AZTEC SUN RISING: DC’s Hottest Band Is Ready to Make the Leap

AZTEC SUN performs at the 9:30 Club in Early 2018

Every Tuesday, the musicians in AZTEC SUN leave their day jobs around the District and head to Eckington to practice in guitarist Ray Lamb and drummer John Heinze's living room. They give each other hugs as they stagger in a few minutes after their 7pm “start-time” and kick things off by jamming just to get loose. The “funk with soul” ensemble runs through original music and classic covers, getting ready for upcoming gigs. Whether it’s a local wedding or four nights supporting the renowned New Orleans outfit Rebirth Brass Band, the band applies the same focus and seriousness to their preparations, talking their way through the A and B sections, chord progressions, and tempo changes.

The band is always relaxed and having fun. They catch up on recent travels, explain to one another what other commitments caused fellow bandmates’ absences, and talk about their day jobs. “I don’t want to discuss that right now because this music is soothing to my soul,” vocalist Lee Anderson says into his microphone as the conversation drifts back to the stresses of life outside the practice room. This is the DC music scene in a nutshell: serious people, with serious jobs, who escape to a powerful form of expression. Lee finishes talking about the midterm elections, takes a swig of his Bell’s Octoberfest, and dives right back into practicing his harmonies for “Move on Up.”

AZTEC SUN performs at the 2017 Funk Parade
AZTEC SUN performs at the 2017 Funk Parade

The band hopes that this fall will be a tipping point of sorts. Between their recent shows supporting Rebirth and the November 10th release of their first full-length album, In the Name of Everyone, AZTEC SUN has reached a level of success many of its members never imagined when they joined the band. What began as a jam session six years ago has taken on a life of its own, lead singer and bandleader Stephane Detchou shared. “I have a nasty habit of writing lyrics whether I’ve been asked to or not,” he says, smirking as he reminisces about the evolution of his band, which solidified its lineup just this year with the addition of Anderson. While the personnel have changed throughout the band’s history, Detchou has been the constant, and his songwriting, stage presence, and creative energy drive the band.

AZTEC SUN - In The Name Of Everyone

AZTEC SUN - In The Name Of Everyone

AZTEC SUN’s upcoming album, produced by Alan Evans of Soulive, represents a new philosophy for the band. Trumpeter Adam Kent recounted the story of how the band almost fell into their relationship with the legendary funk drummer, “I grew up on Soulive, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to connect with him when we were opening for Everyone Orchestra. We got to talking and I asked about how Soulive creates a live sound in the studio.” Evans invited the band to record in his studio, and AZTEC SUN loaded up the van and drove up to Massachusetts to record with one of their heroes.

AZTEC SUN - In The Name Of Everyone

As I spoke to the band, they all told me that their primary goal in the studio was to create an album that reflected their live show. “We didn’t want it to sound sterile,” guitarist Ray Lamb says. “With our first EP, a lot of those songs sound totally different than when we play them live.” The result is an extremely danceable, high-energy album the reflects the band’s dynamism in a live setting. Each song was recorded live in order to minimize the amount of time and space between beginning recording and completing the track. Detchou said, “The goal was to capture our sound as honestly as possible.”

Of course, the recording process was not without its challenges, but Steph and Ray expressed that it brought the band closer together. “I think we gained in the connection between us. We all came back over the moon and lovey-dovey.” AZTEC SUN’s process was democratic to the core. Not only did the band vote on which songs to record, their M.O. with Evans was to record each song live with three takes, then analyze and discuss those takes as a group, and adjust for the next take accordingly. After recording the basic, stripped down version of each song, individual members would overdub solos or patch sections as needed. “You can really hear the energy between the band all being in the same room. That was the key,” Steph tells us.

Following their run with Rebirth Brass Band and on the eve of their album release, the band has a ton of momentum heading into 2019. Ray Lamb shares, “We’ve gained a sense of confidence in what we’re doing.” AZTEC SUN is forging ahead with a clarity of identity and purpose, and just happens to be one of the best party bands in the Washington, DC music scene. But for now, their focus is on the release of In the Name of Everyone. When I asked Steph about what he’s most looking forward to for the band in the coming months, he chuckled and said with a huge grin, “I can’t wait to hold the vinyl.”

AZTEC SUN knocking it out of the park!

No matter the venue, AZTEC SUN, always puts on a great performance and knocks it out of the park!

Videos

Videos

Videos


The following videos are provides courtesy of AZTEC SUN's YouTube Channel.

About the author
Seth Gordon-Lipkin

Seth Gordon-Lipkin

Seth caught the bug of live music after seeing Elton John play the MCI Center at the age of 10 and has been frequenting DC"s concert venues since moving to our nation's capital in 2006. A dedicated fan of the jam band scene, Seth has logged countless miles attending upwards of 70 Phish shows, dozens of Umphrey's McGee shows, and trips to LOCKN' and Peach festivals. Also an activist, you're likely to spot Seth registering voters with Headcount at DC's local music venues.