As a member of the iconic trio Soulive, NEAL. has recorded albums for legendary labels Blue Note and Stax, shared the studio with Chaka Khan, Talib Kweli and John Scofield. He’s toured the world from end to end, playing shows in Japan, Brazil, Ghana and Russia, opened for The Rolling Stones and has been joined on stage by Stevie Wonder. Alongside bandmates Eric Krasno and brother Alan, NEAL. has even had a day named for him, as the mayor of Buffalo, New York officially proclaimed July 9th Soulive Day.
On its own, writer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Neal Evans’ career resume reads like cinematic narrative, a straightforward biopic for a man who loves and lives music and has used his music to create and be propelled by his own soundtrack. So it comes as very little surprise that outside of his myriad musical influences, NEAL. credits film, film scores and soundtracks as a key ingredient in songwriting.
“I grew up in a home filled with instruments, with a father who was a drummer and an avid music listener. I listened to everything from Public Enemy to The Smiths to Bad Brains, and was hipped to Bob Marley and Motown and Hendrix by my older brothers. And then there were the films…”
NEAL. is a self-proclaimed admirer of the films, but not in the way that most people dissect them. He would be more apt to breakdown the discography of the Star Wars scores than their cinematography and puts John Williams in the same category of the industry’s great composers.
Specifically citing Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schifrin, Ennio Morricone, John Williams and Burt Bacharach, Evans calls his film scorers, “The great composers of this century,” continuing, “These guys wrote songs for movies that got played on the radio. They were bona fide rock stars.”
In 2008, NEAL. took a huge first leap at joining their ranks, scoring the critically-acclaimed HBO series “The Black List” which premiered at Sundance and features a remarkable group of African Americans sharing candid stories and revealing insights into the struggles, triumphs and joys of black life in the United States.
Most recently, however, NEAL.’s career has begun its newest, and possibly its most exciting chapter to date. Leaving behind the collaborative essence of Soulive, NEAL. retreated into the recording studio…alone. The result is BANG!, an album that refuses to forego the breakbeat backbone of NEAL.’s past projects, but still ventures beyond anything he’s ever done before.
“There’s great freedom in a solo record. But with BANG! it’s more than having the ability to dictate the sound; It’s about the ability to focus on the structure, the exactness of the sound I’m trying to communicate.” NEAL. continues: “I always want to prove something with music, whether I’m playing live or creating in a studio. There’s a vulnerability that comes with a solo project, being so exposed, and that’s an important part of this project. It’s definitely an emotion that exists within the music.”
The ideas of the emotions within BANG! aren’t a novel idea, but still remain an essential ingredient in an album that is neither a soundtrack nor a concept record, but nevertheless excels at engaging a storyline for the listener. It’s an album with songs that stand alone, but that as a whole is something greater.
“I didn’t want to create one sound. I wanted to create a soundscape that encompasses many sounds and many moods. I want people to love the songs and love the album, but I also want them to hear the music and feel the music. I want them to experience the music.”
Whether this latest chapter of NEAL.’s marks a new beginning or simply a parallel storyline, the fact remains that his story is one worth following. And if you’re new to NEAL., well, maybe it’s best that you start with a BANG!