Speakeasy: Working on a Machine

Written by Tamara Styer

Shawn Eckels and his band Speakeasy are as well known on the streets of Springfield, Missouri as Paul McCartney and the Beatles. Performing in their hometown and touring nationally, Speakeasy has been around for 13 years, becoming a staple in the local music scene.

“Sometimes it’s crazy to actually think about it,” says Ryan Fannin, drummer. “You just think about something that happened when you were out on the road in Colorado and it was 8 or 9 years ago at this point. When you start thinking about memories that seem like they’re not too long ago, and then how long we’ve all been playing music together, it’s pretty powerful.”

With an earthy, blues-rock sound, Speakeasy’s fan favorite, “Bad Apples,” and their newest single, “Machine,” could both be hits off of a new John Mayer Trio album. Lead singer Eckles has a great reputation for his bluesy voice and serious guitar chops, as well as how often he plays music. He is involved with several local bands, including Han Trio, and is known to be playing music most every night of the week.

But his most known band is Speakeasy. They have toured as far west as Colorado and played at festivals like Wakarusa. The band is currently staying around the Midwest, writing a ton of music, and recording and releasing singles.

“We borrow from a lot of older rock and roll music,” says Marcus Chatman, keyboardist. “That’s what we listen to, and we get a lot of our inspiration from older rock and roll and even metal.”

“I think it’s safe to say that our favorite band collectively is probably Led Zeppelin,” says Reed Smith Herron, bassist. “Would that be a fair assessment?”

The group agrees.

“Anything from gospel to heavy metal to punk rock and reggae,” says Chatman.

“The four of us had our own musical influences,” says Fannin. “We’ve never put any restraints on the kind of music we’ll write. It’s been hard in the past to label it, but it definitely leans towards rock and roll and blues.”

After 13 collective years, one might imagine the bond between these guys.

“It runs really deep,” says Chatman. “It’s beyond friends. It’s like being married to each other and then some, because we chose to do this together, with all the good and the bad, and we dearly love each other, and we love the music that we put out together. So that’s why we still do this. If I stop and think about it, it blows me away sometimes to imagine how long of a road that we’ve been on, and we’re still cruising on.”

“Whenever I joined Speakeasy,” adds Herron, “it was definitely a defining moment in my life, because I didn’t have any brothers growing up. And whenever I joined Speakeasy it was definitely a brotherhood, with all the stuff that Marcus was talking about, the good stuff, the bad stuff, and really just sticking together and really and truly being a part of something that is more than about us each individually, and that is truly a collective, and that’s been a great joy in my life.”
Photo property of Speakeasy

Speakeasy have an endless wealth of stories to tell from their days on the road together.

“I remember I was watching from a different vehicle,” says Chatman. “We were on the road in Colorado, and at the time Shawn had a mini van that we took out there and we were pulling a trailer. We were checking out this place that we were going to do a wedding the following week. Then we went down to the hill that was going into this log cabin, and the van brakes just went out. Shawn and like three other people were in this van going straight at this big lake. So that was a really scary moment to watch, especially not being in the vehicle and watching my brothers almost go into the lake. And then Shawn wrenched the wheel and turned really quick and made it out. It was crazy.”

“I did like a 90 degree turn at probably like 25 mph or something like that,” laughs Eckels. “It went up on its side when we turned, man, it was scary as all fuckin get-out. Then our friend that we were doing the wedding for gave us a big dually truck to pull our trailer, and we went to Winter Park and played a show and our buddy Andy who was a ski patrol in Copper Mountain gave us ski passes and snowboards. I’ve never been snow boarding or anything, and it was pretty hard snow, it wasn’t powdery at all. We’re on the bunny slope, with wrist guards. I had a fuckin helmet on and everything, and I broke my wrist.”

“Third day of a three-week tour,” laughs Herron.

“So I’m in a cast,” continues Eckels, “and I can’t hold a pick or anything, and my arm’s kind of cocked where I can’t reach the guitar, so I had to play with the stubs of my fingers.”

“He played for two weeks with an elbow cast all the way from his bicep all the way down to his wrist,” laughs Chatman, “and he was the only one of us that bought wrist guards.”

“The most prepared person was the one who got hurt,” laughs Herron.

“We had a great tour,” continues Eckels. “We couldn’t play half our songs. We were playing covers just trying to get by, and I was doped up on painkillers. My fingers would just break open and I’d switch to another finger, and then by the time I had holes in all my fingers, I just started wrapping them in tape. It was crazy. It was a really good time and it hurt really bad.”

“And Marcus,” says Herron, “up until that point he kind of messed around on keyboards, but he hadn’t really played keyboards extensively until then. And then all the sudden, Shawn can’t do half of what he normally does.”

“I had to play a solo,” laughs Eckels, “so let’s have another organ solo!”

“Well when I joined the band,” explains Chatman, “I had always been a vocalist and played harmonica and some percussion when I was younger. When I joined Speakeasy with Shawn and Ryan, our bass player at the time said, ‘just play keys and go for it, man! Just do whatever you can do and whatever happens happens. Just go for it, learn while we go.’ So it was a really big pat on the back as far as brothers go, to say we’ll make mistakes, but we’ll make the best of what we’ve got, and we’re going to learn together. So it was a good way to learn on the spot.”

"The uphill of that,” says Eckels, “is that we started playing some bigger festivals and we hooked up with the legendary band from the 60s and 70s, Little Feat, and made some really good friends with them, and played a bunch of shows with them. That’s been awesome to play with them and kind of get feedback from some guys who have been around the block and played with everybody you could imagine. Some of those guys played with Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa and all sorts of different people. They were like, ‘hey, you guys are great!’ We were like ‘fuck, yeah, I didn’t think we were getting this good!’ And we played with a band called Umphrey’s McGee from Chicago too, and we made good friends with them. We’re going to do some more shows with Umphrey’s this year as well.”

Remembering their start as if it were yesterday, Speakeasy has advice for younger bands coming into the music scene.

“I think the biggest thing is to understand that we are entertainers,” says Chatman. “Don’t take yourself so seriously, and go out and have a good time and be prepared. And play with the people that you want to play with. Enjoy yourself. If you’re not having a good time doing it then don’t do it.”

“Don’t burn any bridges, ever,” says Eckels, “That’s big if you’re a young band trying to go out.”

“Perseverance,” adds Herron, “and stick with each other.”

“As far as tours,” says Chatman, “it just comes down to you finding that one gig that’s going to be worth it, you getting out there, and then doing what you can around that one gig. It’s another helpful way to shoot yourself out there for a week too.”

“Also, everybody in the band, anybody on the team, can make a contribution somehow,” says Herron. “If somebody doesn’t know what to do, find something to do, help promote, get on the Internet, tell your friends about it, do whatever. Just get everybody involved.”

On April 5, 2010, Speakeasy released their new single, “Machine,” now available for free download through www.speakeasyband.com and also available on iTunes and other popular music sites. They are also affiliated with the Music Archive App for smart devices, with over 40 different live Speakeasy shows available.

“Always having something new to promote is kind of cool too,” says Eckels. “You always have a fresh song.”
Photo by Blake Sellers


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  1. Very nice interview/article by Tamara. {minus the missed homophone "feat" :-)}. You guys came across exactly as you are individually and collectively. Nice piece.

  2. Speakeasy was my first local band experience. I was 15 and I still enjoy their music as much now as I did then! You can tell that they do what they love because so many love what they do. Thanks for the piece Tamara :)

  3. Thank you for your correction, Fred! Comments are always appreciated!


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