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The Achromatics, as they exist now, started rehearsing in January 2016. They’d been playing together before the band formed, some of them for six or seven years, in a cover band.
“We had this really great musical chemistry and we knew each other’s playing," says lead singer Shannon Graham. "We also had this huge shared repertoire of songs that we all knew and came to identify with. Over the course of seven years, new people came into the fold and some of them stuck around.”
Shannon explains that the strong need to create something of their own was a driving factor for the birth of the Achromatics. She adds, “What we already had was so great. We had the infrastructure, we had the time and we knew each other’s playing well.”
She continues, “We started meeting for regular rehearsals, bringing in little snippets of music and working on them. Over the course of that first six months, we had developed just under a full set of original music. It was a year later that we started recording our album.”
New songs are born when a band member comes in with a melody, a harmony and a brief outline of the song’s form. Often they’ve also thought about vocals and horn parts. Shannon says, “That’s the point at which everyone starts to contribute. We chart everything out because with nine people in the band it can get a little crazy. We have an online drive where we put all of our charts that are in progress, so anyone can download them and work on them, re-upload them and everyone can chip in when they want.”
The band’s members all actively contribute to the song-writing process.
“The drummer really loves to throw in some of the grooves that he’s been working on," Shannon says. "The bass player writes all of his own bass lines. He’s one of the song writers as well. With four horn players, it’s a little more complicated because four people can’t simultaneously improvise a great horn part. One person will have an idea and they’ll take it home with them and write something in the chart.”
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Soul music and Latin music are at the core of the Achromatics’ musical influences. Current band member (and director of the cover band that preceded the Achromatics) Jay Vazquez is originally from Mexico, and he helped expose the other members to the Latin sounds. Shannon adds, “It was new to us at the time, but it became more organically part of our music personalities. That was the shared musical lexicon we were breathing.”
She points out, “It might sound like soul and Latin don’t have much in common, but there is a precedent. Earth, Wind & Fire had a conga players and disco had congas in it too. Latin music has been popping up in popular music over the last 30 or 40 years.”
Their latest album Give Me That Beat was recorded over the space of 11 months starting in January 2017. Shannon says, “For some people, it sounds like a really long time, but trust me, records can take a lot longer than 11 months. I think we got it together really well. We actually did all of the tracking in a home studio and we built the studio specifically for tracking the record. Some of the people in the band are big audiophiles so they know all about mixing, editing, ProTools and microphones.”
She continues, “We did the bed tracks for the rhythm section in about two days. We took our time with the horns and vocals. The tracking was the longest process. We had a lot of conversations with our professional mixing and mastering engineer. We didn’t want the record to sound like it was recorded in a home studio. He did some testing and he said he could work with it because the quality was great.”
The album is a balance between the Latin and soul/pop poles of the Achromatics. Shannon says, “The ten songs represent who we’ve been over the last few years as well as the direction we’re moving in. The record that you’re going to hear is five tunes that are more soul or pop with a hint of Latin and five tunes that are more Latin with a hint of soul and pop.”
The band has had a positive experience with the festival scene in Shannon’s view. She says, “They’ve been really welcoming to us. It’s been a great way for us to expose our music to our audiences. The festivals pay us really fairly and they have nice stages with good sound production. I couldn’t be more happy with the festival scene.”
In future the Achromatics plan to expand their touring schedule. Shannon says, “Over the last summer, we only had about fifteen festival dates. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s there. We’d love to tour, we’d love to see other places in Canada. We have a lucky card up our sleeve in that we are legally able to play in the United States. I see us taking what we’ve been doing here and taking it further geographically.”
Shannon says that there are a number of ways in which the band keeps its creative energy flowing. She explains, “Inspiration comes from the people who write and bring stuff in. We’re not the sort of band that’s lazy. We always wonder how we can make it better. If the music’s there, how can we improve our show? Can we add choreography? We always want to improve and we have driven individuals in the band who can crack the whip.”