"We don't necessarily try to fit in," supposes 11 Red Apples co-vocalist Annie Rodriquez. "Maybe that's why things don't happen as fast for us."
Consequently, not fitting in may be one of the main factors that has pushed the locally based, working-man's funk outfit to the comfortable broad acceptance that's come to characterize its four-year career. Even the band's name plays pun on sore thumbs sticking out, chosen, as legend has it, when a rehearsal snack break produced a bag of 12 apples, bearing one errant green one. Rather than relating to Donny Osmond's "one bad apple," the band saw the chance to further the positive perspective that inspired the quirky name. After all, that's what they do.
"Everybody goes through hard times," says Rodriquez. "I don't think any one of us has a steady job right now. But anytime we're negative, it's bad karma, and it's not worth it. A lot of the positivity is from our own friendship for each other."
11 Red Apples began four years ago, when a chance meeting in a music store joined the similarly groove-oriented ambitions of founding members Ryan Cox (guitar) and AJ Johnson (bass, lead vocals). Since then, the group -- rounded out by Rodriquez, Jeighson Hestor (drums), Harrison Light (keyboard) and Phil Martin (saxophone) -- has taken their seemingly incidental brand of filled-out funk to a level of almost unanimous appreciation, picking up a dependable following of fans, or "friends" as they prefer to call them, along the way.
It's populist, positive funk in the grand sense, soaring somewhere around the righteous interplay of diva Rosie Gaines and devolved Prince in their late-era New Power Generation revivals, with Rodriquez exchanging adept vocal bombast with the more grounded urbanity of Johnson and Cox. Not obvious fare, to be sure. But for some reason -- be it pop-machine reaction or overriding regional funk appreciation -- it's working. Mostly because they're making it work. And because people want it to.
"I've been told personally that all of the generic pop of Orlando gets monotonous," says Rodriquez. "Someone popped into one of our gigs the other night and was like, ‘Wow, this is just what we've been looking for -- not too old, not too young.'"
Like many acts wrapped in the immediacy of the rhythm & blues muse, 11 Red Apples are first and foremost a live experience. Word of mouth has earned them deserved attendance at their numerous gigs, and their drawing reputation helped them become a weekly Wednesday-night house attraction through summer at Have a Nice Day Cafe. Additionally, they were recently crowned victorious in F.B.I. Liquors' Battle of the Bands, scoring a cool grand to help keep it all going.
When it came time this year to put some of their fruitful efforts down on fiberglass, the band, after some failed attempts at studio recording, opted for capturing their live magic undiluted. Released earlier this year, "11 Red Apples -- Live" effectively captures the warmed-up jazz of their shows, without compromising the performance vibe. The glorified demo was tracked during one such display at The Legendary Station last year.
"There was no way that we could beat that energy in the studio," says Rodriquez. "There tends to be that energy lacking when you're in a booth. ... The better that we sound to each other, the more confident we feel."
The songs -- of which the band has now amassed more than 30 -- come from a similarly organic process, wherein each member assists the instrumental dialogue, until a full song is birthed. Nobody leaves until the fresh cut is completed. And that, like 11 Red Apples themselves, could happen at any time.
"We're just warming up," says Rodriquez.
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