The skeletal framework of a song is naturally assembled through the instruments. Lyrics blanket the shell and serve as a skin, while the meaning behind the words flows freely as its lifeblood, igniting the heartbeat of the track. The feeling emitted seems to be invisible; it’s the spirit or the soul of the tune, the unseen breath of the being—that’s Electric Soul Pandemic (ESP). The soulful band blends genres that reaches beyond a listeners’ ear canal and straght into their bones. Though only two band members are natives of Greensboro, NC, they all call “the Gate City” home.
The collective started with Jaybird Beverly and an almost entirely different group in 2008. Catalyzed by the tragedy of his brother’s death, Beverly created music as a means of comfort. Since, ESP has become a full-blown band. While they’re highly influenced by the jam-band scene of the 1990s and 2000s, they also branch out beyond noodling. Individually, each member has their own distinct genre of interest. Beverly (keys/vocals) is all about the classics. He finds passion in the renderings of George Duke, Bernie Worrell, and Herbie Hancock. In his youth, Derek Cobb (guitar/vocals) was vacuumed into the hypnotic world of Miles Davis and the droning spiritual sounds of John Coltrane. Randy Elliot (guitar) sinks deeply into the classic jam tendencies of Phish, Moe and Lotus. Scott Nichols (bass) revels in reggae. A jazz enthusiast, Justin Heter (drums) adds his own funky element to the group.
“We’re all over the place,” Cobb elaborates. “The music we make collectively is the product of our own desire to make interesting, energetic, subtly cerebral, and perhaps even subversive music that’s also entertaining.”
Three years ago Cobb and Heter (a Wilmingtonian) joined the band. Since, they have experimented with their divergent styles, resulting in a debut record, “Communications,” released last year. Comprising both instrumental tracks and lyrical tunes, song-writing duties ultimately are shared by Beverly and Cobb. The first song off “Communications,” jumps to life with eager excitemen. Written by Beverly, “Superstar” opens and introduces the album.“You’re not what you are cause of what you did,” Beverly sings.”You did what you did cause of who you are.”
“Superstar” puts each and every instrument on full display during its eight minutes: leaping sax riffs, high-energy vocals, smooth guitar licks, and a metallic keyboard that adds a strange sense of getting lost in oblivion—but it’s comfortable.
“It’s a tune that has grown and developed over time,” Cobb says. “It’s now as much a product of the band as any song of ours is. We thought it’d be a great place to start our recordation.”
When writing, Cobb lets the melody tell a story or portray a feeling with only instruments—as exemplified by “Elk Park.” The song is one of the instrumental pieces off “Communications.” It’s a nostalgic nod to a tranquil spot that shares the same name as the title, located right outside of Boone, NC. He had spent some time in exile in a beautiful cabin owned by a local reggae group.
“The spell was very influential and beneficial for me, and for a long time after I left, I couldn’t get that place off of my mind,” Cobb expounds.
Derived from his recollections, “Elk Park” evolved into an upbeat and extremely danceable track. It includes various breakdowns, with a powerful guitar lead that transfers over from “Superstar” and blends right in. It also highlights deep bass lines.
“Elk Park” does its job of translating a sensation that comes with a particular setting—the excitement and liberation that’s released naturally from experiencing a new place. When played live, it can reach over 10 minutes in length. ESP claims their material is never fully finished; it’s continuously eligible for re-workings.
Conversely, Beverly uses lyricism to convey his message. “Rundown”—a song hehad completed when he brought Cobb and the rest of the guys into ESP—demonstrates his signature lyrical style. The subject matter touches on a very American and universal theme of trying to keep up with the demands of modern life without losing touch of one’s true self. Musically, all of ESP developed the song.
“I thought a lot of Ernest Ranglin’s guitar work when writing the guitar leads,” Cobb says. “We still enjoy playing that one quite a bit, and ‘Rundown’ has become one of our more popular tunes.”
While “Communications” has been a successful venture, the band intends to push themselves further. ESP has mapped out their second album and will return to the recording studio this May. Constantly expanding their body of work, they’ve even brainstormed ideas for a third album. “A friend told me once that ‘bands are like sharks,’” Cobb says, “If they don’t move forward, they die.”
Electric Soul Pandemic
Wednesday, May 7th
1 S. Front Street
9:30 p.m. • $5