A Clever Con was together less than a year when they found themselves playing on the 2009 Warped Tour. They have risen quickly in the Jersey music scene, and seem well on their way to bigger things. One listen to them will tell you why—it’s an eclectic mix of styles that is at once both commercially viable and musically challenging. And to top it off, they are a bunch of great friends who don’t take themselves too seriously, which only adds to their appeal.
The group includes Mike Dietz on vocals and guitar, Ryan Marsa on vocals and guitar, Bobby Certo on bass, and TJ “Smash” Horner on drums. On May 22, they will be appearing at RockFest 2010, a City of Angels benefit concert featuring Red Sea Affair, Reckless, Honey Spot Boulevard, Street Corner Five, Driven, Honey Spot Boulevard, Jimmy & The Parrots, and others. In anticipation of the show, I spoke to A Clever Con, but trying to get straight answers from them is a challenge, as you can see from the following interview!
How did the band get together?
Ryan: It’s kind of a cool story. After Half-Way II Flat broke up, apparently because I took things too seriously, the singer ended up forming Aiming For Ashford with Dietz. I actually tried out for the band, but they didn’t want me in. Why is that again Mike?
Mike: Let’s face it Rye-bread, reggae just wasn’t your can of beans.
Ryan: Yeah, thanks. Dick. So, during that time, I’d still hang with them, go to their shows and show them the stuff I was writing on my own. There was a certain song that I had written for a then-girlfriend of mine. Not sure which one she was, I had like anywhere between one to 15 girlfriends at a time back then. Now I just limit to one to three at a time. It’s way cheaper. I digress. I played it for Mike and he was like, ‘Whoa, I need to start a band with this kid!’
Mike: Actually, I fell madly in love with your ability to play guitar better then me. There were actually three of us who started to jam together at first but we had creative differences so we went back down to two.
Ryan: Kind of, but to be clear, Mike and I were solid on forming a band and this third individual tried out as another writer and vocalist. But from there we found our old bass player and drummer. They played one show with us and then they quit the band.
Mike: Why is that again?
Ryan: [Sigh] I took my shirt off during the set…
Mike: And what did you learn?
Ryan: Not to take my shirt off during our sets…
Ryan: Because, we don’t want TJ and Bobby to quit the band too.
Mike: Good. Good, Ryan.
Where have you played?
Ryan: I think the easier question is to answer, ‘Where haven’t we played,’ which includes Madison Square Garden, Woodstock ‘69, virtually every venue on the West Coast, every bar beneath the Mason-Dixie line, The Berlin Wall opening up for David Hasselhoff, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brian, SXSW, Coachella, Bonnaroo, the Moon, Lollapalooza, wait, yeah, your question is a lot easier, sorry.
TJ: We have played a majority of the local venues in the tri-state area, including the Starland Ballroom, The Stone Pony, School Of Rock, Hot Topic, The Wonder Bar, Rowan University, Crossroads, and McGuinn’s Place.
How would you describe the music that you do?
TJ: Pure smack-in-the-face, punch-in-the-gut awesomeness.
Bobby: Rx Banditsish. Incubus. Someone once said we sounded kind of like Rise Against in some parts. Vocals sound a little Sublimish.
Mike: We are a part of a new race of genre-less music!
Ryan: I think if Rx Bandits and Incubus made a baby, and that baby was raised then by its uncles, GlassJaw and Dispatch, that would be us. That’s A Clever Con.
Any particular songs that are favorites of fans or yourself?
Ryan: Well, my mom always makes us play an old song of ours called ‘Little One.’ It’s a really cool Stray Cats-styled swing-rock song. It’s always a trip to play new stuff live, it’s great to see fans react to our new songs. It’s the ultimate litmus test to see how we are progressing as a band. Currently, I can’t get enough of, ‘The Difference Between Light And Hard.’ There this great suspended 4th resolution that Mike gets to play going into the breakdown and then again at the end of the song. It gives me chills every time.
Mike: Hate that song. I get bored so easily because I have a huge problem. It’s called A.D.D. It shows in our music, it drastically changes so much. Once we play a song live four or five times I get super bored of it. I’m always excited for the new stuff we write.
TJ: Well, we have this song, ‘Heroin(e),’ which is definitely liked by a lot of our female fans.
Ryan: And you about that care why?
TJ: Say one more thing dude, I’m serious.
Bobby: My favorite to play is either ‘Death Cab For Mannequin’ or ‘Hey Caster.’ Neither of these is recorded yet; other than live recordings. The most well-received ones are ‘Little One,’ ‘Heroin(e),’ and ‘60 Amp Disconnect.’ Possibly in that order too.
Ryan: Hey Mike, hear that? Bobby thinks ‘Little One’ is the most well-received song, possibly in that order.
Mike: That doesn’t make any sense.
Ryan: You don’t make any sense!
How did you get involved with the City of Angels?
Ryan: We actually got turned onto City of Angels and Rockfest 2010 through our good friends in the band [all of A Clever Con in rich four-part harmony] Burning Jersey!
Ryan: Hey Smash! Nice job on that 7th, 8th, 7th move on the end of ‘Jersey.’ Very Barbershop-y, I dig it. I never knew you were a tenor…
TJ: Well, aww gee, maybe you should put a mic by me behind the drums when I ask you to!
Ryan: What? And scare all of our fans away?
TJ: That’s it.
Mike: Here we go…
TJ: T.J. SMAAAASH!!!
Mike: Hey, can we take five?
Ryan: Okay, we’re back. Yeah, so I deserved that and yes, our friends from the band Burning Jersey, they helped us get onto Rockfest 2010. From there we’ve been learning more and more about COA ever since. Addiction has touched some of us directly or indirectly.
Bobby: Yeah, we actually do have at least three songs in which addiction is a big theme. ‘Heroin(e)’ is on The Robot EP. That’s the one I said earlier was the big crowd pleaser. I’m pretty proud of it. Mike and Ryan put a lot of work and heart into it and I think it shows. Not blowing our horn or anything, but give that one a listen.
Ryan: Yeah, like the song ‘Little Miss Bombshell’ revolves around Mike’s struggle around dating a girl with an addiction to heroin. The situation actually affected most of us, so to be able to come out and support a group like City of Angels really means a lot to us.
A Clever Con will be performing at the City of Angels Rockfest 2010 on May 22, at the Tall Cedars Grove Park, 245 Sawmill Road, Hamilton, New Jersey. The event will also feature a car and motorcycle show. City of Angels is a non-profit organization that helps families and young people recover from substance addiction.