We spoke in depth with Saint Petersburg funk band Ajeva during the 8th Annual Orange Blossom Jamboree to learn the history of their ongoing evolution. Not only are the guys a powerhouse of excitement on stage, they are just as colorfully entertaining in a casual setting. Get to know Reed Skahill (lead Vox/Guitar), Skyler Golden (lead Guitar), Mark Mayea (lead Keys), Taylor Gilchrist (bass) and Travis Young (drums) in this candid interview which could easily be turned into a reality t.v. show about the life of musicians on the road.
Every Ajeva performance is high energy – it’s what has given your band a name thus far. We’ve caught two Ajeva shows in the last month and there is an even greater dynamic and level of animation than usual. Would you say being on tour this spring has brought out more in you?
Skyler: That is a big part of it. On this tour we really took the time to shape our sound and tighten up everything. We had a good bonding experience. We went to all the beautiful places on the way and it really brought us together as a band. We went to The Land of Waterfalls in Brevard, North Carolina. We all jumped in the ice-cold river together. That’s where all the inspiration came from – needing to warm our bodies. [laughs]
Yes, almost freezing to death tends to bring people closer together. So, did you play in any new cities on this tour? What were those experiences like?
Taylor: There were a few new cities on the tour. We went to Tybee Island, GA for the first time. That was a pretty cool place. We were at this bar called Huc-A-Poos. It’s an interesting name, and also an interesting bar. I’d say the highlight of that show was some guy brought out his 15-year-old son who was a badass on the keyboards. He jammed with us. That was probably one of my favorite things…
Reed: We ended up staying with them at their house.
Taylor: Yeah, we stayed at their house. It was pretty cool. We also went to Athens, GA for the first time. And we went to Raleigh, NC for the first time…
Reed: [whispers loudly] ‘Get out!’
Taylor: Oh, yeah. That was not as nice of a place to stay. So, we were woken up by some lady screaming at us to get out of her house.
Reed: We met this guy and thought we were staying at his house, but it was actually his mother’s house.
Taylor: She was apparently working in Atlanta but came home because the neighbors called and told her he started a bonfire in their backyard and that our trailer was parked in their yard. We were all in the living room and she looked at us and said, ‘What are you doing? Why are you sitting there? Get out! This isn’t a hotel!’
Taylor: We went from sleeping to being up and in our car in about a minute.
Reed: It actually worked out because we ended up having more time at the waterfall [that day].
Travis: The funniest part was when she kicked in our door and was like, ‘get the f*ck outta here’ and Skyler wakes up, looks at her and is like ‘nah’ and goes back to sleep! Like it’s all cool.
I’m sure when things take off for you and the accommodations improve, these are always going to be the things you remember to keep you grounded and appreciate your beginnings. So, we’re at Orange Blossom Jamboree right now. How many years have you played this fest?
Travis: This is our fourth year. It’s pretty cool seeing the progression of things. The first year they stuck us in the field stage at noon on a Sunday. We were like, ‘well what can we do?’ We had our friend Greg making pancakes on stage while we were playing. Unfortunately a little pancake griddle shut off the entire stage. I was like, ‘oops, I guess I gotta do a drum solo now.’
Taylor: Reed was in the crowd rapping. Another one of friends was doing interpretive dance. That was fun.
Travis: The second year was better. We had a Saturday day set on the side stage which was good. Last year was good – they put us on the side stage for a late night on Thursday. And last night’s show felt like redemption in a way – like, yes! We finally got to play on the main stage. It was a lot of fun. The sound was great and the people were great.
So last night’s show felt like a big accomplishment?
Travis: Definitely. We started on the bottom as the little tiny letters, now we’re almost at the top. It feels good.
It’s like you can literally see your career growing as the font of your band’s name gets larger on the event flyers.
Travis: Yeah, it’s slowly getting bigger.
OBJ has an atmosphere all its own. Describe what you think contributes to it being such a special occasion.
Mark: OBJ was my first music festival ever. I saw Ajeva during their second year here, at the side stage. I camped next to our bass player, Taylor, and his girlfriend Kari and a few other locals from St. Petersburg. I had never heard of any of the bands before. I was completely unaware of the lineup. I came with another jazz/funk band I was playing with. We played at 4:20 on the main stage my first year. It was sweltering hot. It was over 100 degrees.
I witnessed Ajeva play and I became really good friends with Travis. Intermittently for the next few months I traveled back and forth from West Palm where I was living to St. Pete to see these guys play and see some of my family. One weekend at OBJ and seeing all the bands play, especially Ajeva, inspired my move to St. Pete. It’s been almost two years since I joined the band.
