Brian: On DC Music Rocks, we're shining a spotlight on the great songs and incredible people behind the DC region's local music scene. And since it's inception in late 2012, the Washington, D.C., based band, Aztec Sun has hypnotized the ears and feet of D.C.'s live music aficionados. So, no matter the scale of the venue, this ensemble maintains an upbeat and retro groove steeped in '70s funk, soul, jazz, Afro-funk, and Motown era pop. It's like all my favorites. Those are five of the favorites, it's so good. Their infectious song writing and energetic live performances have yielded rewards for the group such as being name "Best Local Original Band" by the Washington City paper. I've got the group, they're here with me now. They're on the show. And with an EP under their belt and an ever-growing fan base, and a passion for spreading feel-good music, Aztec Sun will seek new audiences to entertain and opportunities to push their brand of funk with soul.
I first came across these guys because I caught them at the Halloween show at Black Cat was the first time I ever saw you guys live. And you did a Michael Jackson cover. I'm a huge fan of your original music and I was loving all of your original music. And then you played Michael Jackson and that's when you ended up in my heart, guys. Oh my god, because then it's Michael, and Motown era, and it's like all my favorite words in one. I've been such a fan. So guys, thank you so much for being here.
Steph: Thank you for having us.
Ray: Thanks for having us Brian, yeah.
Steph: I've been a fan of the show.
Brian: This is wonderful. Now, talk about how the band came together.
Steph: So the band came together through Craig's List. It was-
Brian: No way! Craig's List?
Steph: Craig's List.
Brian: Wow! Okay.
Steph: Yeah, you can find a lot of stuff on Craig's List. The old lead guitarist, Galen, put out on a post on Craig's List and was looking for a drummer, bass player, and a funk singer. So, three other people showed up and we started jamming together at the old One World Studios. Decided that we wanted to become a band and then just starting getting opportunities to gig. I think our first gig was in our friend's apartment living room, or something. And from there, house parties. Then started pitching ourselves to small bars, and here we are.
Brian: Wow. Where was the first bar you ever played? What was the first venue?
Steph: I think we were opening for ... The Bend at Eastside Shuffle. We were opening for them at Acre 121.
Steph: That was our opening.
Brian: Yeah. Old school.
Steph: Old school.
Brian: Yeah, back in the day. I love it. Now, what about the name Aztec Sun. Where does that come from?
Steph: The name Aztec Sun. A lot of our band is collaborative. Now we are eight people and so you just have to be collaborative, otherwise, the whole thing falls apart. And so we just wanted to find a name that represented sort of the sense of community that we felt, 'cause we're all sort of in some way foreign to D.C. but have made D.C. our home. We wanted something that invoked just string colors, just light, and different cultures and things like that. So we came up through kind of throwing different nouns at a wall and actually a Google spreadsheet-
Brian: Ha ha-
Steph: Seriously. Google, Craig's List, Internet. Yeah, just trying to see what stuck and we ended up with Aztec Sun and that kind of made the most sense to us and five years later here we are, still a band.
Brian: So, when you say Aztec Sun, is there an image that comes to mind, or what do you see when you see Aztec Sun? You picked those words, what did it mean? Why those? Was it something special? What was it?
Ray: To me it means, it represents a good time, a party. You know, people are coming to see us, they're probably gonna see all eight of us or nine of us are on stage laughing at each other, smiling, doing synchronized dance routines. But it's just pretty much like a party atmosphere. That's kind of what it reminds me of. And then kind of community, you know, we're friends with people who come see our shows, and we're all friends outside of the band. So, it's a fun community.
Brian: Yeah, I gotcha. Now, what's your D.C. area connection? Where do you live? What's your connection to the city?
Ray: I live in Bloomingdale.
Steph: I live in Meridian Hill, [inaudible 00:04:19] Hill/Adams Morgan.
Brian: And how long have you been in the city?
Steph: I've been in the city now for five years this time around, and then before that in middle school and high school I was here for about 10 years.
Brian: Got it.
Ray: I've been in D.C. for about 10 years.
Brian: Wow, a little while. And I just realized they're on the radio, so they can't see you. Tell them with your voices, your name and what you play in the band. We forgot to do that.
Steph: I'm Steph. I'm the lead singer and the rhythm guitarist, and spiritual guru.
Brian: We'll come back to spiritual guru. All right. Gotcha. And Ray.
Ray: I'm Ray Lem. I play lead guitar and some rhythm guitar. And I am the band's resident comedian.
Steph: Yeah. Accurate.
Brian: Got it. Yeah, if you saw the picture for this episode, if you haven't seen it go look at the picture because it's a perfect shot of Ray with the evil little grin-
Steph: He does that all the time. It's a problem.
Brian: I want to call him, I feel like we need to get him a shirt that says Mr. Smiles. Because, he just, whenever I've seen you guys play he's always up there and he's grinning like a ... it's wonderful.
Steph: He's always looking for the camera that's pointed at him. It's great.
Ray: And make a funny face.
Brian: And Steph, you said spiritual guru. What do you mean?
Steph: Yeah. I think I have the immense pleasure and honor to be surrounded by a bunch of friends that like my crazy ideas and will listen to them and decide that they'll follow them. So, in some way I just become sort of like a spiritual guidance for us. But, yeah, that's me.
Brian: I mean, your ideas have been great so far now. Talk about you guys outside of the music then. On the personal side, hobbies, what to you do aside from music?
Ray: Me, I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend Amy. Hi if you're listening.
Steph: Shout out to Amy.
Brian: Amy, we appreciate you too.
Ray: Other than that I practice a lot. But I like drinking beer. I like watching Game of Thrones. I love learning new dad jokes.
Brian: Dad jokes?
