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THE RELEVANT ELEPHANTS: How To Transform Street Performers into a Full-Fledged Rock Juggernaut
What do you get when you take a group of four eccentric street musicians and make a band out of them? You get the Relevant Elephants. These guys (Zack Hankins on vocals and acoustic guitar, Drew Lucas on vocals and electric guitar, Adam Khalil on bass, and Mack Suhre on drums) are based in Boston and crank out pure, hooky, guitar driven rock music. They’re known for taking their upbeat garage sound into local bars and out on the streets to perform. Their debut four-song EP shows their diversity and gives us great hopes for what an eventual full-length album look like.
How did you guys meet each other?
Zack: We met up over the course of a couple years. I started the band with our old guitarist, and after we set our first gig we needed to get a bassist and drummer. So we asked Adam, who was his roommate at the time, if he would play bass for us. Neither of us actually heard Adam play bass before, but he owned one, and luckily it turns out he’s pretty damn good at it. Mack came along in February 2012 after we tried out a couple drummers in the previous months. Our old guitarist met him through school and at our first practice he fit in immediately, it was like he had already been playing with us for years. After our old guitarist left the band in the summer of 2014, Drew joined by August. We all met Drew at some point between 2009-2014, he was a friend of ours and we always seemed to keep coming across each other at house parties. He was also working on his solo project at the time, and Adam and Mack would often back him up at his shows before he joined The Relevant Elephants, so again it was a pretty natural fit for the band.
What kind of music do you find yourselves listening to most often?
Zack: Classic rock, prog rock, alt rock, actually we could probably just say ‘rock’ because we listen to any form of that possible. However, we definitely dive into funk, metal, and other genres, too.
Some of you guys come from a street performance background – how do you think it affects your music?
Zack: It makes us much tighter as a band. Also, it’s just a great way to build your fanbase. We have had so many people already take pictures and videos of us and post them online, saying things like, ‘These guys totally made my day, great music!’ That really makes our day, too, and it definitely helps people get just a taste of what we sound like live, and hopefully makes them want to see what we sound like at an actual show.
What inspired you to start writing?
Zack: For me, writing was my outlet for when I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about what was going on in my life, good or bad. Once I started it really made me feel good just to write down my thoughts, so I kept doing it to the point where these thoughts became songs.
Drew: You don’t have that much control of life in general, but you can control what goes on in your music. You can choose your endings, which is something that I enjoy doing; I like having a handle on something.
How does your creative process work?
Zack: I usually write words first. I write down whatever is bothering me at the time, even if it may seem strange, and build off of that because I know now that whatever is bothering me, no matter what it is, somebody somewhere is going through the same. After that I just play with random progressions and almost try to the mash words into the melody. Then after some editing with the words to make them fit, hopefully I have a song.
Drew: It comes out whether I want it to or not at all hours of the day really, which can get annoying sometimes – especially if it’s in the middle of the night. Dry spells happen too, so I just do my best to capture it when I get what I think is a good idea. Often times at practice we can just start jamming, find a part we like, then build off of that together, which makes things much easier.
You guys have a song called “Allston and Brighton are for Drinkin and Fightin.” Can you tell me about that one?
Zack: It’s just a fast-paced, reckless, rockin’ tune about one of our favorite neighborhoods. All of us in the band went to the crazy Allston house parties, and this song is us trying to capture the attitude of the area.
Do you feel like this new EP reflects your live sound or is it something different entirely?
Zack: We definitely aimed to have it reflect our live sound; it might be a little bit more [sonically] balanced obviously, but when we record we always have the band play together to hopefully capture the energy of the song that people would hear when they see us live.
If you could choose anyone, who would you go on a tour with?
Zack: Cage the Elephant, and not just because having two elephant named bands on one bill would be awesome. Also, Arctic Monkeys, Weezer, Tool, or Parliament would be some of our other picks. It’s so hard to choose just one!
What’s your favorite piece of gear?
Mack: My bass drum, because I just love dropping that bass.
Adam: With the band, my Yamaha 5 string bass, but in the studio it would be my Les Paul Studio Deluxe. I wouldn’t consider myself a slide player, but I always have a lot of fun pairing it with a brass slide and my Fender volume/tone pedal.
Drew: My Morley pedal, because it’s such a weird and unpredictable pedal (in a good way!).
Zack: All I really own gear-wise is my Seagull guitar, so I’ll go with that! I do my best to take care of it, although it recently got scratched up pretty good after a flight. Thanks a lot, TSA.
What’s your favorite thing about being a musician?
Mack: Stickin’ it to the man.
Adam: Improvisation, and seeing my limitations melting away over time. Ultimately working towards being able to freely express myself in any musical context to the point where the music just comes naturally.
Drew: Just always having something to work towards.
Zack: It helps keep my mind sharp, and everything about writing and performing songs – what we create is such a great outlet for me. Everything about it makes me feel good!
Follow on Twitter @relephants
Photography by Ken Almquist