A year ago, a feature about Ajeva, the funk band from Gulfport, would have been about a quartet of young men who believed in their musical vision enough to live and work together toward that goal. They were an excellent four-piece band.
And then they decided to ‘evolve’ to a sextet — with superb results — last summer, and since then they have been playing awesome shows all over Florida for fans who cannot help but get caught up in the tidal wave of rock, soul, reggae, fusion… and funk.
Ajeva are: Reed Skahill, lead vocals, guitar, keyboards; Skyler Golden, lead guitar; Mark Mayea, lead keyboards; Taylor Gilchrist, bass; Dean Arscott, percussion, keyboards, guitar, band artist; and Travis Young, drums.
Their album release party is Saturday, April 9th, at the Ringside Cafe in St. Petersburg, with special guests Flat Land (who just played the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival) and Este Loves. The band will appear tonight on In the Groove on WMNF 88.5 (10-midnight) to talk about the album and debut tracks. You can also listen online here.
Taylor Gilchrist points out that “Travis, Reed, and I started Ajeva in 2013 after a band we were playing together in dissolved.” Arscott joined shortly after, making the original quartet. They got a great boost when they connected with The Rev. Funky D., godfather of the music scene in the Bay area. “He gave us our first shot on the fest scene and put his name out there to recommend us. He’s a vet of the St Pete scene for sure,” Gilchrist adds. “I want to see Ajeva continue to grow. I look forward to the music we continue to create together. I hope to travel throughout the whole country by then and break into the festival scenes in different states. I want to inspire great musicianship in others around the world. So, we have a lot of work to do.”
Anyone who has seen Ajeva on stage knows just how hard these boys work. Taylor’s great bass lines anchor everything the band does, along with Travis Young’s mastery on the drum kit. Young describes how he came to the drums.
“The first time I was in front of a live drumset, it took my breath away. I fell in love with the power the drumset held within the sticks. From that day on, I was on a mission to play drums and spread the love. Ajeva was drawn together by the universe. I am just a piece of the puzzle. In 10 years I want to be playing music around the world. I want to have a music camp that I can teach and inspire young kids to play music,” says Young.
It is this sense of community that fuels Ajeva. Young continues:
“The local scene here in St. Petersburg is such a growing organism. It has so many amazing and talented musicians filled with respect, humbleness, and community. I look up to the older generation of music. Where songs were created to get you to sing along and be a part of one vibe. When the creation of music was to make others feel better, to chase away the blues. I believe music is a powerful tool to help evolve our consciousness to its next level.”
“I think Ajeva is about bringing people together through universal music that invokes, evokes, and provokes the principle that we & everything are all connected,” offered Dean Arscott. “We all came from different musical backgrounds and found common ground in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Incubus, reggae, and funk as music and ideology. Additionally, we all came with an appreciation for intricate and progressive musical composition, though simply good arrangements are just as integral to our writing process; ‘Floating Molecules’ has a very simple arrangement, and it’s one of our best songs.”
Reed Skahill picks up on that theme: “It’s truly an honor to work in such a supportive community. The singers, the song writers, the musicians, the artists, the listeners, the dancers, the hoopers, the vendors, and the venue owners in this city and surrounding cities are remarkable, to say the least.
The hometeam is bringing these people together all across the state and other states and driving us to create more influential art and music. I hope everyone enjoys our new album. Its for you. Its for the universe. One soul.”
Gilchrist also weighs in on this subject: “As someone who has lived in St. Pete my whole life, I am proud to see what the scene and the city have grown into. Just a few years ago, things were pretty sparse around here, and now there’s music going on every night of the week! It’s cool how everybody is working together to make this place bigger and better.
“I find a lot of inspiration in the local and Florida bands we get to play with and see on a regular basis. There is so much talent around here it is ridiculous. Some of my favorites are Serotonic, Herd of Watts, Come Back Alice, Holey Miss Moley, Row Jomah, Justino and the Difference, Flat Land, Displace, NoNeed, Future Vintage… the list could go on and on. As far as big names go; I have been listening to a lot of Herbie Hancock, lately.”
“I began playing music when I was in fourth grade when I joined the school band. My first instrument was the trombone. I later picked up the guitar, and by eighth grade I was playing bass in the school jazz band. By the time I graduated high school I couldn’t see myself doing anything besides playing music,” Gilchrist says.
‘Newcomer’ Mark Mayea relates how he came to Ajeva. “When I was six years old, my folks sold their van to purchase a real piano so I could learn and grow as a musician. I was playing melodies I heard on TV shows, and I have pursued music ever since. I studied classically, and I didn’t consciously hear my first band until I was 10 years old. My father was hugely into progressive rock music, and I picked up on that quickly because it was stemming off of classical music. In high school, I started playing out in different projects with some of my peers.”
“Eventually, I attended my first-ever music festival in 2015 at Orange Blossom Jamboree in Brooksville. That weekend of music changed my life and influenced me to move from Lake Worth. This is also where I witnessed Ajeva perform for the first time, along with many local artists from this scene. When I moved to St. Petersburg in September, Ajeva asked me to join their musical family — and, more importantly, their community — and here we are today!”
