STL's Illphonics To Release 'Gone With The Trends' This Week
STL’s own Illphonics is releasing “Gone With The Trends” April 1 at KDHX’s The Stage. The group was formed by high school friends Larry Morris (emcee), Simon Chervitz (bass) and Chaz Brew (drums), although they didn’t actually come together as a band until Morris met Kevin Koehler (guitar), at Webster University while Morris was working with Keith Moore (keys).
“A former bandmate, Tom Carpenter, had access to the studio [at Webster],” Koehler recalls. “Larry was working with Keith and I on totally separate projects just for fun, then Larry came to me to throw all these songs together and record them.”
Morris, being actively involved with on-campus activities, discovered the opportunity to perform at Webster’s First Fridays. “A lot of people would show up and watch,” Morris says of these early 15-minute shows. It was the initial success surrounding these performances that led to other opportunities for the group—such as earning an opening slot for artists including Lupe Fiasco and The Roots.
“It wasn’t because of a contact this time; it was because they heard people showed up for these 15 minutes,” Morris says. It was the larger shows that put urgency on the group to come up with a name, and Illphonics eventually stuck.
Their first official record, “Sound,” came out in 2009, recorded at Webster as a document of where they came from. “Watching Larry pound out 16 songs in 8 hours was incredible,” says Koehler. “I would never do that again in the studio,” Morris says with a laugh.
“With that album, we had songs that we started to write, but they were songs of individual members,” says Morris. “It wasn’t the sum of everyone.” By their second album release, 2011’s “Illusion,” they were ready to dive deeper into their sound. “With ‘Illusion,’ we wanted to show people that we were capable of writing a particular kind of song,” says Morris.
Just one year later, Illphonics released “Reality Check,” which Morris describes as “grittier,” taking on subject matter that “had more to do with what was going on in real life at the time.” Koehler says the songs were made to sound “clean and polished,” different from earlier albums.
“Keith (keys) always said if we combined ‘Illusion’ and ‘Reality Check,’ we would’ve had a solid album,” Morris says. In 2013, the group released their first self-titled album, which Morris notes was, “where we came together more as a group and started writing songs.” Each album has served as a building block, shaping who Illphonics are today. So naturally, it’s their 2016 album, “Gone With The Trends,” that reflects that.
This album takes on concepts that the Illphonics are calling “The Seven Deadly Trends”—a list that includes irreverence, apathy, indiscretion, egocentrism, instant gratification, idolization and materialism. Chervitz (bass) says the idea of the album is to do what you like and not worry about keeping up with what everyone around you says is acceptable, cool or trendy.
“Don’t worry about how many people like your Facebook status,” he says. “Spank [Chervitz] came up with it,” Morris explains. “He had a whole vision of how he wanted it to work.”
“Ironically, we have to promote via trends,” Chervitz adds.
The songs speak to changes in the modern-day world as compared to the past, and the issues that come along with those changes. “I touch on things that I feel like people are embarrassed to say out loud,” Morris says, using their song “She” as an example. “With me, just growing up, it was cool to be courteous to women,” he explains. “Now I feel like when people are good people, and being respectful, we’re like, ‘what are your motives?’”
Along those lines, the Illphonics feel as a group that they’ve done their best to stay true to where they came from—from their style, sound and their general “MO.”
“People may not realize how true we’ve stayed to ourselves,” says Koehler. For example, Morris explains, “our formula has always been live music. If you look at the history of hip-hop, this is how it all started, before the sound machine, that’s us.” In the same sense, the Illphonics want their fans and listeners to continually encourage each other to keep doing what’s working for you and making you happy.
“A lot of times in hip-hop music, people feel like to stay relevant people have to part with who they are to fit in. We’ve done well being who we are, and we’re OK with that,” Morris says. “People still drink Coca-Cola. The original formula works—if it’s working, why change it? Love what you do and there will be people who naturally join the party,” he says.
This 13-track album features an ode to fans that have been following Illphonics through the years of their existence called “Everything (Jammin’ For You),” which Morris says is his way of telling people that the groups keeps doing this for them because they feel the love.
“Loves Not Far,” is a song that, sonically, is more pop-oriented. “Keith takes the lead vocals on this one, and the lyrics kind of hit the nail on the head personally as we were recording it,” Koehler says. “It has high emotional value.”
It’s a song about the ups and downs of relationships. The concept was formed over a phone conversation between Morris and Moore discussing their own relationships. “I was listening to pop music heavily at the time,” says Morris. “We went into the studio and Keith followed what I was doing and everyone related to it.”
“Liquid Spaceships” (I already like the sound of it) is a song that they’ve had for years. “I originally wrote it as a bass exercise to get my chops up,” Chevitz says. “It’s got a Latin vibe to it. Larry took it and made it a cool song about ridin’ around.” The song is reflective on a time growing up with music in the car that Morris describes as the determining factor whether or not you kept listening to an album. “Don’t put no weak music in my system,” he says with a smile.
The album was recorded at Smith Lee Productions in Maplewood, and also features some known local talent—singer, Kristeen Young and Lamar Harris is DJ Nune, who Koehler regards as “one of the best musicians in St. Louis.”
“If anything, I feel like this album represents territory we can go into,” Morris says. “Our roles are not defined anymore. For me, I’m an emcee, but I’ve been noticing my ability to write outside of hip-hop, but that comes from me being around them for so long. I think everybody’s history lends to how we sound.”
Illphonics have spent time down in Texas for SXSW, and they plan to continue to travel as much as possible after the release. “Gone With The Trends” is an album that showcases how much thought, time and passion goes into creating a record—the promotional work these guys have put into it is not to go unnoticed. You can keep up with all that the Illphonics will continue to accomplish by visiting their Website, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.