A South Whidbey band that was just finding its groove when the pandemic put a halt to its performing plans is still finding a way to share its music.
The new music group, Frequalizer, released its first EP — a shortened type of album — last month on Juneteenth, with some of the proceeds being donated to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and BLM Seattle-King County’s Black-Led Community Investment Fund.
The EP consists of three songs and is titled the Frogwater Sessions.
The band draws from African musical styles and influences. Guitarist Eric Conn brings his expertise of playing with his stepfather, who is part of a Mukilteo band, Spirit of Ojah, that has genres of “Ghanaian highlife, reggae and soukous.”
Saxophonist Matt McDowell brings influences from his time spent studying Ethiopian and South African jazz.
And brothers Stephan and Rachman Ross bring funk rhythms on bass and drums.
Band members describe the music as “instrumental” and “danceable,” with no focus on a front man.
Although hesitant to pin a single genre on the music, the players said they are influenced by Afrobeat, a musical genre with West African styles.
“We want our music to be a positive message and try to create a positive vibration,” Conn said.
He explained that the band’s name is a combination of the words “frequency” and “equalizer.”
McDowell said the band has been trying to bring something of its own to the “musical potluck.”
“That’s really important, to not duplicate existing styles but to try to bring something of ourselves,” he said.
Frequalizer’s last big gig was a New Year’s Eve party at Bayview Hall. Around that time, the musicians were recording their first EP in the home recording studio of the Ross brothers.
Rachman, the older of the two brothers, described the experience as challenging because other sounds could easily be picked up by the recording equipment and “rattly” objects such as dishes had to be put away.
“We were lucky to get the recording finished,” Conn said.
Shortly after, the pandemic hit and the rest is history.
Band members had been looking forward to a summer season of shows, from Little Big Fest to performances at Double Bluff Brewery.
“This whole situation has been really hard on musicians and performers of all kinds, and the venues that host,” Conn said.
“For us, it’s a big setback because we were really just getting going and we had big plans for this year.”
Instead of performing, the musicians have been taking advantage of the downtime by focusing on writing new songs.
The band members have been able to send song ideas to each other and have resorted to a few socially distanced, masked-up jam sessions amongst themselves, although not having the energy from audience participation has been hard.
“Historically speaking, some of the best music and art has been made under difficult times for humans, and now I’m starting to understand that,” Rachman said.
“I feel very proud of these guys that I work with.”
Although nothing is certain as long as the virus persists, the band remains hopeful about the future of Frequalizer.
“I just think it’s really interesting that everybody in the band is a longtime Whidbey Island resident, and we all really super appreciate being able to keep it local,” McDowell said.