Interview with Eminence Ensemble

Denver area six-piece jam band releases new album.

Founded in Boulder by childhood friends Justin Neely (guitar/vocals), Nick Baum (vocals/percussion), Zac Flynn (bass/synth), and Tanner Bardin (drums), the group has become a live Denver-staple, playing Mission Ballroom, Cervantes, The Fillmore, and The Ogden. They’re also an experienced studio project, endearing themselves to audiences through a vivid, chemistry-rich sound that combines free-flowing, virtuosic jam sensibilities with complex song structures, euphoric vocal harmonies, and vibrant electronic elements.

During the pandemic, the band was looking for new members, but they weren’t looking for just any musician – they needed individuals who understood their vision and blended well with their group dynamic. This led to the addition of Dylan Gleit (vocals/guitar/production/mixing, following his stint as the Emmy-award winning audio engineer for Mr. Robot) and Will Snyder (a Kansas City jazz pianist) – two experienced musicians who fit well into Eminence Ensemble’s structure.

We were joined via zoom by Neely and Gleit for a wide-ranging interview.

For each of you, how did you get your start, musically, and how did that transition to rock n roll?

Dylan: “My start… believe it or not, really had to do with Guitar Hero, made me realize I was passionate about rock n roll.  Before that, my only exposure to really performing and playing music in any capacity was playing trumpet in middle school…. I have all these songs stuck in my head now and I love the spirit and energy, and I would love to actually be able to play these songs.”

Justin: “I got my first guitar in 2002… I was on a quest to be cool, kiss girls, ya know.  I soon saw the shallowness in why I got the guitar and for a while I sorta let it fade.  And then my sister’s prom date came into our house and noticed I was trying to learn Master of Puppets by Metallica.  And in his tuxedo he asked if he could play my guitar, and proceeds to shred every single note perfectly.”

After graduating high school, Justin moved to Boulder to study classical guitar.  Tanner, Eminence’s drummer, had been in another band in their high school scene, and the two regularly dueled at Battle of the Bands as rivals.  Their two bands both split up, and Justin and Tanner met up in Bouder.  “He was definitely of a different fabric of music than I was, but something really clicked and he was like, “Dude, you don’t have your band, I don’t have my band.  Should we make OUR band?”  Initially created for a few amateur shows, they would later recruit other friends from Summit, CO where they grew up to join Eminence Ensemble and flesh out the project into a full working band.

photo by Jason Siegel

Dylan, you said you moved to Colorado four years ago.  Were you specifically recruited for the band?

Dylan: “Yes.  I had been living in Brooklyn for a number of years.  I was playing in another band… and I wanted to do something differently.  I wanted to be more involved in the jam scene.  I was scrolling thru instagram and i happened to see… Kris Myers [drummer for Umphree’s McGee] posted a video of him… playing along to a groove from one of his old projects.”  At the time, musicians around the world were doing everything they could to stay busy and stay connected with their fans.  “I thought to myself, this is right up my alley.  I’m gonna arrange a bunch of guitars and bass for it, make a song out of it, reupload it, tag them and try and get their attention and see if it works.  Worst case, it’s a fun musical exercise.”  Dylan heard nothing for two weeks, until eventually receiving a message from Myers on instagram asking if they could repost the video.  Dylan agreed, so long as they were willing to tag him in the video and help him out.”

“It happens to be the very same day that Eminence Ensemble lost their old guitar player.  So Eminence’s drummer, Tanner, was scrolling thru instagram.  He follows Kris Myers, too, and happens to see that video.”  What started out as a means of staving off boredom, and a heartfelt attempt to get the attention of one’s musical heroes, led Dylan to travel from New York to Colorado for an audition and ultimately a whole new life.”


“I was really into Metallica and Dream Theatre, then started listening to Sound Tribe Sector 9 and Umphreys, all these bands that bridge between other types of music and jam music.

-Justin Neely

Do you still bring that heavy metal influence into your music?

Justin: “Oh yeah.  Not super thrashy, but definitely our heavy side has come through… and it is very well reciprocated from the crowd…  People have come up to me and said, “I really don’t like metal but when you guys play it, I love it.””

“It definitely comes through in our improvisation” adds Dylan.  

photo by Tara Gracer

Jam scene evolution

Jam music is well known for incorporating many different styles from other genres, as a mosaic is made of many shards to form a whole image.  I wanted to ask how their impression of the scene has changed from when they started to today.  For reference, Eminence Ensemble formed around 2009.

Dylan: “There was quite an influx of dubstep and EDM music around that point.  Bassnectar was huge and obviously Sound Tribe [STS9]… I think they were doing a couple nights at Red Rocks each year and we were hittin’ every one.  I think as it evolved, the market got much more saturated with the Jam-tronica sound.  And at the same time we were really digging into bands like Umphrey’s and Phish, and trying to capture their fans as well.”  That didn’t stop them from learning how to make electronic music.  “I played bass and computer our first gig.  I didn’t even touch my guitar…  It was absurd.”

