Amasa Hines
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Amasa Hines

Little Rock, Arkansas, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2012

Little Rock, Arkansas, United States
Established on Jan, 2012
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It won't take long for the first time listener to soon realize just why Little Rock based band Amasa Hines' pedigree includes having being voted the best band in Arkansas. Crafting a distinctive brand of 'psychedelic afro-futurism' as they search for 'the new notes; the new rhythms; sonic birthmarks and hypnotisms', the seven-piece conjure a seamless integration of soul, afro-beat, psychedelic, blues, dub and indie rock that comes invested with such emotion, passion, urgency and vibrance that it will effortlessly and irresistibly have the listener's hips rockin' and soul rollin'.Fired by the raw, soulful intensity of Joshua Asante's gritty vocal abandon, Josh Spillyards, Judson Spillyards, Ryan Hitt, Norman Williamson, along with Walter Henderson and Stephen Colby, deliver superbly polished soundscapes that are as rousingly expansive in their ambition as they are intimately absorbing in their sophistication. Releasing the 'All The World Is There' album in 2014 and building the reputation of their live show through touring their home state and the mid-West, Amasa Hines have headlined festivals and been on the bill at the Wakarusa and 80/35 festivals, and have also shared stages with the likes of Weezer, Talib Kweli and Run The Jewels. Having graced the screen for PBS subsidiary AETN's 'On The Front Row' and featured on the soundtrack for the VICE News production 'Last Chance High', here the band showcase their emotionally arresting and movingly heartfelt tales of identity, hope, love and redemption with a stunning session for Audiotreetv. - NEXT2SHINE


A lot of bands — most of them, probably — will toil away for years without getting much acknowledgment. They've got good intentions, they practice all the time. Hell, maybe they've even got good taste. But face it: They didn't make it because they just weren't that good. It's an unfortunate but common scenario.

Other groups will work their asses off, become really good and still won't earn much recognition. That's a drag, and a mystery to boot. Everybody has one of these "why-didn't-they-ever-make-it-bigger?" favorites.

Then there are those precious few bands that are great — and recognized as such — right at the outset. Amasa Hines is just that. The Little Rock band is one of those rare examples of when talent and taste and hard work and focus and good timing meet up with that mystery element and voila: We have a new, awesome band that seemingly everyone can agree is awesome.

Though they been together less than two years, Amasa Hines has built a buzz not only locally (though they've gotten plenty of love from Central Arkansas critics), but with bloggers and music fans in far-flung locales. Chicago-based blog Words & Fire noted that the band melds "the rich, sensuous sound of grassroots soul with the grit and aggression of bluesy rock," and dug the track "Earth and Sky," calling the lyrics "unpretentiously poetic."

Amasa Hines was one of the dozen bands included in Paste Magazine's recent feature "12 Arkansas Bands You Should Listen to Now." SYFFAL.com posted a video of the band performing "Earth and Sky" and "She's Alright," gushing that "halfway through the first song I was pissing blood because the soul oozing out of this group kicked me in the gut hard and repeatedly. Think James Brown meets the Black Keys."

And this week, the venerable Daytrotter posted a four-song session from Amasa Hines. Over the last several years, the music website has posted exclusive live recordings from an amazingly large and diverse array of performers, from up-and-comers to seasoned vets such as Wilco, The Walkmen, Los Lobos, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks and hundreds more. The band hit the road up to Daytrotter's studio in Rockville, Ill., and recorded two originals and covers of Nina Simone's "Sinner Man" and Kraftwerk's "The Model."

The group just finished the tracking and mixing on its debut album as well, recorded by Mitchell Vanhoose, who also plays trumpet on the record and with the band onstage as well.

While Amasa Hines is a relatively recent arrival, the band members aren't exactly newcomers. In 2010, Judson and Josh Spillyards and Ryan Hitt — who'd played together with Chris Denny and in The Romany Rye — began a weekly gig with saxophonist Norman Williamson, playing improvised music and some funk covers at what was then Ferneau restaurant. Joshua came onboard as a vocalist a few months later.

"We didn't really have any set things to play, we were just kind of going improv, making it up as we went along," Williamson said. "Over time, we started to develop some set songs and Joshua started to write stuff and eventually we gelled into Amasa Hines."

In terms of inspiration, Williamson cited Afro-beat giant Fela Kuti and Ethio-jazz innovator Mulatu Astatke as influences. But "all of our music tastes are pretty eclectic," he said. "It's not limited to that, it just happens to be what we've been into lately."

In addition to the Nina Simone and Kraftwerk tunes (the latter inspired by Brazilian troubadour Seu Jorge's version) the band also does a version of the Clash classic "Straight to Hell," and makes it their own.

The debut album will most likely have nine or 10 songs and be self-released on vinyl and online, Judson Spillyards said. But Spillyards said they'll probably shop it around to some labels as well. "I'm not opposed to signing with a label, as long as it's right," he said.

Along with the album, Amasa Hines also has some touring on the horizon. Though the details haven't yet been finalized, the group is in the process of buying a van and taking advantage of some of the contacts they've have made through their other bands, Spillyards said.

