A few weeks back, I had the chance to chat with a band called The Maguas, who recently premiered their single “Release Me” with us. The band is comprised of Erik Miller (Vocals), Luke Prusinski (Bass), Matthew “Jenks” Jenkins (Lead Guitar), Daulton Rissinger (Rhythm Guitar), and Brandon Ossont (Drums). In this conversation, I asked about the band’s songwriting process for the new single, the music influences they bring into their group, as well as the lessons they have learned from being best friends making music together. In this interview we also discussed the band’s goals for the future and where they see themselves in this music landscape.
Thank you guys so much for your time today, and congrats on the release of the new single, called “Release Me.” What inspired this track? It is a great sounding song. Can you walk me through the process of writing this one?
Brandon: Yeah, thank you. So, “Release Me,” was a work in progress for a long time, around 2017 I had made a decision in the summer. I got out of college and made the decision to start getting back into music. I had been in high school and then decided to take some time away. I wrote this, like 32nd piece, which ended up being the intro of the song on GarageBand, and I never used those lyrics or anything like that. And when we moved into The Maguas, we started writing some songs and eventually we came up with good material. And now we entered into this new release cycle. And during that I guess it would be the summer months of 2020. No, maybe earlier than that…2019. Yeah, I began writing after my grandfather had passed away. And I really dove deep into a lot of the feelings I was experiencing when I started to write this track. And I found this old recording that reminded me of these experiences that I had had back during that time, and it kind of all came together pretty quickly. I would say the song itself fell into Jenks’ lap (who’s our in-band studio producer) here. And we kind of worked it up to show the band and then went to Nik and away it went.
Matt “Jenks”: So Brandon came to me with this track, and it was pretty much acoustic. It started off acoustic and he had the melody and the lyrics. And it was in drop B acoustic down all the way to drop B, and I wasn’t super thrilled about it. <Laughter> But it ended up sounding super awesome. And then we showed the band and everybody loved it, and we brought it to Nik, and we produced it with him. And here we are.
So what are your guys’ core influences? What other music do you guys listen to that you bring into this band?
Daulton: I think we all have a really weird mix. There’s like every one of us has a different sort of influence and I think we all like pop punk to an extent, but I personally love The Wonder Years and bands like that. But I also really like 80’s Heavy Metal like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, that kind of stuff. And then I got into Metallica and stuff like that, but that’s probably where my influences are.
Erik: Yeah, well certainly what influenced starting the band altogether was certainly around the time I got into pop punk and emo music very heavily. And I mean, aside from that, I’ve always been really into very heavy music, like deathcore and things along those lines like Periphery, Meshuggah, bands like that. And so I certainly say that definitely influences me to an extent because I really like to think about things like power behind a track and its heaviness, whether or not it’s something that you would classically think of as heavy music. More of like a feeling, but I mean aside from that, I was super into a lot of emo music like Brand New and Modern Baseball, Front Bottoms, and things like that in the later years. But I also had always been listening to classical music and jazz a lot in high school. I was super into the choir and stuff like that. So I think everything that I’ve ever been into kind of comes to me as an influence in one way or another. And I try to dig deep and say okay, “Well what makes me me when it comes to music?”
Luke: I guess what makes me the odd one. I like math rock, progressive metal, and progressive rock, and that kind of thing. Things that mess around with time signatures a lot throughout the music. My favorite band is Rush. Tool’s really influential too. Just a lot of strange, rhythmic things, or lyrics that sing about wearing kimonos and walls filled with computers.
Matt: So I’m kind of like the complete opposite. I grew up listening to radio rock. That’s what really kind of got me into rock. But since then, I have listened to everything. I listen to a lot of indie music now. I listen to a lot of Reggae, all sorts of stuff, and heavy metal. I mean, I’m a huge Slipknot, and Killswitch Engage fan. All that era of metal.
