Originally published in New York Press:
March 9, 2010
by David Chiu
IF FRONTING AN 11-person band wasn’t enough of a logistical nightmare, Emanuel Ayvas has his hands full preparing for a Mar. 10 show at The Gramercy Theater. That night, the orchestral rocker won’t only be fronting Emanuel and the Fear, he’ll also be conducting a 27-person orchestra in an overture that he composed.
He could have postponed the concert; it didn’t need to be the day after the release of his Dumbo-based group’s new album, Listen, but Ayvas seems to thrive under pressure. “A lot of people were like, ‘Emanuel, don’t do that to yourself,’” he recalls just weeks before the show. “‘Do not get a 27-person orchestra.’ And I was like, ‘I have to!’ It needs to be a spectacle. That’s a big deal.”
You can hear the extravagance on the Fear’s new record. Consisting of 19 tracks, Listen could be considered a concept album with its eclectic mix of rock, pop and classical music. Led by Ayvas’ singing, the Fear’s music is driven by the interplay between the band’s rhythm, horn and string sections. “I think it’s just the best way for me to get what’s in my head out,” Ayvas explains. “I like big, epic and climactic sounds.”
One of the album’s songs, the rocking “Guatemala,” shows Ayvas’ affinity for a grand sound. “[I] was definitely very moved by how different things can be [on] a national scale—the poverty,” he says about his trip to parts of Central America, which inspired the song. “The fact that I wasn’t aware of that… it was upsetting to me. I wanted to express that. But at the same time it’s not anyone’s fault that people aren’t aware of it or even that they don’t care.”
There are some reflective moments on Listen such as the ballad “Balcony.” “It was certainly [about] a serious relationship happening at the time that had dissolved on a balcony,” he says. “I was pretty upset. That was my chance to be like, ‘What am I doing? Grow up!’”
Originally from Wood-Ridge, N.J., and born to parents who were musicians, Ayvas played piano at an early age, but didn’t start really listening to music until he was about 11 or 12. “My mom made me take the Nirvana album back,” he says. “She thought it was bad.We’ve reconciled.”
He later majored in music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he learned classical piano performance and classical composition. After graduating in 2005, Ayvas moved to New York, formed a musical group that later disbanded, and went to Los Angeles to study film scoring.Then Jamin Gilbert of Ishlab, the New York recording studio where Ayvas had previously interned, spoke to him about working on a record.
Ayvas assembled the members for his band and Emanuel and the Fear performed its first gig in January 2008. His responsibility of overseeing 10 musical personalities may seem like a daunting task to the average person. “When you deal with very talented professionals,” Ayvas says, “you can’t waste their time. All the [arrangements] are mapped out.We can put on a great show with one rehearsal because they can read so well… and because it’s been orchestrated properly.”
Inevitably Emanuel and the Fear has already drawn comparisons in the press to bands of similar musical scope such as Arcade Fire and Polyphonic Spree. But Ayvas doesn’t seem rankled by that. “If you stay honest with yourself,” he explains, “and listen and adjust yourself to those critiques… you will remain yourself and evolve in your own unique way.”
In April, Emanuel and the Fear will be touring Europe. As for his future plans, Ayvas would like to concentrate more on writing. “I have some pretty awesome ideas in my head that I’m going to do no matter what,” he says. “I’m an aggressive optimist.”
Mar. 10, The Gramercy Theater, 127 E. 23rd St. (betw. Park & Lexington Aves.), 212-614-6932; 8, $18.