Because even with the ubiquity and endless reach of the Internet, touring is "kind of what you have to do this day and age if you want people to know about you at all," he said. - Arkansas Times


So far, Amasa Hines has only released one track, but what a song it is. “Earth and Sky” is all things good: soulful, funky and rockin’. Lead singer Joshua sings a multi-tracked church choir intro over the pounding beat before ripping into the passion-fueled verse. And Norman Williamson’s swanky saxophone solo? Damn. If this single isn’t enough (it’s not), don’t despair. The group is currently finishing up their debut album, so stay on the lookout. - Paste Magazine


‘‘It’s ‘A-mah-sah Hines.’”

By now, they’re fairly used to people not knowing how to pronounce the name of their band. Curious concert-goers will ask sometimes timidly, scared to offend, while others yell the question while the band is still on stage. They don’t seem to mind answering, though, because curiosity means they made an impression.

Amasa Hines comprises six members: Joshua Asante on vocals and guitar, Ryan Hitt on bass, Norman Williamson on saxophone, Matt Rice on keyboard, and brothers Josh and Judson Spillyards on drums and guitar, respectively. The confusing part is that some of them play in afro beat ensemble Funkanites and some of them also play in Velvet Kente, switching sounds and vibes with each project.

But the easy part, that’s what happens when Amasa Hines starts playing. With a self-proclaimed “psychedelic afro-futurism” sound, their music includes the soul, blues, indie rock and pop blend that has turned much of the Little Rock scene into followers.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when Amasa Hines was born. There was no radioactive spider bite or botched laboratory experiment; instead their origin story took time and fortuity to fall into place.

Flash back to 2010. Judson, Josh, Ryan and Norman were playing a weekly instrumental funk gig at what used to be the restaurant Ferneau. After becoming friends with Velvet Kente vocalist Joshua, they invited him to jam with them.

“When I first started playing with them, it was like a buffet,” Joshua says. “I was coming from playing in a three piece [band]. We make a lot of noise together, but a lot of the things that were in my head, we just couldn’t do live.”

The band lines started to blur a bit along the way, and a lot of improvisation and pseudo-covers later, Amasa Hines emerged. As for the name, they were having trouble landing on anything until Judson and Josh came across their great-great-grandfather’s name: Amasa Hinds Spillyards. A quick spelling change later and the deal was sealed.

Their influences pull from all over the map, but the thing they rely on more than anything is intuition. Inspiration comes from everywhere, whether it’s how a performer bends a note, to a recent art gallery visit, but especially the “feel” of a sound.

“If I’m listening to Miles Davis play trumpet, I’m not going to be able to sound like that on the guitar,” Judson says, “but whatever he brings to it, I want to have that feeling come out of something I play.”

When the time came to begin working on their first album “All the World There Is,” the first three songs took no time to record. Due to a string of circumstances and, frankly, a general unpreparedness, it took close to three years to complete the album.

By that time, after a leaked song incident and a prolonged gestation, anticipation levels were high, and not just in central Arkansas. Paste Magazine listed Amasa Hines as one of the “12 Arkansas Bands You Should Listen to Right Now” before the album even released in January of last year.

Yes, Amasa Hines is one of those bands whose sound grabs you instantly, and it seems the feeling is mutual.

“There was a period in my life when even talking about spirituality felt false,” Joshua says. “Then I started playing with musicians who were evoking things that were otherworldly and it was my reconnection to spirituality. When I got pneumonia and could barely move, I’d just put on our album. That was my church.”

And that’s what gives them focus in the face of the dreaded “starving artist” trope. Working day jobs in order to be able to pursue music may not be on the guys’ list of favorite things, but that’s all part of the trials of expansion.

The growing pains of popularity come with a unique combination of pros, cons and sticky situations, not to mention the endeavor of juggling a never-ending list of social media accounts. The local fan base may be loyal, but Little Rock is still a relatively small city, and playing too many shows would wash out the scene.

The goal is to build pockets of fan support all over the country, but that’s a slow-going process when you don’t have a record label. Although often vilified in movies, record labels offer stability and alleviation. Currently the guys are footing the bills for studio time, making CDs and T-shirts, renting tour buses and everything else along the way.

When they do book shows out of state, they can never be quite sure what kind of response they’ll receive. On the last cycle in South Carolina, they played a sold-out show for 900 people one night, and the next night it was just the sound guy.

So what makes it worth it?

“Potential,” Judson says. “It’s not easy. It’s never easy. It’s definitely attainable, but you’re not going to get anything unless you put in the work for it. That’s what you keep telling yourself. We know it’s possible.”

Joshua and Judson both agree that it’s that potential of the next project that fuels the band, mostly because they admit — despite how much they love their first album — it was safe. The collective skill set of Amasa Hines expands far past the boundaries of “All the World There Is,” but it’s going to take a certain level of guts to reach that promise.

And by all accounts, they have it. Six guys working that closely and that creatively doesn’t always make for smooth sailing, but they only sharpen each other. Currently in the process of working on new music, time will tell if they can live up to their own expectations.

But there’s a sincerity and a confidence when they talk about their music that is anything but off-putting. The insecurities and worries about T-shirts and tour buses are gone. There’s a fresh zeal that seeps through only when there exists an acute belief that this is what one is meant for, a transcendence that defies any human-built barriers, self-imposed or otherwise.

“With music, you can go all the way over there to the edge, face first nose dive off the edge, and then come back to reality,” Joshua says. “That’s what it offers us: a permanent place. It feels like what having a home feels like. I haven’t always had that, but I know now that I have it for the rest of my life with music.” - Little Rock Soiree


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy