Recommended If You Like: Young The Giant, The Killers, Maroon 5
How can one measure musical success? Is it selling out stadiums, or millions in album sales? Is it a devoted fan base? Who gets to decide? Music can — and should — be both evocative and subjective, and not about numbers. Music can be a mindset, a safe space, a place where one can unapologetically be themselves.
Black Tie Stereo, a pop-rock outfit hailing from Scranton, PA, exemplify what it means to be all of these things; offering both energized musical prowess and authentic personability. They have managed to curate a sound that is delightfully palatable, and show exciting promise within the music scene. Black Tie Stereo is your ultimate power-pop group, utilizing their upbeat sound to promote a contagious love for music.
Atwood Magazine recently caught up with the group, where we chatted about everything from their varying musical influences, to their constant creation and dynamism, and how being able to spread their energy to others is the the best part of what they do.
Listen: “The Artist” – Black Tie Stereo
A CONVERSATION WITH BLACK TIE STEREO
Atwood Magazine: Tell me a bit about how you guys got together, the four of you; did you come together completely randomly, or were you working on separate projects together?
Stephen Murphy: George and I were working on a separate project together; mostly just cover bands. Then we met up with this guy named Charlie Kazuba, and the three of us went into an original project with stuff that I, and a little bit of George, had put out beforehand. Then shortly after that, we really pushed the original project a little more. We needed a bassist, so we brought on Aaron, and then [Charlie] left, and we brought in Jesse. So the four of us, technically we’ve been together for fourteen months as this lineup.
How does this differ from the previous stuff? Is it just moving away from the cover stuff? Or do you feel like you have more creative expression and freedom?
Stephen: There’s a lot more musical collaboration.
George Pachucy: Synergy.
Stephen: A lot of times, if it was my song, I would be like, “These are the parts.” Or George would be like, “Hey, I have an arrangement of this song.” Right now, it’s a very collaborative effort. Right now when we learn a new song, the person who wrote the song is going to teach us the chords, and then each member is going to come in with their own part on their own instrument.
So where do you tend to draw your musical influences from the most?
Jesse Morvan: As a whole or individually?
However you want to answer it! There’s four of you!
Jesse: Well, George’s favorite band is The Beatles.
George: Hell yeah it is.
Jesse: I would say Stephen’s biggest influence is Billy Joel, probably.
George: We should say what we think each other’s influences are.
Please do! I want to know, what do you think each other’s influences are?
Stephen: Well, Aaron’s got the very virtuosic playing.
Jesse: Aaron’s the progressive, alternative rock, and I’m more folk, indie rock…
George: You’re not supposed to pick your own!
Stephen: Oh, Jesse’s influence, from appearance, is Marcus Mumford. And musically, it’s John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers.
What would you describe your sound as?
Jesse: Power pop.
Aaron Kovalich: That’s a term we discovered on Wikipedia.
George: Or bee-bop, you know?
Stephen: You know, The Killers play a lot of influence because they’re a four-piece with a very similar sound. Walk The Moon.
George: Aaron, if you had to pick your biggest influence, who would it be?
Aaron: At the moment, my favorite band is Young the Giant.
Not one of us is subordinate in what they’re playing to another part.
So “power pop” would be genre, then?
George: Synth-driven, heavy beats, tasty guitar, funky bass.
What do you get most excited about with performing?
Aaron: Working on new and original songs is probably the most exciting. “Avenue Beat” is the most fun. We’re getting to the point where we do so many of the same shows all the time, and it’s hard to not go on autopilot.
Stephen: Especially because we’ve had such a busy summer; even just taking a week off, coming back it just feels so much fresher.
Jesse: In the fall, we’ll be slowing things down a bit. We’re not playing as much, but I’m looking forward to just hanging out and writing music and not practicing because we have [another] show. Just shooting the shit; that’s genuinely what we like to do.
Stephen: I think creation, especially with this group–so much more so than anything I’ve been a part of previously–I think the fact that we just really enjoy doing that, it really reflects when we’re onstage as well. Like when Jesse, who’s technically our newest member, is playing a completely different part to one of my oldest songs, there’s just so much joy that’s there. It’s just constant creation. And no time we ever play a song is it exactly the same; we’re not robots. Not one of us is subordinate in what they’re playing to another part.
Listen: “Avenue Beat” – Black Tie Stereo
You’re not just playing for the sake of playing, which is good.
Stephen: Right. And obviously when the crowd gets into that, that’s the best feeling ever. A great crowd, or at a music festival, there’s going to be people who are just really into original music.
Speaking of festivals, you guys opened at FuzzFest this year with Panic! At the Disco, Weezer, Andrew McMahon, which is exciting! And you recently played MusikFest; is there any dream show or festival that you want to play in the future?