Taylor: It’s definitely a family vibe. Everyone’s really friendly. Everyone’s safe and you don’t have to worry about anything. The energy in the air is different here. It’s cool. The people bring their own energy and become a part of the music. They influence the playing – they get you pumped up. It makes it a lot of fun. You feel like you’re right at home.
Reed: It’s nice going to all these cities and meeting people and then Orange Blossom Jamboree is all these cities coming together. It’s nice to look out and see all those familiar faces.
Skyler: It’s inspiring for us to have that kind of support and family behind us. It drives us to bet better musicians and put on a better show for the people each time.
Which members play in other bands? I know a couple of you play with Come Back Alice as well.
Taylor: Mark and myself play in Come Back Alice. We also play in a band called Joose with the drummer and percussionist from Come Back Alice, the saxophone player, Christian Ryan, from Holey Miss Moley and our friend Justino Walker from Justino and the Difference. Travis plays with Wildroot. They’re all playing this weekend as well.
Reed: I’m going to do a song with Future Vintage tonight.
Taylor [to Skyler]: Are you playing with anyone else?
Skyler: No, I’m just doing some crazy sh*t in the woods.
Taylor: You gotta be careful – you’ll be walking through the woods and Skyler will be there butt naked with a guitar shredding.
When you do these types of spontaneous things, we need a time and location. Give us the heads up first.
Skyler: It costs $5.
We interviewed Come Back Alice a couple weeks ago and they mentioned having a shared studio with your band in St. Pete. Tell us about that. [Read interview here]
Taylor: It’s basically an old office building in the industrial sector of Gulfport, FL near St. Petersburg. We have one office unit and they have one next door.
Reed: Funky D is on the end [of the building]. That’s not even all of the bands. There’s like fifteen bands in there.
Taylor: Yeah, we’re all real close. It’s almost like we’re cross-pollinating in there. All sorts of people come by and jam. There are countless musicians coming through Funky D’s studio. It’s almost like a music hub. People come to create ideas and hang out. We’ve had some cool after parties at that spot.
Skyler: We’ve had like mini festivals there.
For someone who isn’t familiar with your music, list your top three most popular songs.
Travis: According to Spotify: “Off the Mountain”, “Fritters” and “The Rise.”
Mark: That’s funny because we haven’t played “The Rise” since our album release in April of last year. I’m surprised that’s one of the most played songs on that album. Skyler and I were not on the new album “Evolve” when it was created. Well, I had the organ on “Floating Molecules” for the last little part.
Taylor: I’d say “Floating Molecules” is one of our top songs too. That’s a song that everybody knows the words to. We’ve been playing it for awhile.
Skyler: And soon “Funky Green Men.”
“Funky Green Men” seems to be catching on quickly and getting a big crowd response.
Taylor: That’s the new one. We’re going to be recording it soon.
Reed: After OBJ we’re going into the studio. It’ll be the first album that Mark and Skyler are a part of.
Travis: We’re going on the road a lot more with this album so we’re setting up a kickstarter for the album and a vehicle in about a week.
[Click here to support Ajeva’s new album & vehicle]
How long ago did you record Evolve? It sounds like you’ve made several band changes since then. Tell us about the process behind creating that project.
Taylor: We released it in February of 2016, but we recorded it in 2015. When we first recorded it, it was meant to be a concept album. It was basically two long songs cut up into a bunch of different songs. It was meant to be listened to as one full thought essentially.
After we recorded everything and started producing it, we felt like the second half was missing something. We brought in a bunch of our friends from the Hometeam family – like JuanJamon, Tony Tyler, Dani Jaye, Christian Ryan, and Sara Phillips. There’s all these musicians filling in, playing solos and melodies over what we were playing on the second half. It took awhile to get it out but it was worth the wait.
So the album literally evolved as you put it together. Is that why you chose to title it Evolve?
Taylor: Yeah, that sort of is why. The first half of the album is just the four-piece band playing together. You get through the first half of the CD, and when you get to the second half, Juan is ripping a solo over this crazy, weird section and then it turns into this whole other animal. So yeah, it evolves. I really like the way it came out. I’m really excited about the new one and having [Mark and Skyler] on it as well. It’s all new music we’ve written together since they’ve joined the band.
Do you have a title for the new album yet?
Taylor: Not yet. I think we’re going to put it together and see how it makes us all feel.
Ajeva will be playing Ka’Tiki in Treasure Island on May 26th. Welcome the guys back to the St. Pete area and keep an ear open for new music coming soon.