By Team Backbeat
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By Jon Solomon
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Since its inception, 16 Horsepower has been the product of three people: multi-instrumentalist David Eugene Edwards, drummer Jean-yves Tola and bassist Keven Soll. While Edwards was clearly the frontman for the band, the other players were key contributors who added an important visual component to live shows most observers saw as consistently among the best in Denver and beyond. But now things are changing. Late last month, during a single telephone conversation, Edwards and Tola quietly gave Soll his walking papers.
For Edwards, this was an especially difficult and painful course of action; after all, he and Soll have been friends since 1984, when they met at an Echo and the Bunnymen concert. But he feels it was something that needed to be done. "Basically, we did it for no other reason than that the joy of making music together was not there anymore," he says. "We felt stagnant. Jean-yves and I talked about it, and we talked to Keven about it as well, and we tried to do things to correct the situation. But it didn't happen. We figured that half the people in Denver would hate us for doing it, but we had to take the chance, because we couldn't afford to mess around."
According to Soll, whose version of the events that led up to his ouster are generally confirmed by Edwards and Tola, he first got an inkling that all was not right in Horsepowerland six months ago. "We had a talk," he recalls. "We were all having a few problems. In one way, I felt like I was becoming an employee and was having less and less to say about the decisions that were being made. And they felt that I still needed more work on my bass playing--that I wasn't holding up my end."
"When we asked Keven to play," Tola elaborates, "he wasn't really a bass player. David just remembered that he was a good person and a good guy to be with, which he was. But right away--well, not to be pretentious or anything, but level-wise we knew he was a little bit behind David and I on his instrument. At the time, we were ready to cope with that. We thought that if he worked hard enough on his playing he'd eventually catch up. And that seemed to be happening in the beginning--but for some reason we felt that he stopped doing that. So we sat down with him and told him, 'You're still not there. You've got to get better at your playing.'
"I don't know if he didn't take it seriously or what. He got better equipment, which helped, but it was not enough. We were kind of waiting and hoping that he would get better, but he didn't. And we're not really in a position where we can wait. We have a bunch of tours coming up and the record [Sackcloth 'n' Ashes, on A&M, issued in the U.S. in February] is just being released worldwide. We have to be top-notch. We're so different, which is fine with some people, but other people are like, 'We're afraid of it'--which makes things even harder for us. Playing the style of music that we're playing, we have to be perfect or we can just forget it."
Soll counters that these concerns were not mentioned to him after the initial sit-down. As a result, he assumed that the situation had been resolved and that everything was fine. "If they had problems with me, they should have been a little more communicative," he says. "And if they had plans to fire me, they should have sat me down at a table and told me face-to-face, instead of doing it with a phone call." He pauses before adding, "A phone call that totally flip-flops your life."
Tola says that he and Edwards chose to deliver the news to Soll via telephone because they wanted their manager, Los Angeles-based Amy Berg, to hear everything as it went down--and since she couldn't fly to Colorado for the occasion, they settled on a conference call. But Edwards admits that something else was involved. "Because we are so close, I think it would have been really hard to do it face-to-face," he concedes. "Not because I was ashamed of what we were doing or felt afraid. I just really didn't want there to be room to argue. I wanted to get it out and let it settle." He adds, "I really think that's beside the point, though. I went over to his house and hung out a week or so after that, and we've gotten a chance to talk."
In the meantime, 16 Horsepower has a new bassist: Rob Redick, who served as a tech on the act's past two tours. He hasn't been added as a permanent member yet; the musicians want to see how things work out in a variety of live settings before any final determination is made. For Redick, a Houston native, the next several weeks will constitute a baptism of fire. The bandmates left Denver on June 6 to play several dates, including stops in Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago. They'll return to Colorado to appear Thursday, June 20, at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and Saturday, June 22, at Fiddler's Green for the Big Adventure bash sponsored by KTCL-FM/93.3. "Rob's nervous about those," Edwards notes. "He's just in a weird place right now, not really knowing anybody in Denver. But I think he'll be okay. People who've heard are sad about how things worked out, but they support us."
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