Brandon: Yeah, I’d say specifically for this song, it was a direct influence from Silverstein. And they’re actually not a band that I used to listen to a lot, but now I jam them all the time. And I just really enjoy it. Their producer, Sam Guiana, I really enjoy his work as a producer. And I just fell in love with all the bands he works with. And so like when we’re writing release me, that drop B tuning kind of came from that latest record, A Beautiful Place to Drown. And I’m also really inspired by Movements. And so I really felt like Jason Lancaster, with his whole Go Radio, and his whole solo project and a lot of his melody and lyrical content, I like to emulate a lot when I’m writing. And then I like the way they said it, like pop punk/emo. My Chem, and those kinds of things. I do listen to indie, and all those different genres. But I primarily fall within that, that more pop punk and emo range. And I don’t really shy into the heavier stuff. But I can appreciate it, for sure. The boys really like to blast me with it. <Laughter>
Cool! So let’s talk about a couple of the producers that you mentioned, working with. Nik Bruzzese, I believe? So what was it like working with him for the latest songs as well as the other songs you’ve done in the past?
Daulton: I mean, he’s like a sixth member at this point. He’s one of the best dudes around. And I think he’s really helped us hone in on our writing style. So when we bring a bunch of demos to Nik, and we’re like, “We want you to tear it apart, and work it back up.” And I think that it just creates an environment where we’re at our most creative, and we’re all able to throw our input in here and there. And he knows what we’re all like, and he was really quick to figure out what our strengths and weaknesses were as people, and as a band all together, and really hone in on where we lacked. Where we were really good at and focusing on the good parts and working on the bad parts. And I feel like he’s just the perfect producer for our band because he’s just very much able to find that sweet spot to make the music sound the way we want it to sound.
Okay, so what have you guys kind of collectively learned from working with Nik?
Erik: I would say one big thing, at least for me personally, was my singing, because I had been a classical singer throughout high school and I started playing some acoustic covers with “Jenks.” So I did that for a bunch of years, playing out at bars and stuff like that. And as we were doing that, I was trying to ‘de-classical-ize’ my voice. And get it a little more rough and powerful in that way. And I think by the time we started the band and wrote some music and went into the studio, I had almost gone too far in that direction and forgot everything I learned that makes my voice feel like my voice. And one of the things that I learned from him right off the bat, when we did our first song there, was he just convinced me to sing how I sing. Don’t try to sound like somebody else. And I think that was one of the things that really helped me as a singer, in general.
And it can be easy to kind of fall into that trap, especially from a vocalist perspective. For example, if you’re learning a cover song, you may try to emulate that kind of tone or voice. But also, learning from a producer that can kind of hone in on your strengths too. But the great thing about music is that the guitars and drums will all sound similar, depending on who you work with. But with vocalists, it’s always very unique. So anything else of note for you guys that you want to share with this producer?
Matt: I think the one thing that I would like to add is that he’s also really good at finding the sweet spot of the song, as far as the hook or the line that you like to pump your fists, or whatever. Really honing in on that part of the song. I think that a lot of our music has big choruses, or big hooks, and keeps them catchy. But also powerful at the same time. And I think Nik’s really good at figuring out what part of the song is the strongest and working around there and almost working backwards a bit. And I feel like when we like to rework our songs, those are those parts we focus on the most. And it’s really beneficial to our music. Nik is not afraid to give you the honest truth. And I love that he’ll tell you, ”Maybe this song needs a lot more work.” Or, “I don’t like this song as much as that one.” And that all comes down to just picking the best songs and making a very good album.
So when you bring a demo to the table, what do you guys do collectively, from an internal perspective?
Brandon: It kind of varies, I think, from person to person in the band. For myself, the way when I write a song, is I’ll typically wake up at like three in the morning and hear a melody in my head and write it down or sing it into my phone. And I don’t play guitar, and I’m not very talented at the guitar. I know how to play some things, but I leave it to the professionals. <Laughter> But I’ll come up with some sort of idea, or some sort of sound, and bring it to “Jenks” because he has a home studio and will kind of flesh out the idea. And we will actively come up with the strongest melody I can think of and come up with those impactful lyrics that I really like to go into. And really just build upon the sound from there and kind of see the vision through before. I try to see the whole vision through before presenting it to the rest of the band. Just because I want to present it the best way I can and make sure that what I was hearing is there, and then getting their input from there is really important.