Steph: Oh yeah.
Brian: All right. Steph's gonna talk and then I want you to share a dad joke?
Steph: Do you want a dad joke now, it's probably worth it.
Brian: You ready?
Ray: Yeah. Sure.
Brian: Tell me a dad joke.
Ray: Did you hear about the hungry clock?
Ray: No? It went back for seconds.
Brian: So, that's not dad jokes, that's bad jokes.
Ray: Ohhhh! You know what's so funny, everyone says that and I don't believe them.
Steph: But we laugh all the time. You know, it's start-
Brian: It's the accent. He's speaking with an accent. It's ze bad jokes, it's the dad jokes. Yeah, yeah.
Steph: Oh man. He hits us with those all the time and it feels like, ahhh, but now we're always either waiting for them or doubled over in laughter.
Brian: There's another, hold on. Steph, tell us about you outside and then we'll come back to the second.
Steph: I work in HR outside, which I guess it makes it easier to corral people, we hope, knock on wood. Yeah, so I work in HR. I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend Rachel.
Ray: Hi Rachel. Shout out to Rachel.
Steph: And I play soccer. I actually injured myself on Sunday, pulled my hamstring, which is a recurring injury. I like making music. I also watch Game of Thrones. We're often sharing conspiracy theories about that.
Brian: About Game of Thrones.
Steph: And just chilling. A thing I used to do in my high school French is go somewhere and do nothing.
Brian: What position do you play in soccer?
Steph: I've played every position except keeper, but right now I'm playing striker.
Brian: And striker, for those who don't follow soccer is up front.
Steph: It's the forward, the one who tries to score the goals.
Brian: Got it. The guy who tries to score. Story of your life?
Ray: That was a bad joke.
Steph: That was a mean joke.
Brian: All right. And one more while we're on this. Ray, give us another one.
Ray: How do you find Will Smith in a snowstorm?
Ray: Look for fresh prints. You're laughing, it has to be funny.
Brian: It is. I really enjoy it.
Ray: Yes, it worked.
Brian: I love it. So, now, what do you guys have in your music collection that might surprise us?
Steph: You know, I'm a huge fan, so, my girlfriend and I like to take long road trips and when we do we listen to a lot of music, cause that's a huge thing share. And I'm a huge fan of '90s pop music, because for some reason there's a very thin line between '90s pop music and R&B. And so there are a lot of tonalities that I really enjoy. So probably you'd be surprised that my first two CDs were two copies of "Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears.
Brian: Two copies? Two! Britney Spears. Will you cover. Will you ever do a cover Britney Spears.
Ray: We have covered her.
Steph: We covered [crosstalk 00:09:09]
Brian: Have you? Oh my god.
Steph: We made it kind of like old-timey soul kind of thing. Yeah.
Brian: Ah, that's amazing. I love it. All right. Ray, what about you.
Ray: People who know me would know this, but I really like bluegrass a lot! A lot of bluegrass. I like Del McCoury, Sam Bush, and a lot of new guys like GreenSky, MilkDrive. Who else have I been listening to? Yeah, there are some more.
Brian: While I'm thinking about it, shout out to Two Ton Twig, the bluegrass band in D.C., if you haven't checked them out.
Ray: Whoa, good stuff.
Brian: They were at the 930 club this past weekend. Whoa, so good. Love Two Ton Twig. So now, one of my favorite questions to ask everybody when they come on the show is, if you could offer one piece of advice, what would it be?
Steph: No context?
Brian: No context.
Steph: Do it.
Brian: Say more. What does that mean?
Steph: It's just, I'll put it in the context of this band. I think we have a great opportunity and we realize this every so often, or will remember every so often that we can have fun with it and when we do have fun with it, that's what translates to our playing and it translates to the people who come and see us. So I think just doing it, just getting out there and playing, and getting on Craig's List and meeting up with other musicians, and just go do it.
Brian: Go do it. Don't talk about it, do it!
Brian: I like it. All right, Ray, what about you?
Ray: Mine is follow your passion. You know, if you really enjoy doing something, push for that. If you want to try to make that what you do for a living, do it, or if it's a supplemental thing. But music for me, I had kind of gotten into the game a little bit late, andnever-
Brian: What does that mean? Got in a little bit late?
Ray: I started playing guitar when I was 22.
Brian: Stop it! Really?
Ray: Yeah, about my junior year of college. God, I wasn't in high school at the age of 22.
Brian: More bad jokes. We got more bad jokes.
Ray: And it was so much fun, I just practiced and practiced. And one day I was like, I want to be in a band and try to do this, you know. So, just follow your passion and keep going.
Brian: There you go. And for you, I mean, playing lead guitar and you got some killer, you're shredding the guitar on some of these solos. Was it, did you take lessons?
Ray: A lot of it is both. I've taken lessons from this great D.C. guitar player named Max Raven. I've also taken lessons from one of the jazz greats in D.C., Steve Herberman. But the one thing about it is you can take lessons, but a lot of it is just like, you know, you just gotta shed, you gotta sit down and practice, with any instrument.
Brian: Absolutely. God, that's amazing. All right. And for those folks who want to find out more about Aztec Sun and follow what you guys are doing, where do they go?
Steph: Facebook.com/aztecsunband, basically @aztecsunband on most platforms, and then aztecsunband.com.
Brian: Aztecsunband.com, got it. And do you have, is there one, sometimes people have a preference on one, they like one social media platform more than another. Do you favor one or do you use all three?
Ray: As long as they come to the shows early ...
Brian: So I guess that answer is they post a little bit everywhere.
Brian: And they would love to see you.
Steph: Outlook probably has the most tracks for us. Like Ray said, everything's a subterfuge to get you to the show.