Some days I ask myself if the grind is really worth it. Hours of due diligence, intensive consultations with trusted peers, and incalculable sums of time spent actually doing the damn work. The grind at issue? Skip diving through colossal stacks of new music to listen to, a process akin to sifting for gold, crossing fingers for platinum, but more often than not settling for bronze.
I won’t bury the lede any deeper. Multiple Personalities, the debut record from Los Angeles-based instrumental progressive rock and jazz fusion sensations Coevality, is a platinum medal. A 50-pound juggernaut that fought all the way, a needle in the haystack, a diamond in the rough, a golden goose that makes the grind ever so worth it. Selecting Coevality for our Weekly Featured Artist segment was a no-brainer. Given the lack of information I could dig up online about this up-and-coming project, I was grateful that two-thirds of the group, Jon Reicher and Derrick Elliott, agreed to entertain my questions on one recent Saturday.
The three-piece burst onto the scene earlier this year with their long-awaited, ten-years-in-the-making first LP, Multiple Personalities. The record flaunts its confident, bombastic colors from the get-go on one of the most audacious openers to any debut, “Light Bikes”, which hurtles out of the gate with a 20-second-long fretless bass solo courtesy of the pyrotechnically gifted Elliott. Coevality’s sound is immediately accessible — I knew the size of the fish I was about to catch as soon as Elliott’s filthy solo concluded — but rewards close attention with sumptuous production, dizzying polyrhythms, and brilliant use of effects. I was instantly taken by the vivacious incorporation of jazz-influenced stylings and the organic, flowing nature of each track. Each track features phrasing that emphasizes individual skill while highlighting the group’s chemistry. In simple words, the album succeeds due to the virtuosic talents of its players and their phenomenal songwriting.
While the dynamic interplay and note-perfect arrangements on Multiple Personalities suggest the efforts of a seasoned troupe of performers, the band’s intimate chemistry belies a patchwork history peppered with interim members, re-recordings, and cross-country moves. Reicher, Coevality’s guitarist (and co-founder, co-writer, trumpeter, ad infinitum) initially founded the group under the name Alhazen while studying at Berklee College of Music in 2012. After testing out two bassists with the group’s original drummer, Reicher realized the talents of his future bandmate when he witnessed Elliott perfectly sight-read a difficult melody in a Middle Eastern fusion course in which the two were enrolled. According to Reicher,
‘It was two bars of 7/8 and a bar of 11/8, and I got anxiety for Derrick. And this guy tilted his eyebrow up, looked a classmate in the face, looked down, and played it note for note perfectly. Everyone in the class looked at Derrick like ‘What the fuck is going on?’ After that was done, I sat back like, ‘Yo we gotta hangout’. As far as our friendship, the rest is history.’
And what a history followed. Elliott soon joined the band; after cycling through the original drummer and auditioning a few replacements, the group moved from Boston to Los Angeles in September 2014. Reicher and Elliott continued to find difficulty selecting a long-term drummer, partnering with a revolving cast of performers for six months to a couple years at a time, but often separating due to creative differences. The trio finally began to coalesce when Reicher and Elliott played a gig with current drummer Andy Prado; sensing a connection and realizing Prado’s chops were ‘second to none‘, Reicher and Elliott deleted their dating apps, so to speak, brought Prado into the fold, and changed their name from Alhazen to Coevality.