Daulton: I think a collectiveness where we each have our styles that we like to write in, and like the way we each go about it. So maybe I get with Erik, or for the most part, Brandon will come up with a song or something like that, and they’ll flesh it out. Whereas if I’m not there, we sort of let it hang out there and we sort of work on it collectively after that. But at the end of the day, when the demos are on the table, we all sit down together in the same room, we listen to the demos, we’ll pick it apart from there before we even get into the studio, and we like to rework things and figure out what we dislike, and what we’re going in the studio with. Because at the end of the day, we need to go into the studio with songs that we feel we could put out right there, because we want our best work. Then Nik, he’s gonna say, “Here’s what I like and I dislike, and where we can make it even better.” But you know, I think it’s our goal to make every demo as strong as we personally think we can get it, and then Nik will take it from there.
Matt: Yeah. And I think this could be for any band, but we try to produce as much music as possible before we go in the studio. I think that’s super important. The more the merrier, in terms of well fleshed-out demos.
Cool, makes sense. So can you guys talk a little bit about what you guys did during the pandemic? Can you guys share your experience of what was going on with you in the last couple years?
Erik: I would definitely say, in the grand scheme of things we got lucky. And that’s because we had already planned to release music all throughout 2020. And we definitely had some difficult times as far as finishing up some content, like music videos, and stuff like that. With restrictions and not being able to get together, there was a little bit of scrambling there. But I mean, I think the fact that we already had that plan in place, it allowed us to make a choice and say, “Okay, we have this going on, but we can still do this other thing. Let’s focus on this writing since we can’t play shows.” I understand that we definitely were alright, in that aspect. But it’s definitely a little tough just because that was 2020, in particular, when we were really trying to start and get out on the road, and trying to expand regionally. But we had the release to focus on, and sort of just switched up strategies.
Brandon: Yeah, I’ll harp on Erik’s point for a minute about being lucky to have that music. I think I spent a lot of COVID changing the way that we release music, and changing the way that we approached a release. And I think that’s one thing that COVID helped us do, is kind of settle down and say, “We’re not playing a show every weekend, but let’s really focus on how to get the most bang for our buck, or the best way to promote ourselves.” And I’m thankful for that time. I mean, it was essentially a year of us basically learning the music business, and music marketing, especially in advertising. And I think we as a band really began to understand how to take this to a more serious level, and how to get ourselves out there. And now we’re at this point where we’re able to go out and play shows, and play bigger shows than we have been this past fall. And those opportunities I think, have been granted to us because of the work that we put in, during COVID. And obviously, like Erik said, it was a very fortunate timing for us and unfortunate times for the world. But we just happen to have that music. And we haven’t had the opportunity to really hone in and kind of give it our all. And now the new challenge is being able to juggle both touring, and releasing music, and all this other stuff too.
Well, the good news is the album rollout time seems to be about like 9 to 12 months, right? Vinyl delays and everything else going on in the world…
Daulton: I mean, when you get back into the wall when it comes to COVID, you have to find these new avenues. And I think we kind of took it as a way, like Brandon said, to challenge ourselves to find new ways to go about it. And I think it worked out well. I mean, there’s a lot of Zoom calls and a lot of Discord files, and a lot of doing that. But we got lucky in that sense that we had things that were going to propel us forward, even when we couldn’t do the things that we were hoping to do. And you know, I think we were really grateful for that.
So how did you guys become this core group today?