“It seems that we click well performing and writing together. I see myself going through this ritual of practicing, writing and performing as often as possible for the rest of my life. I hope to be financially stable working through music, especially with this crew, and travel the world. I dream of playing a packed amphitheater one day, influencing people and musicians like those that have influenced me throughout my life. Two people who influence me to a profound degree are Austin Peralta and John Medeski. They pushed the boundary of music with their art and creations, and I wish to do the same as an artist myself.”
Finally, Skyler Golden tell us: “Playing music has always been a very special thing for me. It is there for you when you are feeling low and always seems to give a sense of comfort, unlike anything else. It’s healing, transformative, and has the power to make a difference in the world. Ajeva has a message for the world to hear: it’s a message of love and peace deeply intertwined with the soulful notes and rhythms of our instruments; music from the heart for the hearts of others.”
The addition of Mayea on keyboards and Golden on lead guitar really pushed the Ajeva sound through the roof, and the sense of community that every member of the band reverently refers to is the glue that drives this band. On occasion, they have included a young tenor saxophone player, sometimes a pair of female vocalists, and a trombone player once or twice.
Arscott talks about the new album Evolve: “This was a project that changed over time. We tracked it live in studio (the original quartet), and after listening to it for a while we thought the second half of the album needed something. Live, we always have friends from the Hometeam sitting in with us so, we decided to have all our friends play on our album. We can’t thank all our guest musicians enough. IT SOUNDS SO GOOD!”
“The album is broken up into two parts: tracks 1-5 are part One, and tracks 6-11 are part Two. Part one was written as a four-piece. Part two evolves into something more as we hold down the grooves and have some special guests join in on the fun,” as Gilchrist describes it.
The album begins with a quick electric blast titled “For You.” Skahill sings, “The funk is coming soon, so put your hands together.” Then, “This part’s important, please, so listen very carefully. We’re all in this together, all in this together.” The theme has been established.
“Fritters” is really a medley of different themes as the song shifts and twists. A minute and a half in, the music cooks and simmers, cooks and simmers. Suddenly, it veers into a heavy rocker before Gilchrist’s bass returns to a variation of the original groove. Then it finds another groove altogether, Young’s drums punctuating the sound. Skahill’s distinctive voice rides over the music.
“Off The Mountain” is a concert staple that fans are always ready to bounce to, with the familiar “Better off, better off if you let loose, bettin’ on, bettin’ on you to groove” refrain. It is an irresistible dance track. Skahill’s lead guitar is great.
By contrast, “The Rise” begins at a deliberately easy pace, but two minutes in a new vibe takes over, synthesizers, bass, drums, then Skahill’s vocals emerging. “Can we take it to the limit? Can we take it to the top?” And Ajeva obliges. The song segues immediately into “Do Not Command,” another fan favorite. You can just see Young pounding out the beat as the first quiet section explodes. This track is too short!!!
Now the fun begins with sit-ins galore. The first one, “Hometeam Jam,” begins with wicked-sounding organ and synthesizer and jangly guitar, over the bass and drums. Suddenly Juanjamon leaps in on tenor saxophone, and the song truly earns its title.
The Hometeam theme continues on “Maddox” (in reference to Maddox Ranch, home to many Hometeam events). Trey Miller, the Harmonica Man (and proprietor of Little Econ Love Fest) turns this into a bouncy country delight, when all of a sudden it takes a nasty twist when Dani Jaye (Come Back Alice) enters with her violin. Do not be fooled by her innocent look; she can be a demon with that fiddle!
“Groove Mountain” is a great jazz track with an Afrobeat bent thanks to Christian Ryan’s work on flute. Johnny Nichol, trumpet, and Sara Phillips, trombone, are there as well. Check out Arscott’s superb percussion work before Ryan switches to baritone sax. The wah-wah guitar underneath is perfect. These tracks just slide from one to the next as a unit. (Ryan is a part of a dozen bands, more or less, most prominently Holey Miss Moley, Leisure Chief and Bengali 600. Phillips plays in Green Sunshine, and Nichol was a former member of that group.)
Appropriately, “Slide” slides right out of “Groove Mountain.” Tony Tyler (Come Back Alice) provides the blistering slide guitar, and Kela Rothrock joins Skahill on the vocal chorus in the second half of the song.
The alto saxophone of Chris Sgammato (Displace) introduces “Floating Molecules,” which features the horn section of Johnny Nichol, Sara Phillips, and Christian Ryan. Nichol has a nice solo, and Ryan’s baritone again veers this toward Afrobeat. A perfectly subdued guitar solo leads to Mark Mayea on organ, washing the tune with color.
And that floats directly into more violin from Dani Jaye on “Cordless,” also featuring Andrew Roden on guitar (Lions After Dark, The Real Clash).
This is a great album that improves with every new listen. The album release party should be a blast! The album will also be available on Bandcamp and Spotify after Saturday’s release.
Travis Young and Kela Rothrock also operate the Pura Vida organic food truck, offering plant-based food for the soul: “nourishing the body, mind and soul.” Not surprisingly they were just part of Doug Marris’ outstanding Mind Body and Soul Festival at Maddox Ranch this past weekend.
And you should believe every word about the strength of the musical community in St. Petersburg and throughout Florida. It is this unity and cooperative spirit that makes everyone better, a beautiful musical family caring for one another. It is a blessing to be part of this movement toward higher consciousness.
Photographs by kind permission of Dave Muir, Jr., and Brian Hensley.