Music: Summer Music Series - Part 3
Andrew Zakher of the Las Vegas based band Almost Normal leans forward in his chair fixating his eyes across the arena. The band along with close friend and hip-hop artist Ekoh are attending an MMA title match inside the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
“They always come out to ‘Eye of the Tiger’. Every time.”
Andrew–tall, skinny with a witty tone when he speaks is sidetracked as he discusses a particular comment his bandmate Ashley Lampman made in a recent interview with journalist Jon Bonham.
Before Almost Normal was a duo, they were accompanied by two other band members. Jon’s interview question was regarding a very personal split, and the formation of a new sound. Though, Andrew isn’t nervous about the interview for the magazine feature; he’s nervous about the outcome of the fight.
The bell rings to signal the end of the first round between the two under card fighters. Andrew sits back in his chair.
“We have a few surprises for you at our show.”
An Almost Normal show is exactly what their name embodies. It’s never what it seems. The band itself seems like it shouldn’t work. Andrew, a drummer with a percussion background along with Ashley, lead singer and guitarist–is sort of like watching Travis Barker play with Christina Perri. The two styles come together in a way similar to how Ray Charles infused rhythm and blues with gospel music. But in this case, it’s an infusion of alternative and electronica. They tap into their environment; incorporating their music with today’s modern production. You may be watching an Almost Normal show, but feel like you are in a Las Vegas night club with no ropes.
(Photo by Fred Morledge)
(Photo by Fred Morledge)
Friday, June 13
The band invites me and a friend to dinner in downtown Las Vegas. Before we go; we meet Andrew and Ashley at their recording studio which sits on Dean Martin Drive right behind the Las Vegas Strip.
Ashley is busy on her laptop while Andrew chats with us about their upcoming gig at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
“I need a new one.”
Referring to her laptop.
“You want to hear some songs before we go?”
They take us into a small room with no windows positioned in the back of the building. At least I think it’s the back of the building. Ashley is adjusting the lighting in the room to a red hue. Andrew is still talking about the gig. He is describing what it might be like if the Blue Man Group were to play with them.
The kick drum begins to thump. I look over and see Andrew’s drumsticks fly up in the air in a technique that can only be described with the words ‘controlled’ and ‘chaos’ while Ashley’s cinematic airwaves and vigilant guitar riffs capture an extraordinary sound. It’s hard to take your eyes off them.
They perform “This Is Life” off of their EP “In Technicolor”. After the track finishes, Ashley switches from an acoustic guitar to a teal-green electric Gibson. As she tunes the guitar, the notes for Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” start to come out from the amps. She steps on different pedals to distort the sound.
“See how this sounds.”
They begin to play an unreleased song called “Mistakes”.
Wednesday, June 25
Life is Beautiful
I send a text to Andrew asking him if he is going to the ‘Life is Beautiful Food & Music Festival’ Line-up Party being held inside Brooklyn Bowl. A text comes back;
“Yes! I’ll be running the tracks for my good friend Ekoh.”
Ekoh along with a surprise guest will be hosting tonight’s party. I arrive at the venue at 7:00 pm. The place is packed wall-to-wall with curious fans. After Ekoh performs a stellar opening set, eager fans await the surprise. Finally, curiosity turns into reality as Girl Talk takes the stage. Balloons and confetti fall from the rafters. I spot Andrew and Ekoh.
Andrew is explaining to me how he was originally supposed to play drums for Ekoh’s set, but Girl Talk’s production took up most of the stage.
“We rehearsed and finally got it down, but got the word that we couldn’t do it.”
Upon exiting the venue, I see Ashley. She looks as if she’s looking for someone.
Ashley Lampman is a very rare talent. Musically curious, she embodies what it takes to be an eclectic lead singer.
“From when I wake up, till when I go to sleep, I’m thinking about different approaches for the band.”
“The Cosmopolitan is our ring. Kind of like our fight.”
She speaks from both a music and live production point of view. Working with producer Pat Hundley, Ashley knows it’s time to win over crowds as they’ve already got a handle on records.
Thursday, July 3
Headed towards The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, the thermometer in my car reads 114F. Ashley and Andrew have asked me to meet them at the pool for sound check. When I arrive at the Cosmopolitan, I meet Matt Farmer of the Entertainment Team who provides my credentials for tonight’s event.
The Entertainment offices at the Cosmopolitan look like something out of the “Wolf of Wall Street”. There’s a mix of desks, cubicles, and offices all surrounded by an alignment of posters from past shows. I spot posters for Aloe Blacc, Mumford and Sons, Cold Play, Jay Z, and Vampire Weekend just to name a few. There’s also a small Christmas tree decorated with American flags near the front of the office.
“That’s the office holiday tree. I have nothing to do with it.”
Matt quickly explains as we exit the room headed towards the pool.
“Hey, be nice Farmer” comes out from one of the offices.
Arriving at the pool we spot Andrew and Ashley talking to the stage technicians where they will be performing tonight. Andrew is dressed in all black. Ashley has her glasses on and is wearing a purple sequenced shirt with black pants and black boots. By their style and general composure, any bystander can tell these two are artists of some kind even if they’re not exactly sure what for.
The technicians asks us to return to the stage for final sound check at 7:00 pm. In the meantime Ashley and I grab a slice of pizza upstairs while Andrew checks to see if Blue Ribbon is open for chicken wings.
A text comes back, “They’re open!”
After dinner, I meet the band along with producer Pat Hundley in the green room that sits on the balcony overlooking the pool. I get the chills. Not because the air conditioning is blasting, but because of who’s been in this room before me; Kendrick Lamar, Florence and the Machine, Ellie Goulding, Lorde, Kid Cudi–Ashley and Andrew don’t seemed to be phased by this. In fact, Ashley is on her laptop.
I leave the green room and go around the balcony to watch the show from the side of the stage. The house music dims and the track for “This Is Life” starts to play. Ashley comes out in a black hoodie. Andrew’s drums sound big. The stage lighting goes from ‘cool’ colors to ‘hot’ as the drums speed up with the track. It’s history in the making.
“This song is about overcoming some of the struggles we had as a band.”
Andrew switches from drums to keyboard and begins to play the keys for their song “Oblivion”. Ashley gives the crowd a speech about the song. It’s a perfect fit for a ‘VH1 Behind the Music’ moment as she keeps the attention of the crowd. Music plays in the background while a narration is formed. It’s a ‘call and response’ tactic most notably used during church sermons. It stands out.
After the ballad, which included a pulsating ‘Blue Man-like’ drum solo from both Andrew and Ashley, the band performs “Monsters” with Ekoh. I take my eyes off the band for a minute to look across the pool. I reach for my phone to take a picture of the crowd with the Las Vegas strip in the background. My hands are shaking.
Taj Simpson is OLE MASON JAR's Director of Music and Lifestyle who lives in Las Vegas, NV. Always dressed for the right occasion, Taj also has a keen ear for the right sound...keeping us at the forefront of the music scene, and in tune with the freshest tracks and artists you may / or may not have heard of.