Major changes, close-knit friendships and an energetic sound contribute to newest Musikarmageddon victors Rusty Blue
When Rusty Blue was announced as the victorious band at the Musikarmageddon competition on Oct. 14 at the baby grand, members of the group began laughing uncontrollably.
Says bassist Joey Heins: “It was just pure joy. I was trying to stop myself from laughing but I just couldn’t.”
The four-man band received an average score of 93 out of 100 from judges and got nearly half of the audience votes. The remaining three bands—Cologne, TreeWalker and Carrier—were much closer in their scores, with Cologne taking the runner-up spots thanks to a solid fan base. There were approximately 160 people in attendance, one of the largest Musikarmageddon finale crowds.
Judges’ comments about Rusty Blue brimmed with praise: “Solid. Full of energy. An eclectic mix. You’re on the fast track to amazing things,” from Jim Pennington, guitarist of local band The Collingwood; “Who needs an intro with a start like that? Killer. Catchy, interesting, nostalgic,” from Zach Crouch, lead guitarist of last year’s winners Susquehanna Floods; “Great interaction, amazing energy, fun to watch. I’m an instant fan. Classic but innovative,” from area music mainstay Angela Sheik.
The Wilmington alternative rock band has come a long way since forming in 2014 as Over Ripe Banana. Most members hadn’t even reached high school then.
Between then and now, the original line up has shifted—members left, others switched instruments—and the group now consists of Greg Stanard on rhythm guitar and vocals, Joey Heins on bass, Clayton Milano on lead guitar and Damien Pace on drums. The band name first appeared as the title of a song, which, Heins says in retrospect, was “a pretty bad piece of music, but we needed to get rid of Over Ripe Banana if we had any chance of getting a real show.”
At the time, the group did covers, something remembered by Gayle Dillman of Gable Music Ventures, the local event company that promotes original music and runs events like downtown’s Ladybug Music Festival.
“Every month for six months Joey emailed me,” Dillman says. He also sent videos of the band playing—and growth and improvement were immediately palpable. When Rusty Blue shifted to playing original music, Dillman got them a handful of Gable gigs.
“Each time they got better,” she says. “What Joey demonstrated is something many bands have trouble with: patience, perseverance and persistence. Did I mention that Joey was 14 when he started emailing? Who does that? Usually it’s a parent, not a young teen. We knew there was something there.”
Songwriting became Stanard’s job, though over time that role has become more collaborative. Someone will write a chorus or verse, someone else will come in with a riff, and everyone discusses the song’s outcome from there.
The band has released one album, Life’s Good. The Musikarmageddon prize package includes a recording session with TribeSound Records (along with 20 custom band t-shirts from Spaceboy Clothing, a photoshoot with Moonloop Photography, and more) so Heins says they’ll definitely be utilizing that studio time to work on their second album in the near future.
Most of Rusty Blue’s songs are rooted in experience, whether about day-to-day life like bike riding adventures or the more abstract, like dreams. But one thing all the songs have in common is that they’re deeply personal.
“I think that’s what makes them so special,” Heins says.
Band members’ chemistry doesn’t stop with collaborative songwriting.
“Our music is complex and we really try our best to play together,” says Heins. “We never let a musical moment go unrecognized if we can help it and I think we all know where everyone’s moments are. We complement each other.”
In the meantime, finding a band-life balance is no easy task. All members, between the ages of 16 and 17, are juniors or seniors at Mount Pleasant High School in Wilmington. They also have jobs, so finding time to practice can be challenging, but it’s a priority—as is building friendships.
“All of us hang out all of the time,” says Heins. “We love to listen to music, ride bikes, take walks, explore interesting places, pretty much anything.”
While graduation is around the corner, Heins says the band is excited for their future of playing together. “This is my first chance to pursue music in a big way and I love that I’m getting this chance with my best friends,” he says. “Our shared musical and personal chemistry is what makes continuing as a band worthwhile to me.”
Heins says Rusty Blue wants to go on tour soon, which he says seems more feasible now than it did even a month ago. With the adrenaline of the Musikarmageddon win, plus the fact that the band has been expanding its show base beyond Wilmington and Philadelphia, things are looking up.
“Rusty Blue’s evolution is everything that Gable wants as a business,” says Dillman. “We started Gable to provide a platform for all ages. The young men have matured, sharpened their skills and have written some amazing original music. And they are all 16 or 17—kind of reminds me of The Districts.”