-Catchy Tunes and a Scrumptdillyumptious New CD Have the Melancholics
by Lee Abraham
"Lately we've just been blurting out songs," says Dwight David, bass player and co-founder of the Melancholics. "We used to get together with the guitar and bass to write songs, you know, -thinking it out-. But lately it's much more instant."
It has taken about four years to develop that instant chemistry with Melancholics co-founder, guitar player and vocalist Jayme Jack. In that time they've established a reputation as talented and prolific songsmiths. Known as the Melancholics, they are helping shape a Las Vegas "sound" that is currently under construction and may someday capture national attention.
The latest development in their one-step-at-a-time multi-media onslaught on America's consciousness is "Beyond the Horizon," a new "skateboard action" video which was shot on location in Las Vegas featuring original music from local bands.
"Celebrate Your Life," was selected to open the video, and "My Generation," another David/Jack composition was also used. "Welcome to LV," a 1996 compilation CD showcasing local bands, and "LokalPinoy Vol.1," a 1997 CD compilation of contemporary Phillipino music produced in L.A., also feature songs from the Melancholics.
The two are brothers-in-law and soon after David married Jack's sister, music began to flow at family gatherings. Impromptu jamming quickly blossomed into songwriting sessions. Soon they were playing at "Acoustic Asylum," a long-defunct weekly singer/songwriter night that gave many emerging local musicians a friendly and supportive atmosphere to hone their skills.
"I give a lot of credit to Paul Sommers for making that Acoustic Asylum so great," says Jack. "Paul gave us alot of encouragement early. He helped us build confidence when we first started playing out."
Once the acoustic duet had enough material to extend past the Acoustic Asylum's limited stagetime, they hit the coffee house scene. "Alot of times those places get more packed than regular bars," says David.
These days the Melancholics are an electric quartet and play locally a couple of times a month. They also do frequent gigs in LA. "Most of the times the places in LA are packed," says Sharim Johnson, the band's lead guitarist. "Last time we were there, there were tons of people and they were -singing along- to our songs. Not only that, but they paid ten bucks to get in! It's next to impossible to make that happen here."
"It sucks being 18 to 21 in Las Vegas," continues Johnson. "There's a bunch of people in that age group that could really help the local scene, but it's 21 and over. That really hurts."
While everyone in the band agrees that the local scene's development has at times been painfully slow, "There -is- something happening that wasn't happening before," says Ed Malik, the band's "drumcologist." "But there's definitely a very long way to go."
-Honkytized-, the Melancholics '96 debut release is one of the albums that has helped raise the standard for well written, professionally produced and impeccably performed original music coming out of Las Vegas. The 18-song marathon of soul-searching yet toe-tapping pop received FM airplay on K/??'s "Home Grown Hour," KUNV's "Rock Avenue," as well as the Sunday evening WorldFolk Radio program on KLAV AM-1230. Musician Magazine named the Melancholics in its '96 "Best Unsigned Band Search," based on the strength of the album.
Although -Honkytized- put the Melancholics on the Las Vegas musical map, the musical journey for both David and Jack began in the Philippines. Both came to the USA in the mid '80s. Jack started a ska band in San Diego, while David, whose grandfather was a national hero and homeland patriot, developed his chops playing keyboards in LA. Ultimately each settled in Las Vegas.
Although they make -American- music, the Melancholics also explore Tagani, a native tongue of the Philippines. The mix of cultural influences is a key component of the Melancholic's music, a pop oriented approach with strong melodies, sophisticated instrumentation and the occasional can't-help-but-sing-along hook.
While diversity enriches their sound, the combination of the band's name itself, sort of a foreboding, existential moniker, as well as their occasionally multi-lingual lyrics, have people not familiar with their music wondering just what the heck they're all about.
"We were playing at the place that's now Fat Daddy's," says David. "There was a guy there that was a professional image consultant. He said he liked the songs, that they had a unique, ethnic sound, but that our image doesn't match the songs. We were just wearing our normal shorts, jeans, rubber shoes, you know. We said, 'well, what do we look like?' and he said 'you look like you're -honkytized-." "My reaction is that whatever we -look- like, we like the way we -sound- right now. It's just us. I'm just glad my bass doesn't have an accent," laughs David.
As a buzzword for the band, "Honkytized" stuck. It captures their world. A humorous, complex, and at times dark place that also maintains a playful sense of child-like innocence. "Melancholic songs have always dealt with everyday life," says Jack, "but they're not sad anymore. We've gotten away from politics, and we don't feel compelled to do the heavy stuff as much. Right now, everything is funkydory," smiles Jack. "In fact, I think our new album is -Scrumptdillyumptious-!" "Kids music for adults," as drummer Ed Malik calls it. "I like stuff that'll make my two year old daughter dance, if she does, I know it's ok."
Malik's solid drumming, an in-the-pocket pulse that sprinkles jazz phrasings over a seamlessly danceable beat is one of the reasons things are funkydory these days. The addition of Sharim Johnson on 12-string lead guitar is another. While both bring inspired musicianship, Johnson has evolved into the bands "tone-scientist," a balance to Malik's song-oriented approach. Together the two have become cornerstones of the Melancholic's philosophy. "Guitarists that can play without being flashy are the ones I admire most," says Johnson. "Running up and down the fretboard like butter isn't the important thing. I like people that try to make their instrument sound like something else, to me it's all about the sound."
"We don't really have soloists the way we do our music," agrees Malik, "we have songs." "There's nothing in this business without songs," continues Malik. "You've gotta have songs regardless of everything else. There's alot of great bands that don't have material. Don't tell 'em I told you so, but Jayme and Dwight write some really good songs."
A lot of those really good songs are included on -Scrumpdillyumptious-, the band's new CD, which was recorded locally at Digital Insight studios. In addition to the music, the disc is enhanced for CD-ROM and includes games, inside info on the band, as well as a number of surprises ranging from the funny to, well, the funkydory. Anyone familiar with their website (www.melancholics.com) will have an idea as to what might be in store with the new disc.
As the resident webmaster and techno guru, Jack finds that cyberspace is "just another outlet for creativity. "It really enables us to interact with our fans." "We love it when people come up to us at a gig to say hello. Even if they wanna tell us we sucked that night, we appreciate hearing from them. It means a lot to us."
Melancholic's CD Release Party