“What I like about soul bands and their outfits is the concept that the performers are a little bit uncomfortable,” he says. “It makes me feel like they are respecting the audience who has paid money to come and see them. They’re working for it — I just love that.”
Since 2012, Detchou, 30, has been working hard to turn Aztec Sun from a four-piece that played James Brown and Red Hot Chili Peppers covers at house parties to a 10-piece powerhouse live act — the kind of band that sells out an album release show two weeks early.
Saturday’s Pearl Street show marks a major milestone for the charismatic frontman and his rising band: Not only does it come on the day that debut album “In the Name of Everyone” will be out on CD and streaming platforms, but it also marks one year since the shows that made this record possible.
Last November, Aztec Sun was tapped to open two gigs for the rotating improv collective Everyone Orchestra. Alan Evans, a member of the funk and jazz trio Soulive who was drumming with Everyone Orchestra at the time, was eating dinner with friends at the venue, New York’s Brooklyn Bowl, when Aztec Sun’s playing caught his ear.
“I didn’t know those cats at all,” Evans recalls. “I got up in the middle of eating and went out in the room to listen to them. There was a something about them — the second I heard them. When you know, you know.”
The next day at Gypsy Sally’s in Georgetown, he chatted with Detchou and his bandmates, many of whom were Soulive fans. They told Evans they were planning to record an album soon and shared their vision for capturing the feel of the live show in the studio. Evans, who owns Iron Wax Studios in Erving, Mass., didn’t need to hear much else.
“Before I even knew any of the tunes that they had, just a description of what they wanted to do, I could hear it all in my head,” Evans says. “I was like, ‘I can do this — we can do this together.’ ”
For their performance that night at Gypsy Sally’s, the band members invited Evans to add timbales to their song “Revolution.” Anyone who was in the room could tell they all spoke the same musical language.
“It’s these moments where you can kinda sit back and go, ‘Maybe we are on to something,’ ” says keyboardist Ryan “Catch” Banning. “Maybe this is more than just the music we like.”
Soon after, Aztec Sun made plans to record at Iron Wax. In mid-February, the band, now 10 members deep — including singers Sara Ghebremichael and Lee Anderson; horn players Graham Robertson, Adam Kent and Joe Goltz; lead guitarist Ray Lamb; drummer John Heinze and bassist Shane Weckesser — got in a van and drove to Massachusetts. They tracked in one room live as a band, with minimal overdubs.
“Al’s studio feels like your living room,” Banning says. “You don’t feel the pressure of recording. Al was so supportive and encouraging. From the moment we said, ‘Go,’ he felt like family.”
By this point, the band had the songs and a vision, and Evans was just there to help make it happen. (He shares production credit with Detchou and the band.)
“I think the songs grew in that space,” Detchou says, “because what he reminded us of often was, ‘Guys, the thing you’re worrying about, don’t worry about it — that’s not important, [the songs are] killer.’ I was really focused on the group take because I know that our strength is when we’re playing together.”
The finished product, the self-released “In the Name of Everyone,” is a very D.C. album, with songs that reference the city and others that grapple with political Washington in the age of President Trump.
“Resist,” for example, is sung in pidgin English — a nod to Detchou’s family’s roots in Cameroon — with lines like, “He want to be messiah but he just craze-man for TV.” The title track, which equally showcases the funk and soul sides of the band, is about the feeling many had the day after the 2016 election.
“District” and “Red Line” are about D.C. the city. The former, Detchou’s favorite song on the album, explores gentrification and how D.C. is constantly changing. The latter, written about Detchou’s old Metro commutes from the Shady Grove station to downtown D.C., can be read as a criticism of the Metro system, but it’s also a metaphor for perpetuating negative cycles. “There’s a lot of things we can do ourselves that we can take charge of,” Detchou says, explaining a theme of the album.
The standout may be the closer, “Love … Call On Me,” an anthemic, horn-led ballad that’s destined for wedding playlists. “What I love about it is we can play with the audience and really open it up and play with the go-go tradition of call and response,” Detchou says.
After the album-release show, Aztec Sun has gigs in New York and New Jersey, as well as the band’s first New Year’s Eve show, here at Union Stage. Because the members, mostly in their 30s, are a mix of part-time musicians who work full-time jobs and full-time musicians who work part-time jobs, Aztec Sun can tour only occasionally, like in September when the band opened four shows for Rebirth Brass Band.
“Right now, everyone is still enjoying that we’ve become a D.C. staple,” Banning says. “That’s a huge accomplishment.”
Detchou is already thinking about the next album and has an ambitious plan that his bandmates, and Evans, are on board for. But he’s also stopping to enjoy these moments.
“Sometimes I look across the stage and I’m like, ‘Man, look at all these silly adults smiling,’” he says. “We’re making noise and there’s a beautiful community to it. We’ve got a good team.”
Pearl Street Warehouse, 33 Pearl St. SW; Sat., 8 p.m., sold out.
Union Stage, 740 Water St. SW; Dec. 31, 8:30 p.m., $30-$50.