Previously known as Black Coffee, South Of Eden play loud and fast and have a great time doing it. Their latest EP, The Talk, was produced by Greg Wells, whose other clients include Carrie Underwood, Twenty One Pilots, and Katy Perry.
On this episode, we talk with Ehab and bassist Nick Frantianne to learn their origin story and find out how they write songs. These two have a kind of rapport that leads to jabs like Ehab accusing Nick of having "stoned thoughts even when he's not stoned," but it's underscored with heaps of respect earned during those hours in the studio.
What rock and roll means to youNick: It's just about the attitude. It's doing things your way and not letting anybody stop you. Every aspect of it - it's going to be that or it wouldn't be rock and roll.
Arabic music to rock and rollEhab: I was fortunate enough to be raised on Arabic music. That kind of style and beat may be strange to the Western culture style of music where dancing and interpretive things are what coincide, and the scales are so strange compared to what we play now.
Nick: Minor, minor key baby. [laughs]
Ehab: But I was also lucky enough to have parents that did enjoy the Western culture, and we ended up moving here. But things like Bon Jovi and Michael Jackson and George Michael and Phil Collins - those people made it over to the Middle East and I had a huge drawing towards Michael Jackson because his music is so worldly - there were so many different styles that he took from a lot of different people. When I ended up coming here that's what I revolved around. Motown was a big thing, James Brown and all those guys were absolutely amazing.
When I met this kid [Nick], he was like, "Listen, man, I know you like Lady Gaga and all that fun stuff, but there's this band called Iron Maiden. And Guns N' Roses, and Megadeth..."
Nick: He had never even heard rock in his life. I had him come to this audition for my band in middle school, and I let him learn "Rocket Queen" by Guns N' Roses and "Run To The Hills" by Iron Maiden - two of the hardest songs ever - and he did it.
Ehab: I texted him, I was like, "Yo, I don't know what they're saying." He sent me the live version of "Rocket Queen," and I'd never heard of Axl Rose before. I was like, "Why does this guy sound like he's gargling nails? This isn't Lady Gaga."
In the recorded version I heard those moans in the bridge. I looked it up and it was like Axl banged Steven Adler's girlfriend at the time on the couch with the room mics around. I was like, "What?" It's all about the art apparently.
Corrupting EhabEhab: I didn't always know that I could sing because my parents relentlessly told me that I couldn't sing. They were like, "You must be a doctor," and that was the plan for a long time. It wasn't until people like Nick were like, "Hey man, you're not that good but I feel like you have something in there."
I was like 15 at the time when I started getting into it, and it just took a lot of practice - a lot of blowing my voice out - and I would really say that my voice has developed a lot in the last two years. Before that, I kind of sound like crap - I still have those days. But it's humbling to hear that so many people like my voice and think that I can do all this stuff. It's awesome, and I appreciate it.
Forming the bandEhab: Nick went to Boston to pursue music, and Justin, who is our guitar player, went to Boston to pursue music as well - he went to Berklee. So, he had a bunch of friends that were going to Berklee and they had this sick band in Boston. Justin was more or less just studying and doing his thing, and me and Tommy took the remnants of what was left over between the two bands and created this little side project that was just for fun. Tommy kept telling me about this kid named Justin out in Boston, and I kept telling Tommy about this kid named Nick out in Boston.
Justin comes for a winter break. I come over because he and Tommy are jamming on the riff for what became "I Barely Know Her," and in a week or two we wrote this thing that became our debut album as the band called Black Coffee, which is now being called "the demo." It was a three-piece: I was playing bass and singing.
Nick, maybe six months later, ended up moving back to Columbus. When it came time, it was like, "Hey, I'm tired of playing bass, we need to make this thing real with a real bass player - someone that actually knows what they're doing."
We held auditions, and as soon as Nick said that he wanted to do it, we just stopped auditions and were like, "Cool." And as soon as he came in, it was like, this is the guy. We jammed and it was like, here's the bottle, here's the lightning. It was a breakthrough.
Nick: When we were auditioning, he was calling me consistently, just telling me who they're trying out and why it went terribly and why they can't find anybody.
Ehab: It's definitely challenging to find a bass player that isn't actually a guitar player. He just completely understands the fundamentals of the bass, not only playing it superbly but knowing how this space needs to be filled by this frequency, or this is the time for bass fills, not here. He is so about the song, rather than just being about himself, and that's really what makes him an unbelievable bass player.
Does everyone contribute to songwriting?Ehab: Yeah. Everybody does. It's a really collaborative process. Nick is constantly writing. Justin's constantly writing and so am I. Tommy is this wild card of a person that you just throw on top.
Nick: His ideas just span so far. They're really, really good or really, really bad.
Ehab: No matter what though, it's like "We'll do something. We'll figure that out," and sometimes it's like, "Holy crap what are you doing? I would never have thought of that in a million years."
All of us have such awesome epiphanies and awesome moments with each other and even without each other. Sometimes, it's like, "Hey, here's this song 'Morning Brew,' here's the whole thing top to end." That's how that song came up. Then there's other songs like "Solo." Nick had this idea and everyone else was just like throwing in pieces of the puzzle. So it comes in a lot of different forms.
InfluencesNick: Everyone has their own influences, which is kind of the reason it works so well. Tommy is very influenced by late '70s stuff, Ehab is a big fan of Chris Cornell and '90s grunge, Justin's kind of all over the place - he loves pretty much everything, especially Eddie Van Halen.
