Phoenix based Luxxe uses influences to create Americana folk

Luxxe, a Phoenix-based Americana quintet, is on a bit of a high these days.

With the EP "One" under its belt and another on the way, the band opened for singer Hunter Hayes at ASU's Devilpalooza event on the Tempe campus. They recently performed at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, and at the So What Music Festival in Grand Prairie, Texas, in March. The group said it is eyeing the East Coast for a tour in the future.

A meeting of minds 

Lead singer Seth Smades said he met flutist Nullin Hasan and drummer Devon Quartullo in high school. He said that he and Hasan played together in a cover band, one that Hasan brought him onto through meeting in a choir.

"Me and a couple of other people were playing music, and we never had a singer," Hasan said. "We listened to Seth and said, 'We want to play with this guy.'"

The two met Quartullo, who asked Smades to audition for a band called The Bend during high school after he had worked on other projects. A separation of the two rejoined as backup for California-based singer Shae Brock.

After Smades and Quartullo left Brock's band, they started their own project, and got in touch with ASU student Anna Phillippe, who Smades met in high school choir.

When Smades spoke about Phillippe, he said that the band would ask her to join them for shows as a backup singer.

"After a while we said, ‘Why don’t we make it official?’” Smades said.

She would join in as a permanent member of Luxxe afterwards. “Everyone loved her performing with us,” Quartullo said.

Prior to Phillippe joining the band, Smades said she would write songs with him, and eventually he told her that the group needed a bass player. Phillippe's roommate at the time, ASU alumna Tracy Haddad, plays upright bass and fit the role that Smades and Quartullo were looking for. Haddad learned the songs Smades had written, and after playing the Meghan Trainor song All About That Bass with them, Smades said that it all clicked.

Upon returning from Berkeley, Hasan asked Quartullo if he could join the band, and his keyboard and flute “filled in the gaps perfectly,” Smades said.

The Americana

There was no direct discussion on basing Luxxe's music in Americana folk — the music landed in that area on its own.

“It was just the way the music formulated live,” Smades said.

Smades' inspirations are wide ranging, from classic rock band Led Zeppelin and singer Phil Collins to Norwegian black metal and Motown, specifically Marvin Gaye. He recalled going to his grandparent's house and listening to their mix CDs of Motown artists, which garnered his appreciation for harmonies in singing.

Haddad also plays electric bass, but she said that she is classically trained which influences her performances on the band's songs.

"I use the bow a lot, and I use a lot of basic scales," she said. "Just a typical baseline that you'd find in a symphony or in classical music."

Haddad began her classical training at the age of 15 with a violin, and said that back then she would listen exclusively to classical music. She chose the upright bass as her preferred instrument because the field was less competitive, and there were more opportunities to gain from it.

Phillippe said the easy listening genre was her home base for her writing, but that she's "all over the place" with writing and listening. She mentioned artists such as John Mayer, John Denver, James Taylor and Jackson Browne as some of the artists she keeps in rotation, but doesn't shy away from "Top 40" artists, including One Direction.

"But for harmonies, it's nice to go back to those folk influences," she said, mentioning English band The Staves.

Growing up, Hasan said he listened to reggae thanks to his mother, which grew into an affection for world music.

"My mom was in Peace Corps in Belize," he said. "So she brought back a lot of that stuff. That was kind of like my first experience with that."

Hasan would go through his parents' cassettes to figure out what he liked the best. He touched on Bob Marley (specifically the Legend album) as well as Black Uhuru. His love for world music stemmed from the Belizean Garifuna people.

"The stuff you would hear that was different from the U.S. always intrigued me," he said.

He picked up the flute for two reasons. He was inspired by painting he saw of the Hindu deity, Krishna, playing a flute while attending a Scottsdale art school that required its students to take up an instrument. The second reason was the portability and the low cost.

"I went and shadowed one day at the school, and I was watching kids carrying around upright basses and tubas, and I said, 'I'm not doing that,'" he said with a laugh.

Quartullo said that his roots come from James Brown, Led Zeppelin and Queen, and that all three artists changed his life and formulated how he plays drums and expresses himself through music. These days, however, he said he draws from artists such as One Republic ... ish.

"Since I met Seth, he's kind of opened my eyes to folk," he said. "Ever since we went to a Lumineers concert in Tuscon, I can appreciate that type of music more and incorporate it into things I do now."

Quartullo said he decided on the drums after a few sessions with chopsticks and canned food as a child. He upgraded to pots and pans as he grew older to the point where his folks bought him a toy drum set when he was three years old.

On the band formulating its genre in Americana, Quartullo said, "It kind of took itself there."

On "One," and the future

The band's EP, "One" performs as advertised, carrying folk Americana trappings surrounded by a veneer of floaty instrumentals. Juxtaposing and complementing is Smade's grounded voice — low tones that balance out the weightlessness.

Luxxe said recording the EP took four months to put together, but recording and selecting the songs happened over the span of a year. The writing times for some of the songs were shorter — "Love Me" took 15 minutes to write, where title track "One" took two weeks.

"Entomologist," the disc's introductory track about losing one's virginity, took three years to fully craft.

"It was something that I had never felt before, so I wanted to put that into words," Smades said. Phillippe assisted with the melody during a time where Smades was focused more on writing instrumentals. She provided the chorus, which only slightly changed over time, while Quartullo provided the first line by accident.

Luxxe said the main thing that they want listeners to take away from its music is feeling.

"If they can relate to the feeling and enjoy it at the same time, then I think we have a mission accomplished," Smades said.

Related links:

Diamonds in the Dust: Forgotten Greenwich folk-heroes in the shadow of Bob Dylan

Murrieta finances debut album, hopes for cross-country expansion


Reach the reporter at djulienr@asu.edu or follow @legendpenguin on Twitter

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