A rock group you can count on your fingers

From the archives of Smoovtunes: a conversion with Joey Eppard of eclectic, progressive rock band 3 in 2008.  Click the image for 3′s single “Numbers” off their latest (2011) release The Ghost You Gave To Me. Check out live photos of 3 (by Dan Harpaz) at Terminal 5 NYC Sept 9/10/11 here.

Few opening acts at rock shows manage to win over the headliner’s crowd, let alone survive the apathy or, at worst, the barrage of boos. Progressive rock band 3 (yes, the number 3), however, almost stole the show when they opened for psychedelic British group Porcupine Tree on their last tour.

The quintet from Woodstock, New York, combine a multitude of influences to produce a creative, unique sound — from metal to Middle Eastern, pop to progressive, funk to flamenco. Since before their first studio release in 1999, they’ve explored multiple genres, withstood lineup changes and embraced their own evolution. They’ve also had the opportunity to bond with other big-name artists while on tour, such as Coheed & Cambria and Chevelle. This spring, they’re joining metal legends Dream Theater, Opeth, and Between the Buried and Me on the Progressive Nation 2008 Tour — or as some metal-lovers refer to it, the ultimate dream bill.

In a phone interview, Joey Eppard talked about music, the upcoming Progressive Nation show in Rosemont on May 13 and life in general. When Eppard isn’t recording solo albums or working on his side project with members of the P Funk — yes, the P Funk — he’s the energetic lead singer, acoustic guitarist and frontman of 3.

Smoovtunes: How was the tour with Porcupine tree?

It [was] a great audience. And even the guys from Porcupine Tree were like “Man, we’ve never toured with anybody that’s gotten such a great reaction from our audience. [Porcupine Tree singer Steven Wilson]’s like, “You guys don’t understand, usually they’re so picky, they just destroy every band that opens.”

Steven Wilson said you guys were the best band that he’s ever played with.

Yeah, he just made some really amazing comments. We really appreciate that. He was like, “Please keep me in mind when you guys make your next record, because I’d love to do it with you.” So we might get together on that depending on their schedule and our schedule.

How do you describe “progressive” music?

Well I take the word for its real meaning, which is moving forward. And I don’t think it has to be a connotation of really long songs and eight million parts. It doesn’t always have to be that way. For me, taking music forward, melody and songwriting, are the highest form of musical art that there is. So for me, a song that takes you on a journey but it’s still got a sort of a potent thing to it — it’s still got melody that can translate in any kind of ear — that’s what’s progressive about us.

Is one band in the Progressive Nation tour lineup, in particular, that’s musically inspiring for you guys?

All three of those bands are really amazing bands. And we’re looking forward to the osmosis that takes place when you’re out on the road with other musicians. We’ll definitely just absorb things — you might not even be conscious of it, but you’ll just absorb.

So, about the band’s name, I know that “3” is more than a number. It’s more than the fact that you guys kind of started off as a 3-piece. But do you ever try to bring the concept of “3” into your music?

Well, you know, it just happens naturally. But certainly, we see ourselves as a three dimensional-esque… as a band that has more than one face, more than one aspect to the creativity. So, I think the idea of “3” surfaces in that. And it also surfaces in the world where we’re trying to move forward, which is sort of taking two very different things and putting them together and then that combination is like this next step. So it creates sort of this triangle of evolution and that’s kind of how we look at things musically.

You bring a lot of really unique influences and techniques into your music. In particular, you’ve got these flamenco-esque guitars and Middle Eastern-style vocal techniques. How did that all start?

That’s just where those beautiful scales are. To me, in Middle Eastern music, you have these scales where it’s almost like no note is a wrong note. Somehow they’re all right and it’s so beautiful. It just takes melody to a whole other level, when a melody can grab you but also surprise you with twists and turns. So I think there’s a lot of fresh ground to break when it comes to Middle Eastern scales getting more involved in popular music. I never studied flamenco, and I could play with my fingers— never used a pick. And it just sort of bubbled to the surface. I just kind of take my own approach to the guitar, but I like the combination of fingers and percussive approach to the acoustic, combined with the electric. And our other player uses a pick, so we have two sounds combining.

What is your ultimate goal in the music industry?

Our goal is to break some rules and prove that those rules could be broken in a successful way. There’s sort of this whole umbrella of music that is around us and that we’re a part of, and I’ve always wanted to take it all with me, and take it all to that level of where we could really headline any place in the world. That’s where I’d like to be. And I make a lot of different records and do a lot of different things. Like in the early days, I tried to make 3 be everything. And you kind of hear that on the records, like I tried to make it be every influence that I have. Nowadays, it’s become more of its own thing. And the folkier stuff that I do, stuff that’s meant to be a little bit more dynamic— I put out acoustic records. And then the soulful end of things, I work with some of the guys in P Funk. It’s a band called “Drugs.” I’d like to see people realize that an artist can be multi-dimensional, and that’s just something I’ve always been.

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