Lead singer and bassist Nanyamka Ewing (right) and guitarist Shawn Moses (left) are two members of Mammoth Piano, which will play the RFT's Art A'Fair on June 23.
Mammoth Piano exists in the gray space between a few styles of music. Its website says “alternative blues, rock, funk, punk and pop.” Yet lead singer and bassist Nanyamka Ewing has an affinity for one genre in particular.
“I’m a rocker through and through,” she says. “There’s nothing more punk and rock than being a Black woman in America.”
Ewing embodies her self-proclaimed rocker title through bright eye makeup, bold, layered clothing (often complete with a signature feather earring) and a low, slightly raspy voice. Ewing exudes confidence and charisma as she speaks, often punctuated by a burst of laughter, head thrown back.
In her daily life, Ewing wears many hats. She bartends, reads Tarot cards and manages most of the administrative work for Mammoth Piano.
What she really loves, however, is music. Each day, Ewing is surrounded by music — from the lyrics she writes for Mammoth Piano to the bluesy tunes played at Sophie’s Artist Lounge, where she works. Ewing says can sometimes get a hold of the playlist before the DJ arrives.
Ewing grew up in West County. Under the influence of Janet Jackson and MTV, she started singing in elementary school — first around the house, then in church and choir groups. Ewing picked up bass seven years ago, when she was 28, and started looking for music groups to join. She played for Crazy Triple Ex-Girlfriend before splitting to start Mammoth Piano five years ago.
Ewing raves about her fellow band members — whom she affectionately refers to as “the boys” — drummer Nick Wetzel, keyboardist Casey Fulghum and guitarist Shawn Moses.
“I've been very comfortable, showing these layers and exposing myself to these people,” she says. “And we feel each other’s energy.”
Their music is foot-tapping catchy, with a strong rocker drumbeat and jazzy keyboard. Ewing’s rich voice slides over a subtle bass line, often with lyrics about romance or heartbreak. In Mammoth Piano’s latest single, “Care No More,” she sings about bidding a lover farewell ("I salute you I do/ I’m no longer your boo/ I don’t care for you no more").
Mammoth Piano is planning an album release soon, rerecording its old EP and adding new material. Ewing says the band has never been stronger than it is right now.
Ewing has been in South City since she graduated from Lindenwood University in 2017 with a BA in human resources. Unless she’s moving to her dream city, Gap, France, Ewing says she — and the band — are likely staying put.
“If I’m leaving St. Louis, I’m leaving the country,” she says. “Some of the best talent in the world, I think in the nation, is [in St. Louis] and I've seen it.”
However, Ewing knows it isn’t easy to establish oneself in the art scene in St. Louis. She knows both how much opportunity and how much anonymity can come with starting out as an artist here.
“The city giveth, and the city taketh,” she says, grinning.
However, Ewing is dedicated to helping other artists find their footing.
“I want to help people grow their artistry,” she says.“Let's invest in people who do want to do the work and care about other people, who care about the city, who want to scream St. Louis from the top of their lungs.”
As the leader of Mammoth Piano, Ewing posts on social media, reaches out to event planners and attends meetings. But she’s always thinking about that next performance.
“You spend most of your time practicing and getting stuff together, organizing, marketing and all this other stuff,” Ewing says. “You actually spent 10 percent of your time playing music. So you have to make that 10 percent count.”
Ewing described being on stage as “being in a black hole,” when the band really clicks with one another. In those moments, all the paperwork and hours of practice and meetings fade away. “You're really in that zone,” she says. “I do so much stuff to get back to that point.”
Catch Mammoth Piano at the Riverfront Times
’ Art A’Fair
on Thursday, June 23. Tickets cost $25 online and at the door. Read more about it here