published Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Eclectic artist Afro looks forward to broadening audiences' minds in 2013

Afro is, from left to right, Blake Gallant (bass/vocals), Kaitlyn Connor (keys/vocals), Adam Mullis (guitar/vocals), Michael Toman (drums) and Jeff McSpadden (percussion/vocals).
Afro is, from left to right, Blake Gallant (bass/vocals), Kaitlyn Connor (keys/vocals), Adam Mullis (guitar/vocals), Michael Toman (drums) and Jeff McSpadden (percussion/vocals).
If You Go

What: Afro with Dank Sinatra.

When: Friday, Jan. 4, 10 p.m.

Where: Rhythm & Brews, 221 Market St.

Admission: $7

Phone: 267-4644.

Venue website: www.rhythm-brews.com

If Afro were a holiday instead of a band, it would probably involve a combination of Yule logs, a dreidel, feats of strength and sparklers.

The locally formed quintet are defiantly eclectic sound blending elements of everything from jazz and funk to prog rock and hip-hop. Navigating a sonic tight rope to avoid potentially fatal musical missteps isn't easy, said vocalist/bassist Blake Gallant, but the adventurousness is part of the charm of self-discovery.

"We all kind of went in different directions with our musical choices, which is what led us to this more eclectic sound," he explained. "It was a very conscious decision because we used to go tour and hear a bunch of bands live, and now we focus on influences and our own stuff."

Afro released its first full-length album, "Out of the Cocoon," on Dec. 7. The six-track album features sprawling, layered tracks gleaming with fuzzy guitar, Latin percussion, urban beats and a tight horn section consisting of pinch instrumentalists David Williford (sax) and Tanner Antonetti (trombone).

Gallant said "Out of the Cocoon" has been well-received by fans along their normal touring route between Chattanooga, Nashville and Atlanta. The album will compose at least part of Afro's set Monday at Rhythm & Brews along with a number of diverse covers, including Rush's "YYZ" and Outkast's "SpottieOttieDopaliscious."

In March, Afro underwent a dramatic shift in lineup that saw the departure of bassist Chris Conrad and drummer Silas Jackson, who was replaced by Michael Toman. Despite the upheaval, 2012 was a banner year, said Gallant, who swapped guitar for bass as part of the shift.

Looking forward to 2013, Gallant said the goal is to take advantage of upcoming shows in Alabama, Virginia and St. Louis to get the word out about "Out of the Cocoon."

Along the way, he said he hopes to broaden audiences' minds with shows that are as much an experience as they are entertaining.

"I want them to feel like they're watching something be created," he said. "I want them to feel like they're watching something special, not something we just do for every show. I want them to feel like they're part of a new experience that only they'll get to see."

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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