Feet on the Ground

It’s true, if you turn it upside down, “9E” becomes (roughly) “36.” And that, according to singer and rhythm guitarist Tony Prat, is how the Jacksonville Beach-based garage rock group 9E got its name.

It’s Wednesday, and #FindYourFolio Happy Hour is in full swing at Jax Beach landmark Casa Marina. Prat and bandmates–Jason Hoey (lead guitar), Don Nicol (bass) and Brent Knoechel (drums)–have convened to discuss their latest project with Folio Weekly. We’re several cocktails in by the time I ask about the band name. It’s probably too late for a straight answer.

“It’s like a twist out of a hotel mystery movie,” Prat says, looking wide-eyed around him and riffing on the surroundings. (Casa Marina’s haunted, yo!) Then he shrugs and adds, “But really I was watching a TV show about surfing one day, and this board had the number 36 on it. They shot it from a weird angle, though. It looked like 9E!”

Surfing is something 9E know a bit about. The musicians are all Jax Beach boys. Hoey gets extra surf-scene points for spending some of his formative years in Hawaii. He and Prat have been friends forever, first bonding over BMX bikes and surfboards. Life led each down a different path, however, with Prat moving to New York and Hoey shuttling between the Sunshine and Aloha States.

When both resettled in Jacksonville, they joined forces to play in bands, including The Flying Sorcerers. Nicol and Knoechel were poached from fellow Jax Beach outfit, Strange Friend. 9E may be less than two years old, but the band was a lifetime in the making. The players are all of the same place and generation. They were all nourished on smart drinks and alt-rock at Jax Beach’s storied club, Einstein a Go-Go. In other words, the new lineup fit like a glove.

“What had happened,” Knoechel explains, “was that, long story short, the band morphed out of Strange Friend and The Flying Sorcerers playing together. We had traded shows and got to know each other. One day Tony said, ‘Hey, you wanna come jam out?’ Then Jason came. Then Don came in. We just kind of admired each other’s abilities and put it together.”

“It was organic,” Prat adds.

The band’s vibe is a Frankenstein monster of the sounds on which they were weaned. Hoey’s esoteric, reverb-heavy guitar riffs sound like The Cult’s Billy Duffy’s, with fuzzed-out Mudhoney power chords for emphasis. Prat barks like David Johansen and slurs like Shane MacGowan. The rhythm section grinds along on toms and minor scales.

9E debuted in November 2017 and hasn’t looked back. They recorded a four-track EP, Desert Nights, last year at Chris Flowers’ A1A Studios. (It’s streaming on Spotify.) The band recently performed Winterland II in Five Points, and are currently recording a seven-inch vinyl single at the festival’s founder Glenn Van Dyke’s analog studio, Winterland at Regal House.

“We talked about it and thought it’d be cool to record on reel-to-reel,” Knoechel explained. “The final result will be pressed to 45 to get an all-around vintage sound.”

Is 9E on a roll? Absolutely, replied Prat. “Year 1, 2018, was good to us,” he said of the year when they opened for crucial Michigan rock group, the MC5. “We’re trying to expand on that this year.”

Part of the reason the rock veterans are having such a blast: wisdom.

“We try to set realistic goals,” Prat explains. “We’re older guys. They have families and businesses. We’re not out to be big stars. I feel like we’ve got our feet on the ground. We wanna have fun. And when I walk into my band room and see these guys, I’m truly happy.”

It’s a winning formula. Said Knoechel, “I’ve been in bands since I was a kid and have never had so many things fall into place. We work really hard at it, of course, but we’re getting rewarded for our efforts.”