Like the band itself, Multiple Personalities took many forms over the years. Reicher wrote the foundations for five of the album’s seven tracks during the group’s early days in Boston, but Elliott soon took a major role in fleshing out the songwriting and refining the arrangements. Elliott describes the songwriting process:
‘A lot of the writing fundamentally starts off with guitar. Whenever we are putting a song together, Jon will have a bunch of guitar riffs and a general roadmap. He and I will hash out details in terms of changing this chord or that time signature — whatever it is, it all usually starts with guitar. Once we have guitar structure generally figured out, we go to drums and think about the feel and dynamic of the section. Usually, my bass parts are the most subject to change throughout the whole process.‘
For reference, Reicher estimates that 95% of his guitarwork on Multiple Personalities is written, whereas Elliott figures a full half of his bass playing on the record is improvised. Despite this apparent personality clash, Reicher and Elliott have a fruitful writing dynamic that benefits from the closeness of the pair. Reicher elaborates:
‘Derrick and I ultimately trust each other more than a lot of other bands do. We really wanted to find a way where the bass isn’t just sitting in the background playing root notes and doing janky, predictable basslines that a guitar player could just record in their room. On Multiple Personalities, there’s a huge synchronicity between the way the guitar and bass interact throughout the course of one song. With a fretless six-string bass and a seven-string guitar, we were able to achieve a bigger sonic and harmonic range. We make expansive-sounding sections solely based on the way we stack things together.‘
The symbiotic writing relationship between Reicher and Elliott is central to the success of Multiple Personalities. The songs vary in tone and tempo, but all manage to balance hypercomplex musical structures executed to exacting detail with catchy melodies and a light spirit. Artists, especially on their debuts, overwhelmingly struggle to hit this exceedingly minuscule sweet spot, but Coevality strike it with maximum precision, precisely because the writing dynamic between Reicher and Elliott empowers the group to perform complicated music without sacrificing accessibility.
Further on the note of songwriting successes, Coevality sought to create a cohesive record that functions as a single narrative describing the band’s journey through the years. Reicher discusses:
‘A huge component of what we wanted to do when writing the album was to make a record that functioned like a film score. For example, I’m a huge fan of Phantom of the Opera, which features a lot of recurring themes. We wanted to take melodies and plug them in throughout the course of the album to make it one collective piece. We worked on the album for ten years across three cities and have had so many members come in and out. There are so many things that play into where we are now and where we were when the whole album started, that you can feel different components of where we were in our lives and who we are on the record.‘
Derrick elaborates further, ‘One big concept we were going for is to blend a variety of textures, styles, and feelings in a way such that the album consists of ‘multiple personalities’ that still allow us to have our fundamental sound.‘
Album namesake “MPD” typifies much of the record’s characteristics. Reicher employs riff-oriented phrasing augmented by sparkling leads, the occasional burst of lightning-fast tapping, and adept pedal work. True to form, Elliott’s bass does not take a back seat; in fact, the solo he performs is one of the most neuron-scrambling moments on an album chock full of such passages, featuring an apnea-inducing 6-against-7 polyrhythm Jaco Pastorius would have been proud of. Complementing the lead work of his string-based teammates is Prado’s jazz fusion stylings on the kit, which morph flexibly to accommodate lightning-fast picking from Reicher or languid Middle Eastern-style melodies from Elliott.
“MPD”, like the rest of Multiple Personalities, features warm, sonorous production with well-balanced mixing. At the dual risk of both sounding derogatory and understating its virtues, the record does not sound like a debut, which may be due in part to the welcome collaborations of Arch Echo guitarist and studio wizard Adam Bentley in the mixing room. The group were lucky to collaborate with historic audio engineer Bernie Grundman (you might have heard his work on such little known records as Aja and Thriller, among many more) on mastering for the track “Oceania”. Reicher described Grundman as a friendly collaborator, saying,
‘Being in the room with him was surreal. He has this larger-than-life identity because of his credentials, but he is the nicest, most humble and down-to-earth guy. He was walking us through his console that he had built and a lot of his sound came from the equipment he has used. That in and of itself felt like a dream.‘
Whatever the odds are that Grundman masters the entirety of their sophomore follow-up does not dampen my eagerness for more Coevality. Reicher, Elliott, and Prado are deep into work on their second record and are exploring the possibility of a tour somewhere down the line. The trio have already made a huge splash on the progressive and fusion scenes with Multiple Personalities, but with that I’d like to turn things over to the band for their closing acknowledgements and final remarks:
‘Thanks again for the opportunity to do this, Xander. And for everyone reading, please continue to share Multiple Personalities with the world, we appreciate it more than you know. And a special thanks again to the Reicher Family, the Elliott Family, the Prada family, friends & fans, and to our respective endorsement reps/companies. We have started work on album #2, so stayed tuned!‘