Jesse and George: Austin City Limits.
George: South by Southwest.
Stephen: [Madison Square] Garden. I’m all about The Garden.
Aaron: The big European open-air festivals where there’s a hundred thousand people; Download, Glastonbury…
George: Reading [Festival]!
Aaron: Wembley; Wembley would be like the career pinnacle.
Do you have a dream act that you’d want to tour with?
Jesse: I think it’d be kickass to tour with Walk The Moon, or someone like that.
Stephen: I mean, really any of our influences.
Aaron: One Direction — all joking aside, I wouldn’t hate it.
Jesse: Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Stephen: Yeah, Chili Peppers!
Aaron: I don’t know if we’d fit in with the Chili Peppers!
You don’t have to fit in with them! Just get the crowd amped up!
Aaron: We’ll just party with them.
There you go. And have you found it difficult to kind of get your name out there?
Jesse: A hundred times yes.
What do you think you could do differently?
George: Have more money.
Aaron: Honestly, that’s a big part of it. Money management, time management.
Jesse: Yeah, it’s frustrating. And there’s nowhere to really play too. Like, not even on a global or national scale, just on a regional scale.
Aaron: We can get bar gigs nonstop, but getting a paying, original gig is maybe one in every twenty shows.
George: We played in New York City, and made a hundred bucks.
Getting venues that aren’t bars is hard.
Jesse: But then like, those venues don’t really pay, you know?
Do you guys have merch?
Stephen: We have CDs, but they’re old CDs. It’s a 2014 EP that we got a ton of money on, and we made our money back on them, but we still have to keep selling CDs until we can put out another one that actually has everyone [in this formation] on it, and our new songs.
So what do you think success looks like, then, if you had to categorize it? Do you think it can be categorized?
Jesse: The end-result of success, or…?
…Watching people sing along to original songs is a pretty kickass feeling.
However you think it should be measured.
Jesse: I mean, this is cheesy, but I’m making a living playing music with three people I hate more than I like–
Stephen: Yeah, put that one down. Great quote! “Making music with people I hate more than I like.”
George: I hate all of them sometimes, but they’re like brothers. I have so much respect.
Jesse: I don’t know, people measure success in wealth, I guess.
Well sure, that would be the de facto idea.
Jesse: Obviously, we want to make a living doing what we’re doing.
Jesse: Comfortably, yeah. That’s the goal. But shit, man, watching people sing along to original songs is a pretty kickass feeling.
Do you have regulars that come to your shows all the time?
Aaron: Oh, yeah.
Stephen: Our families.
Jesse: Yeah, but even some who aren’t our family.
Stephen: There’s some crazy people.
You’ve already got some crazy fans?
Stephen: A little bit. It’s okay though.
At a certain level, everyone loves music of some kind, and there is something fundamental about music.
So what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, in terms of your music?
Aaron: Our music, or just music in general?
Aaron: Well, one of my relatives ended up playing trombone on Broadway, and he was saying that when he was trying to work his way up, he was playing one gig, and then play another one completely different, in a different style or whatever. And he said to just spread yourself as thin as you possibly can, without being too thin; just play as much music [as you can], and something is bound to happen. You have to be in the right place at the right time, or at least you’re trying to put yourself there.
Stephen: Yeah, I would agree; just being as versatile as possible.
Jesse: Yeah, and it’s a mindset too. I think that being open-minded and willing to do whatever it takes musically.
Stephen: At a certain level, everyone loves music of some kind, and there is something fundamental about music.
George: Best piece of advice is to just to play, and play, and play, and play. Keep playing.
Aaron: Most of all, you’ve got to play.
What motivates you, moving forward, and where do you go from here?
Stephen: At least for me personally, this is what I’ve been doing my whole life, in some way or another. You know, when we’re doing something, and when we’re playing and creating music, the fact that through all of the experiences I’ve had with music, [this] is something that has been the most energetic and the most fun and the most gratifying. I think the motivation to be able to bring that to the mainstream is probably where it comes from. As much as possible, [letting] other people have that same feeling, because of what we’re doing, is the main motivation for me.
Aaron: The end-goal is actually being an established musician, and making money doing it. Like, you see how there’s so many people that are doing it, and it is actually possible. And to see that we’re actually making progress towards that, I just don’t see the point in giving up. And it’s going to sound super cheesy, but you only really get one chance to actually do exactly what you want to do.
Breaking into the mainstream is oft a difficult task for many artists, and can ultimately make or break one’s ability to keep pushing forward. Black Tie Stereo are not allowing themselves to be slowed down, and only find further motivation through this posed challenge. With the undeniable talent to become something bigger than they are, Black Tie Stereo are not to be taken lightly — even if their songs are.
Cover Photo: Black Tie Stereo © Lisa Petz