Neon: We like what Oasis did and what they stood for
Photo By Nick Walsh
One of the many joys of attending Winona's Mid West Music Fest is the chance to discover young, up-and-coming bands from the area that haven't quite made waves in the Twin Cities music scene. This year, my favorite discovery of the entire festival was Neon, a band of talented teenagers from LaCrosse with a classic U.K. rock influence.
The guys have just finished high school, and are now set to play their first ever Minneapolis show tonight with a free gig at Cause. We were able to catch up with frontman Nick Mass to ask him about the band's origins, their influences, and their music, as well as the distinctive challenges and rewards of being such a young band in the modern musical climate.
Gimme Noise: What initially drew you into music, and at what age did you start playing an instrument?
Nick Maas: My parents always played good music in the car and around the house like Neil Young, the Beatles and Willie Nelson. I specifically remember when I was around five years old my dad played the Beatles 1 album and I fell in love with their music. I started learning piano by ear around that age, and then I started play guitar when I was about ten years old.
You all just graduated from high school, correct? When did you start playing in a band together?
Yes, it may come as a surprise to many, but we have indeed graduated! I met Matt towards the end of 6th grade when I was looking for someone to play with in the end of the school year talent show. We had similar music tastes and got along really well. He and I played "Wild Thing" for the 6th grade talent show, with me singing and playing guitar and Matt playing a snare drum and a floor tom to the driving beat of the tune. It wasn't spectacular by any means, but it was fun and it got us playing together. We got a band together a little less than a year later with Theo and our drummer at the time Eli.
Did you bond initially over your shared love of the same type of music, or did other circumstances play a role in you all becoming friends?
Matt and I became friends because we had similar music tastes. Matt and Theo met in concert band at school, and initially had a grudge against each other for some reason, but somehow became friends in 7th grade. I don't specifically ever remember talking with Theo and becoming friends, it just happened during 7th grade sometime.
What were the early rehearsals like for you guys, and how long did it take before you were comfortable enough to perform live in front of people?
When we got the band together in 7th grade (spring of 2008) the rehearsals were rough, like any new band, but we were dedicated to play well together. We learned the Beatles song "I Feel Fine" for our 7th grade talent show, and we felt extremely comfortable with it by the time the performance came around. The first shows we did were in front of the whole school, so we kind of had to get accustomed to playing in front of people. I don't mean to say that stage fright doesn't happen for us, but we were familiar with the idea of being watched.
Was it a challenge getting gigs initially, given how young you guys were -- or did that actually work in your favor and pique people's interest?
It really depends. Most of the time we were asked to play gigs after someone had already seen us, so it's safe to assume that they thought we weren't too terrible. But if we contacted other venues that hadn't heard of us, we just expected to get treated like any other band wanting to book a show. Bars are tough to play because we're underage and we have to bring our parents to the shows, but usually there aren't any terrible road blocks preventing us from playing certain places.
You guys played some choice covers during your set at MWMF -- were your early shows filled with mostly covers, or did you start writing your own songs together right away?
The early shows were mostly covers, with the exception of one or two originals. As we became a stronger band, we played more and more originals. We're trying to narrow down the amount of covers and keep it to one or two if possible. Even since the Mid West Music Fest show we've started playing a few more originals.
What is the music scene like in LaCrosse for you guys -- are there a decent amount of venues and bands to play with?
It's tough for me to say because I've only been playing/watching local bands for about four years now and I don't know what it was like before we started. The Warehouse is a great venue here in La Crosse and the Root Note is fun to play as well. I like a few of the bands around here. Porcupine is probably my favorite, not just because of the music they play, but because they're nice guys, their live shows are great, and their records always amaze me. T.U.G.G. is cool too, and I'm not a huge reggae fan, but they are great showman and work hard for the success they get.
Your music has a distinctive British influence and sound--what do you find so appealing about the Brit Pop sound, and how did you first discover that scene?
I got into Oasis about five years ago when a family member showed me their music. As a huge Beatles fan, I really connected with Oasis' music, although I still don't believe their music -- at least in the '90s -- sounded exactly identical to the Beatles like some people say. To me it sounds like the Sex Pistols and the Stone Roses more than anything. I'm not really into many other bands from the Brit Pop scene, but I like what Oasis did and what they stood for.
What were the recording sessions like for your debut, If It Was?
They were pretty unplanned and unrehearsed. We started recording in early June of 2010, right when we finished freshman year of high school. We had just gotten a new drummer and Theo re-joined the group two weeks prior to recording. Matt and I knew what had to be done for the songs, but Theo and our drummer were just getting a grasp of the songs.
You guys released If It Was in 2010, but didn't put out anything other than a few random singles until your just-released EP, Electric Thoughts. Was that just a matter of school taking up more of your time and responsibilities, or were the songs and inspiration not coming as freely as it did early on?
We started recording songs immediately after If It Was was released in November. "Take Me Away," which is the first track on the new EP, was one of them, but even that one evolved over the course of two years. It's a really simple song, but I became much more comfortable with singing and I redid the vocal track over those two years. Between that time and when we released Electric Thoughts, we recorded and demoed numerous songs but many of them just never made the cut except for a couple. Time was an issue because our producer Matt Olson had a busy schedule and with school we couldn't record or even write that much.
So, your Cause show will be Neon's first Minneapolis show, correct? Have you visited the Twin Cities before or seen any shows here in the past?
Yes, this will be our first time playing in the Cities. We were supposed to play there a couple years ago but that for some reason fell through. I've seen bigger acts like The Who and Paul McCartney at the arenas, but I saw Beady Eye at First Ave and Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds at Roy Wilkins.
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