The Wilmington psychedelic rock quintet is having fun and getting gigs, after finally settling on a name
More often than not, serious effort and planning go into putting together a successful band. Sure, any group of guys or girls with some musical proficiency can cobble together a page on Facebook and call themselves a band. But forming a group that will gig together for years instead of fizzling out before they lay down any tracks or even play a live gig takes the right concept, personalities and instruments.
And then there’s MEGA, a rare example of a band that bucks the trend, despite themselves.
The Wilmington psychedelic rock quintet includes Phil Matarese (guitar/vocals), Chris Maloney (guitar/vocals), Allan McKinley (bass), Mike Bleinberger (guitar) and Tyler Holloway (drums). They’re essentially a cast of college buddies who put about as much effort into their band name as they did into picking a distinct theme for their first album.
“I wish there was a cool story there, like other bands have,” says Maloney. “But Phil and I have very different ideas of what a cool band name is, so we just kept texting five names a day at each other back and forth. We stuck with MEGA because it was the only name that both of us kinda liked.”
That nonchalant attitude seeps into the track order on the band’s first full-length album, The Valley Spirit Never Dies, released this past spring. The nine-song recording zigs and zags around the genre spectrum. There are plenty of Phish-inspired riffs (without too much extended jamming), and pop ditties with three-part harmonies. There are also a couple of instrumental tracks that wander with playful abandon and a hippy closer more suitable for a Woodstock revival album than the eight previous tracks.
To be clear, this is not a bad thing.
“I’m sure there are rules for how to put an album together, but we just don’t care,” says Matarese. “To me, the best part about forming a band and making an album is having fun and doing what you want to do, right? I think people appreciate that when they listen to our songs on Bandcamp and see us live, whether they download our album or not.”
While the order of songs and band names may be left open to interpretation, Matarese and Maloney still followed the rules of online engagement with potential fans. MEGA’s presence and songs were planned in advance on iTunes and Spotify. With Bandcamp, however, there was a bit of trouble.
“Some other Italian punk band had been sitting on that name, for some reason,” says Matarese. “We had to call Bandcamp and basically check on the account, which had been left idle. I didn’t even know that could happen, but we were able to get it for ourselves, eventually.”
The album itself, which Maloney says they only pressed in vinyl (rather than CDs) “to increase our hipster cred,” features a ton of ‘90s nostalgia. All five band members graduated as friends from the University of Delaware in 2003, and it’s clear their late-‘90s high school memories influenced the songwriting process.
Songs like “Winnie Cooper” and “Tetris” dot the track listing, and even the band’s logo is a replica of the highly popular ‘90s gaming system, SEGA. When asked if they’d paid the licensing fees to print their logo on shirts, Matarese says, “Are you kidding? If they ever found out, Sonic the Hedgehog would probably take my house.”
Guest Musicians on the Album
Even the album’s title, The Valley Spirit Never Dies, is an homage to their youthful days of driving around the Pike Creek Valley, looking for the Witch House and other Delaware anomalies, according to Maloney. He says the title also doubles as a reference to the Tao Te Ching, by sixth-century Chinese philosopher Laozi.
The album was co-produced by local legend Nick Krill (Teen Men, The Spinto Band), and includes artwork by artist/filmmaker Albert Birney, a one-time member of Spinto. Local guest musicians also appear on the album, including Kevin Tarzanin (The Bullbuckers) and Blayne Salerni (Universal Funk Order) and Krill.
Matarese says that, unlike other bands, they record by focusing on one song at a time, rather than a certain instrument. Each track, he says, takes on a life of its own, rather than functioning as part of a greater catalogue.
“Some bands, like, say, The Strokes, have albums where just about every song sounds the same, albeit in a good way,” says Matarese. “But we like the song-a-day approach, where we can take hours to bang out one song. It gives us a chance to really drill down and make it perfect, rather than over-dubbing from multiple recordings.”
“No song is ever really done, I guess,” he says. “Sure, you can listen to the recorded version, which is usually a mix of several versions, but even the live shows allow the songs to constantly evolve. Guess that reverts back to the notion of that spirit never dying.”
MEGA has three local gigs booked this month, including Friday, Dec. 7, at 1984 on 4th Street with New Shields, Bayrides and <tsunami, Saturday, Dec. 8, at Argilla Brewing Co. on Kirkwood Highway with Less than Five and Reverse Giraffe, and Friday, Dec. 21, at the Jackson Inn on Lancaster Avenue with Wasted Arrows Band, New Shields and Mothman Properties.