In late 2013, five forces of nature on the Northwest music scene gravitated toward each other and it did not take long to figure out they had something special.
In their first year as a band Marv Ellis & WE Tribe have covered a lot of ground; touring the West Coast and playing internationally, buying a tour bus and recording a debut album, “Five for One.” Blending electronic techniques new and classic, with acoustic instrumentation and hip-hop vocals, Marv Ellis & WE Tribe are poised to let the rest of the country in on what people here know: that the Northwest might have a different approach to hip-hop, but it is worth a listen.
Things really started to move forward when Marv (Garrick Bushek) had a long conversation with beat maker Sage Lien at his house in the country near Eugene. The sprawling conversation naturally covered music, but the two men also gelled on broader topics and a mutual desire to change the world. Such bright-eyed enthusiasm tends to leak from a man’s body as he enters his 30s, but for them, their abilities to communicate positive messages have increased with their age, along with their sense of responsibility to try.
Sage and Marv met years ago at Justin Higgins’ house in Eugene, but did not talk about working together. Sage described himself as from a “hip-hop generation” before Marv, and he moved out of town when Marv was starting to become well known in Oregon. To Marv, Sage is a Eugene legend. Things came full circle when the two ran into each other again and started making music. “I started having this feeling,” Sage said. “I wanted to get talented people together.”
At that point Sage had already been working with bassist Dorian Crow and Marv had been working with DJ DV8 since 2006. The final member of WE Tribe, saxophonist Matt Calkins, had played with Marv for two years in the Platform, and been in a couple bands with Crow as well.
Marv has long sought to bring together people from different backgrounds. His Imaginary Friends, at its peak, was a 12-member hip-hop orchestra. There were some legendary shows, but it collapsed under its own weight and ambition. Marv moved to Portland and started to network and play regularly, forming another band, the Platform. To him, WE Tribe is what he was trying to achieve when he started those other projects but he did not have all the tools yet to articulate what he was going for, or needed others who were on the same page as he was. He has that now. He said this project feels like everything from his musical past is coming together. “The missing thing was me letting go,” Marv said. “Letting go of the reigns empowers everybody. That’s the ‘we,’ man. It’s something I’ve been growing to love. It just feels so good. This is the least challenging project.”
Because of their mutual vision, Sage opened up his beat library to Marv. Hundreds of beats in a raw, gritty, crunchy old-school style Sage has hewn over years of intuitive beat making on his ASR-10 sampling keyboard. “I’ve been meditating on that unity message for a long time,” Sage said. “It’s about consciousness, healing, openness. We want to bring everyone in. No more judgments.”
Lofty stuff, no doubt. And these are goals a lot of “conscious” artists share. What WE Tribe believes is key here is to focus on the ever-important spiritual tool called fun.When people are happy, their hearts and minds open and they are more receptive to the messages. They don’t always say it during shows, but band members believe that everyone in the audience is part of WE Tribe. They gain energy and inspiration from the fans. To Sage, that exchange fuels the band. “The concept isn’t completely definable,” Sage said. “But I know in my heart that’s where the magic is. Love and light. You can’t run out. At every moment you can be giving 100 percent if you open up. It just flows if you get out of the way.”
Before they officially settled on WE Tribe as a band name, they joked they should call it the “Grown-ass Man Band.” The truth in this humor is another element to why the band is working so well. Each brings a lot of experience to the table, and none is trying to dominate the others. Listening, respecting and collaborating, each man gets personal artistic satisfaction while working on something larger.
DJ DV8 has worked on other projects that blended acoustic instruments with hip-hop and electronic elements, but this is the first time he really feels he has a voice. “Everyone is really valued in WE Tribe and encouraged to shine as much as possible,” DV8 said. “A lot of people think they want a DJ, but the reality of including a scratch DJ is a huge challenge.” Those experiences with other live bands, however, have helped DV8 understand how to work in a live setting. The unique configuration of two DJs in the drummer role adds another layer to their dynamic. Playing live, Sage’s beats take two to three minutes to load so they alternate, with DV8 scratching over digitally encoded vinyl with Marv’s pre-programed beats, his own beats and samples. “There are a lot of things I’ve learned, especially with live bands,” DV8 said. “I’m aware of sound, song structures and make sure I’m not overdoing it. There’s a lack of ego across the board in the way I’ve been encouraged to play.”
Bassist Dorian and saxophonist Matt had also worked together in other bands such as Eleven Eyes and Natural Progression, and each has college-level knowledge of musical theory. They readily speak the same language, and bring a lot of experience in jazz improvisation. Somehow the communication barrier present in other hybrid bands has not slowed down this one. Dorian said that because they understand each other’s ideas they can quickly build momentum and move forward. “I’ve never been in a project that’s been able to progress so fast,” he said. “The creation process involves so many people. Typically all ideas come from the beat maker or MC. With this much input from everyone, the music can be more flowing and move into different sections and ideas all in one song. We are really trying to push those positive messages. Music is such a powerful tool and we are trying to harness that power at a time when we are so inundated with negativity.”
Matt said he values being part of a group that wants to push the energy of love and peace, noting that as long as he has know Marv he has given a lot back to the community. Through a partnership with the apparel company 541 Threads, money from each WE Tribe CD and hat sale goes to feed five people. He described Sage and Marv as the “dreamers” but noted that they all share the dream. The credo, while not always spoken on stage, influences how authentically they come across on stage. “How we are putting the music together is unique,” Matt said. “My greatest hope is that it stands out as original.”
With so much love in the room, the men are free to make things up on the fly. The result is bold, fearless and full of surprises.
Marv said he does get nervous before shows, but he has complete faith they can pull off something magical each time.
“We play some pretty big shows and I never see pictures of ourselves. People are beaming,” Marv said. “We make you forget about your phone.”
released October 2, 2014
G. Bushek for Marv Ellis Music - Vocals & Beats
Danny Straton - DJ Cutz, Drops, and Scratches
Matt Calkins - Horns
Dorian Crow - Stand Up Acoustic Bass
Sage - ASR-10 Drums, Hand Rocks, and Beats
All Music was created by these 5 individuals for Marv Ellis & WE Tribe Music. Copywrite 2014. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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