.

Nick: I definitely attribute music programs in elementary school as what introduced me to my interest in performing and playing in general.  It’s a shame that these are the first programs to be cut from public school funding when music is such a cultural root in this country.  It’s a fundamental thing that kids should be learning about not only for their art and creativity, but for the purpose of understanding more about American culture.  We need to do as much as we possibly can to contribute to charitable foundations  and organizations that help provide music academics to underprivileged children and kids who aren’t experiencing music on a day to day basis.

Maiya: I work with kids in a couple different music education programs, and one thing I can say about all of us is we all displayed ability in music so all of our parents sought out musical opportunities for us.  We have to make a demand for [music education], we have to say this is unacceptable; there are tons of programs that are there.  There are afterschool programs that are free.  We need to make those demands and say, “This is not just a privilege.  This is a right we all deserve”.  And if we don’t do that, they’re just going to take more and more things away.

SoulTrain.com: Maiya, you not only hold down vocals for The Endangered; you’re also the front woman for the Sayers Club house band in Hollywood, CA and a background vocalist for Macy Gray.  How on earth do you juggle those commitments, particularly since you are (I assume) working with different groups of musicians and unique musical styles and flavors in each case?

Maiya: For the most part I do all of that concurrently.  My primary focus is The Endangered, I work at the Sayers Club Thursday through Saturday.  I haven’t been working with Macy that much, but I have worked with her for the last four years.  She’s been a really positive influence and I’m really grateful to have worked with her.  I just try to stay movin’.  I think the more you create and the more you perform, the better off you are!

Frank: We all have our careers as individual musicians, or have been in other bands as well.  It’s one of those things that comes with the territory: You juggle life, juggle gigs from day to day, week to week, month to month.  We do it because we love it; it’s not a chore, it’s not a job.  We flourish, we thrive to play, we thrive to sing.  We just love doing it.

Maiya:  I think that we came to this band as a refuge, because sometimes it can get to be a bit of a grind like any job.

SoulTrain.com:  So how did you all find each other?  I know some of you had pre-existing relationships, but did you decide that this was the band you wanted to put together and this was the direction you wanted to go?

Nick: Gene and I were good friends at Cal Arts, and Frank and Gene and Maiya all knew each other from gigging around Los Angeles.  The main reason we came together was, I was speaking to Gene and Frank and we wanted to start an in-house production team where we’d write and sell songs to other people.  We came up with creative concepts and realized we needed a singer, and the first person who came to mind immediately for both Frank and Gene was Maiya Sykes.  So within maybe a day or two, we had Maiya in my recording studio laying down some vocal concepts for the song that eventually became “Broke Heart”, the first song on our EP.  All of us, in writing that song together, realized we wanted to become a band.

Maiya: Plus, our dogs liked each other so it worked out really well!

SoulTrain.com: As a group, you embody this very cool, funky, throwback style of dress and presentation.  How did your look evolve–was it informed by your sound or were you deliberately aiming for a style that would be a definite contrast to most groups on the scene right now?

Maiya: I guess I take credit for this because I work as a stylist and basically I said, “I want us to look like this”, and they said OK!  My uncle, Bill Whitten, worked in fashion for quite some time so I picked up a lot from watching him.  He’s most noted for making Michael Jackson’s glove.  I wanted everybody to look their best and have a cohesive look of modern meets vintage.  I gave our stylist images that I liked–I discussed it with the band, I didn’t just say “You’re doing this” like girls sometimes do with guys.  But luckily I was able to get a style together that the guys went with.

I’m a plus-sized girl, and you know plus-sized girls have to come harder, we always have to represent!  I wanted everybody to be featured in a way that would be true to all of their strengths.

SoulTrain.com: You’ve just released your debut EP, The Endangered.  How has the response been from the fans who have been supporting you and your live performances since the beginning, and how has the response been from newer fans who are just learning about you?

Frank:  We’ve had a really positive response.  We’ve been playing a lot of shows in LA–Dragonfly, Hotel Café, Molly Malones.  A lot of people have been coming out and supporting us, buying the EP.  It’s really nice to know that our music is being enjoyed in different households.  And it’s also getting played overseas, in the UK.

Nick:  We’ve never really been in a position before where we could market the way we have in the last four months since we launched the EP.  We’d really just been playing really heavily locally and doing a lot of writing for a couple of years, so it’s been thrilling to see the response outside of LA.  As much as we love growing a fan base locally, it’s wonderful to see the national and international response to the album–a lot of positive reviews.  It’s exciting to me when I get a Twitter message from someone halfway across the world saying they really appreciate the music.