Ehab: He loves the '80s.
Nick: I'm also all over the place. I enjoy a lot of loud music.
Ehab: He's post-2001. You're like a 2005 guy.
Ehab's plan for when his voice blowsEhab: When I'm in my 30s, I'm going to change the way I sing because I'll have blown my voice out by then. I've just kind of accepted it. You can talk about Robert Plant, Brian Johnson, Axl Rose, M Shadows, David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar is just starting to teeter. You can't do it forever unless you're like Ronnie James Dio. Ronnie James didn't warm up. There are stories of this man making fun of people warming up while he smoked a cigarette and drank a glass of white wine.
I think Robert Plant's a god, and even though he sings completely differently now, I think he's an amazing live performer. I'm just going to use what I have while I have it, and later down if I end up sounding like Johnny Cash, then it is what it is.
Global reachEhab: There's a French radio station that plays us, there are Australian fans, and there's Jordanian fans, there's Middle Eastern fans. It's super cool, especially on Spotify where you can see how many people in each country are listening. It's just mind blowing that you can spread so quickly. We can't wait for the world to open up so we can start touring again and show America what it's all about. Then eventually show South America and show Europe and make it to Dublin, Ireland.
Nick: Do you ever sit here and think of how big the world actually is?
Ehab: I get high and I think about it all the time.
Nick: It's crazy to just zoom out a little bit and then scroll and try to go to other countries - you have to scroll forever. The world is huge, and the fact that it's like all over is nuts.
Ehab: He has stoned thoughts when he's not stoned. That's Nick.
Working with producer Greg WellsNick: It was wild.
Ehab: Yeah man, super, super, super crazy. He is the wizard, that's what we dubbed him. What's really crazy about the guy is how laid back and how hands-off he is. He let us do everything that we wanted to do and more. He helped us achieve a lot of things we didn't really know how to do, including recording to tape. So he really guided us not only in a musical aspect but in a music business and life aspect. He was a mentor to us. We basically lived in LA for three months and we were in close quarters with the guy. We learned a lot.
Nick: Just unreal, the whole thing.
"The Talk"Ehab: I call it our "future song" because it was written last year but the lyrical content seems to be very much relatable to nowadays.
The music came very fluidly - that was probably the one that Greg contributed the most on. He was like, "I've been working with you guys for a few days, I have this idea in my head."
Nick: We didn't even want to write it.
Ehab: Yeah, we didn't want to do it. We were like, "That's kind of major."
We were all fiddling on acoustic guitars, and Greg had this idea. He could hear something that we weren't hearing. He plugged in an electric guitar and said, "Listen to this riff," and he plays this major, happy-sounding riff. It took about five minutes of us getting our hands on it and just twisting it and making it this raunchier thing.
From that riff to the verse is just an iconic bassline, and then that beautiful, soft, sultry guitar. The first lyric was written as the melody was being written: "In these trying times."
So, I knew very early on that this song is about the scope of what's been happening in our climate. What's been happening since like the early 2000s with our political climate, with our governmental climate, with the way that businesses are running things, the way that parents are now teaching things.
That song is about "the man" being a hypocrite, and that man is your parent or your boss or whoever is president at the time, regardless of what party, regardless of what race, regardless of any of that. At the end of the day, to me it seems like all they do is talk. It seems like no matter what things we're going through, it just ends up being funneled into the same thing.
The message is to think for yourself. Look around, take the goggles off, and think macroscopically rather than analyzing everything right here in front of your face.
Nick: It starts in the practice space when we're in writing sessions because that is one of the most important things about making an awesome song: the dynamics of the whole thing. So a lot of times, we'll start with a riff, and if it's an upbeat, fast-paced, aggressive thing, I always try to have a part that is the exact opposite and then if we need to, we find a way to bridge them. But my writing process is all about dynamics, all the time.
Ehab is a very dynamic singer and he has an awesome soft register as well as that crazy scream. When you can locate to both of those, it makes for a great outcome.
Ehab's Michael Jackson screamNick: We did a livestream concert the other day and I was listening to his vocal track, and he did that probably 40 times in the concert recording. I told everyone I made a whole compilation.
Ehab: Yeah, one of them is literally an R2D2 scream - it's just so high. They call that a "whistle voice." It's like a whistle register and you control it and shift it around and move the pitch. I put it at the end to put a little extra flavor on there.
Nick: I don't know how a human voice can do that.
Ehab: That's probably why my parents told me I couldn't sing. They were like, "You just make noise. I don't know what you're doing."
If you had to listen to one band the rest of your lifeNick: I'm gonna say Avenged Sevenfold.
Ehab: I thought he was going to pick Dave Matthews Band. I would've picked Avenged Sevenfold, but then I remembered Michael Jackson. I gotta go with MJ - he's the man.
Nick: I'm changing my answer to Dave Matthews Band.
Ehab: He loves Dave Matthews Band. He could probably rattle off 20 songs right now.
Nick: They're incredible. The drummer, his snare tone is what really makes it for me. It's just a dope sound.
Which would you choose: record an album or go on a world tour?Nick and Ehab: World tour!
Ehab: 50% because that seems like the sweeter option, and 50% because we are cooped up in the house right now, so we want to get on the road so bad. Touring is closer to vacation... it's a shitty vacation in-between the shows as you're driving down the highway, but studio is hard work. It's focus and sweat and sometimes Justin cries, so there's even tears.
October 14, 2020
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