Daulton: We’re all best friends. We’ve been playing together since we were like, in seventh grade. And Brandon’s been part of the friend group for a while. And then we were looking to get into making a band, me and Erik had talked about it for a long time, and Erik and James had been playing acoustic stuff. And then we’ve just sent Erik a mass group text that was like, “Hey, who wants to start playing together?” These are the five people he texted and eight people all showed up. And then within 20 minutes, it was down to these five guys here. And I think that I am really lucky that these are my best friends. If we weren’t in a band, we’d still be hanging out all the time. And we’d probably still be playing music in some way.
That’s cool! Sometimes bands will ask me for advice, which is kind of weird, from my perspective as being a music writer…But the biggest thing is if you can’t stand each other, it’s gonna be so much harder to get through. Being friends first works very much to your advantage. So anyways, what would be like a dream collaborative artist that you would work with? Or what do you think would be the perfect touring placement in a supporting role to become a bigger band?
Brandon: I was gonna say what’s funny about this question is that it’s the same question we received from Nik on our first day in the studio. And I think it’d be interesting for me right now to see how everybody answers it differently than what we ever originally thought our band would be. For myself, personally, I think a really cool touring package for us would be somewhere with Movements or I could see us with Rarity as a big one for me.
Erik: I mean, I have a very easy answer. I want to sing on a track with Andy Cizek.
Daulton: I mean, my answer is always going to be The Wonder Years. I love the band itself. And I think that the sadness of their music and the sadness of our music would probably blend pretty well. And that’s just one of my favorite bands of all time.
Luke: I would probably say Movements is probably number one for me. I’m pretty sure I said that in the studio too. I just think I’m pretty in line with them. Selfishly, I’d want to tour with Dance Gavin Dance, just because I love their music.
That’s really cool to hear! So the last question I have for you guys is kind of like an open ended question. What do you guys see in the future for yourself? And what are your collective feelings about your goals in the next couple years?
Brandon: I would love to eventually, whether it takes five years, or 10 years, to be a household name. For us, even in our hometown, you have Breaking Benjamin, Tigers Jaw, the Menzingers. And you know those bands. And I think for us, and for myself personally, that’s something I would really like for us to be. And whether that means we’re playing 3000-cap rooms or sold out stadiums, I’d be happy either way. I just would love for that to be us. I think that we’re very dedicated to it. And obviously everybody has that dream, but that’s a very special goal for me.
Erik: I think whatever happens, I want to be where we can always write the music that we love, and that means the most to us. And also just want as many people as possible to hear it and enjoy it. And to have it mean something, to have them connect with us. And as Brandon said, whether that’s playing to a couple 100, or filling out a stadium, I think the most important part is as long as we can keep being us and keep growing. I think that’s the goal.
Yeah, the authentic feeling of it’s your band, and not doing a certain type of music because it’s trendy.
Luke: Absolutely. I was gonna say the exact same thing about authenticity. My goal would be staying true to our own sounds and our own interests, and I wouldn’t want to change just for the sake of popularity. And then the other part is just more reasonable. The goal of being able to make this band a career. I don’t need to have an absurd level of fame or whatever. I mean, that’d be cool. But that’s not my primary interest. My primary interest is just to be able to continue doing what I’m doing with these other four guys and actually be able to eat food and not be homeless.
Matt: I was gonna say the same exact thing. If we can make this a full time career, but if I’m able to survive off of what I love, that is my ultimate goal. And obviously yeah, I mean, I’d love to grow as big as possible too, and I’m not afraid to play super big venues. If it happens, it happens.
Daulton: I mean, I think as a band we have the aspirations to be as big as possible. And I think we have these aspirations and goals to want to be similar to a My Chemical Romance. Where we can go sell out 52 dates on the stadium tour across America. Who doesn’t want that? But we will work to get there. Like the others have said, I just want to make this my career, I want to continue doing the things that I love. And it’s so awesome to see people singing our songs back and being there to support us.
Your guys’ hearts are definitely in the right place. I’m definitely rooting for you guys on the sidelines as much as I can. And I look forward to seeing you guys on the road if you ever come towards the DC area. So thanks so much, I really enjoyed chatting with you!