SoulTrain.com:  I’m glad you brought that up, Nick, because for any band or solo act just starting out one of the biggest challenges in building an audience and getting that audience to come out and support and be consistent.  What was that process for The Endangered when you were first starting out?

Maiya:  The good thing about being musicians who play around town is you have a lot of connections.  And you meet a lot of other musicians.  Luckily we were able to get our foot in the door at places we’d already played–that’s what we did initially.  Other musicians we knew told other people about us, so word of mouth spread amongst our friends out of respect.  And now it’s getting to the point, people come to shows whom I’ve never met before and that’s really exhilarating!  They maybe heard us on a radio station or read about us on a blog.  Marketing is important, social outreach is important, and you have to keep that growing.

Gene: In our individual careers as musicians we played in a bunch of clubs and different settings.  It’s all about familiarity.  It wasn’t an issue of how do we get in; it was when do we get in?

SoulTrain.com: Your bio states that your sound is a hybrid of each of your individual musical influences.  Tell us who some of your favorite artists are, from growing up to now.

Nick:  We all have very different answers to that question, and that’s what makes the blend of all our influences so exciting.  I grew up in the Pacific Northwest in the early 90s, where I was heavily influenced by the alternative rock and grunge scene up there–I loved that music.  I was also very into jazz.  At an earlier stage I was very influenced by my folks and the music of the 1960s that they were playing–the Beatles and 70s music like Zeppelin and lots of classic rock bands.

Gene:  I grew up in the church in Chicago, so that was a big influence.   My grandfather always had jazz playing, my father was all about the 70s and 80s funk, so the combination of all that stuff made my–and everyone else’s individual story–more [unclear audio].

Frank: My influences are Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, but I am also influenced by hip-hop, alternative rock, heavy metal, and I like country, too–some of it.  I like all kinds of music.

Maiya:  Both my parents are musicians–my mom and dad actually met working for Earth, Wind and Fire.  And when my Uncle Bill was designing for other people I would listen to them, and my parents would make me listen to everything.  I studied classical music for a long time, I was into jazz, I was really into Jeff Buckley.  I remember my mom took me to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Digable Planets and Dr. Dre.  Being in my uncle’s studio, I got the best of everything.  He designed for Michael Jackson and Miles Davis, Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond, and Lionel Richie.  I grew up going to all those concerts for free!  I was really lucky very early on to have that musical exposure at my fingertips.  I think my style reflects that because my style embodies anything that’s good. I think that’s what attracted all of us to this band:  We all have that same mentality even though we all come from different influences and like different things.  We’re influenced by the Police, Jill Scott, Bilal, Van Hunt, Thundercat–our influences are all over the place.  That’s what makes us so eclectic and open to experimentation.

SoulTrain.com: Is there a full-length album in the works?  What about a tour?

Nick: We have a lot of songs that we’re currently writing, and we’re really excited about the new material that we have on the table.  We can’t wait to share that with our fans.  We’re hoping to have something out within the next twelve to fifteen months.  We’re planning the initial stages of getting out around the country to perform, in the next six months.

SoulTrain.com: What is the one piece of advice each of you has been given by another artist, that you would pass along to aspiring or emerging artists just starting out in their careers?

Gene: If you love it, stick with it.  If you don’t love it, don’t do it.

Maiya: Know your fundamentals, know when it’s best to compromise and know when it’s best to stand your ground.

Nick: Perseverance is critical, because it’s a tough industry.  It takes having a strategy in place to navigate it and to get the most from it.

Frank: Know your craft, know your part, know everyone else’s part, and show up on time!

SoulTrain.com: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our SoulTrain.com audience?

Maiya:  We’d like to thank SoulTrain.com because you’ve been really supportive, and especially as independent artists that support is what helps us get those new fans and to the next level.

Don’t sleep on The Endangered, get involved!  Visit their official website, http://www.endangeredband.com.  They’re on Facebook and Twitter, and you can watch live video performance clips on their YouTube channel.

 –Rhonda Nicole

Rhonda Nicole is an independent singer/songwriter, lovin’ and livin’ in Oakland, CA. Download her EP “Nuda Veritas” on CDBaby and iTunes, and follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/rhondanicolemusic and on Twitter @wildhoneyrock

 

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