Those early experiments in mixing electronic music with traditional rock n roll were very informative in their jam style, specifically with how to create exciting moments and big drops.  “I think musicianship eventually came through the chaos.”  Their efforts to combine the musical influences of all the different members, from metal to electronic to jam, and make it all into a cohesive sound, culminated in the success of their latest album.  “I think we really hit it on the head of the nail with that.”

Dylan: “I’ve only been playing in a jam band since 2020… but I’ve been a fan of the jam scene… since 2012.  And what I’ve noticed in that time, there was definitely more of a welcoming crowd for weirdness in composition.  Like more atypical, progressive styles of writing, and bands that do that sort of thing like Dopapod, or a really great band out of Chicago called Mungion that does that really well.

“I feel like the jam scene since then has… pivoted more towards traditional songwriting and feel-good energy.  I feel like the people have just gravitated towards having a good time.”

One could make the argument that jam music was always about celebration and partying and feeling happy.  Perhaps in the face of the challenges of the pandemic and post-pandemic world, people are turning to music for escapism more than ever.

Dylan continues.  “That seems to be what the people wanna hear these days… that’s what’s selling.  But we have to be true to who we are and be authentic.  Authenticity, I think, comes before anything.”

Justin: “When we were young, everyone who was musical was trying to be in a band.  As we grow older… a lot of bands split up… and maybe they realize they weren’t passionate enough.  Especially thru the pandemic… and I think that the bands that made it thru really had something to say.”


When did you switch from being a live band and just playing shows and putting out covers to writing original material, or was that always the plan from the beginning?

Justin, “It was always the angle for sure, or the dream… I think a lot of finding your voice is finding voices you like that resonate with you and collecting those voices.  And then once you have enough knowledge or experience you can develop who you are as a person.  I think everyone does it, musically or not, as an adult.

“Mouse Hunt [the band’s first album] we were experimenting.  A lot of songs had done well live, and a lot of songs we were just trying to write so we had more songs to play.”

For their second album, Real News, the band continued expressing their vision but were still honing in on their brand, their particular stand-out style.  “I think it took the addition of Dylan and Will [Will Snyder their keyboard player]… who were two serious musicians with their own voice, and it inspired us to all come together.  We have different things to say individually but together there’s a real conversation we’re trying to start with our music.”

Dylan, did you write any original songs you wrote before joining EE that you brought to the band.  What was your songwriting experience in that realm?

Dylan: “Actually that’s a great opportunity and logical segue for me to mention that the most recent single that we dropped called “Believe It” is actually a song I wrote about my songwriting journey and my journey towards confidence and self esteem.

“I was playing in a band before Eminence, in New York that I would love to plug, they’re called Ritual Talk. Great dudes, great music, really amazing, awesome compositions, great creativity in the studio.  [They are] in the psychedelic indie rock realm of things…. We would make songs that were very intentional, every single move.  And a lot of times more about the sound and the feeling of the part rather than the notes itself.  Art rock is the way I would describe it.

“I really liked playing in that band and it really helped me grow as a musician.  But I think towards the end of my time in that band, I started to realize that I was exactly gelling with the other members creatively when it came to the writing.  I was trying really hard to contribute, and it seemed like my ideas and vision for writing music didn’t exactly align with theirs… I had to force and manipulate a lot of my ideas to fit their vision that they had…. I started to doubt myself creatively, and didn’t think that I really was able to write music.  I had a lot of experience playing other peoples music and learning it note for note, but this was my first real band where I was trying to write music, and kinda failing at it.  So I didn’t not have much confidence in myself as a songwriter….

“When I moved out to Denver to join the band… The one aspect that I would bring to the table that they really didn’t get to test out was my ability to write music.  So I was very nervous about it, going in.  I remember, I had only been out here about a week, and Justin invited me, ‘Hey, Nick and I are getting ready to write a song.’ … I remember being super nervous for this session… I eventually gathered up the courage to start suggesting some ideas in that session, and I was so surprised as to how receptive they were to my ideas.  Immediately, Justin was like, ‘Oh yeah yeah, that’s awesome, let’s do this, let’s do that.’  And we were all just bouncing ideas off each other and it all flowed really freely and naturally.  That was a light bulb moment for me.  Maybe I do have a voice.  Maybe I just wasn’t in the right environment.

“Shortly after that I experience a few months long period where i was feeling really inspired and wrote a ton of music that was well received by the band that we started to bring in and started to play live.  Most of the material that I’ve contributed to Eminence I’ve written since joining the band, except there is one song.. It’s called Somehow, its the last full song on the album [Inside Looking Out].  That song, I started writing in my bedroom in 2017.  I was just writing it for me.  I knew it would never exist in the realm of my old band, it was just an idea I had floating around in my head, that was just half-baked.  And then in 2022 I pulled it out of the ether again and really developed it.  

“Huge thanks to Justin and NIck in particular for really bundling up some confidence and allowing me to realize that I maybe I did have a voice that was worth sharing.”

Eminence Ensemble’s latest record, Inside Looking Out, was released on Thursday, March 14th. 

Be sure to catch their live show the next time they play in your area.