Being identified as a “local band” is stigma to some, but for Bergen County-based quartet HMS Revenge it is one of many x’s on a map, plotting the course of what they hope will be a lengthy and entertaining musical expedition. The band is among the most polished groups of early 20-somethings I’ve ever come across, and they are making the most of their time as an unsigned band by exploring their musical identity and considerable songwriting talents.
HMS Revenge have been working together over the past two years and are poised to reach another milestone in their burgeoning career. On Friday, Jan. 7 they will release Voyage, their second five-song EP, with a show at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, NJ.
I was invited to the band’s practice space at guitarist Ciaran O’Donnell’s home to meet them for their first formal interview. As they explain, their music is hard to pigeonhole. Some might call it pop, others might call it alternative or indie rock, but, whatever the label, there is no doubt that it is refined, unique and memorable.
“What’s happening now is I think we’re starting to get a more unique stamp on our music; where we find it more difficult to say, ‘our band is this guy, meets this guy or this band meets, this band, which is cool,” says singer Rick Warren. “I think people are going to have more difficulty finding artists to compare our music to, and hopefully liking it more for that.”
Initial comparisons to Muse or Radiohead are warranted, but not comprehensive. Their songs are concise, with none clocking in beyond the five-minute mark, yet each stands alone, never sounding too similar to the one before it or after. Guitars go from over-driven rock rhythms, to atmospheric and shimmering chordal lines. The drums are uncommonly musical for a rock band; they reinforce the riffs and tactfully drive the songs onward, while the bass provides counterpoint, walking—sometimes dancing—the listener through the soundscape.
As good as the music is, what most sets HMS Revenge apart from the hundreds—perhaps thousands—of others who are trying to do something similar is the exceptional singing and the memorable vocal melodies. Rick is a classically trained singer and he uses his voice as another instrument in the band. It is a “vehicle for melody,” as he explains.
“I can’t think of any local bands that have someone who can sing like Rick can,” says drummer Dan C. Monda.
Their songs are relatively simple in structure although that isn’t the result of limits in technical ability or of imagination. Each of the members has received formal musical training. Rick, and his brother, bassist Tom Warren, are the sons of an opera teacher and an opera singer. Though Rick now goes to school for Psychology at SUNY Purchase, he completed a trade school program in audio engineering after high school. Tom is majoring in classical guitar and Dan is majoring in jazz percussion at Montclair State University, while Ciaran is studying classical trumpet at William Paterson University.
The band agrees that they keep things uncomplicated for the sake of their audience.
“Most of my other bands were really proggy, kind of like my [brother Tom Monda’s] band, Thank You Scientist,” explains Dan. “Just technical, with a lot of time signature changes, and I wasn’t into that anymore. I’d rather have something that just rocks… something that normal people would understand.”
“We want people to be feeling rather than counting when they come to our shows,” Rick corroborates.
Not the type of guys to take themselves too seriously, Ciaran admits, “When we first started, we were trying to be cool. I think we’ve accepted the fact now that we’re kind of nerdy and whimsical.”
The moniker HMS Revence came after their first show was booked. They were under pressure to come up with a name and the band wanted something that tied the lyrics, the music and the artwork (done by artist Anastasia Panagakos) together—a tall order to be sure. So, like any college student faced with a question to which they needed a quick answer, they turned to Wikipedia. Tom recalled that a random search brought up an article on the ship HMS Revenge. The band decided to use the name for the one show at least. Not all the members were thrilled with it, but it stuck and they have since found deeper meaning in the name.
“I think HMS Revenge also works beyond the nautical, whimsical thing in that it’s angry,” muses Rick, who confesses he hated the name at first. “The nautical theme was sort of a romantic idea.”
“We were gonna change it before we came out with [the first] CD. We’re too famous now; we have 700 fans on Facebook!” says Dan, tongue-in-cheek.
Beginning as the backing band for Rick’s self-titled ‘singer-songwriter’ project, HMS Revenge became a true collective when Ciaran joined the group and began writing much of the music. He assured that there isn’t much to his creative process.
“A lot of times, I’ll just sit in the basement alone and be angsty.”
Even so, just like with Rick and Tom, Ciaran’s family has influenced his music greatly.
“My parents are Irish musicians and listen to a lot of Irish music, so I think my sense of melody—that I grew up on—is influenced by that.”
Ciaran credits Rick with being responsible for the shape the songs take, citing that, with Rick’s background as a producer (he runs his own recording studio in Harlem), they often come out completely different by the time they get recorded.
In spite of the immense well of talent the band has on their side, they remain realistic, setting small goals and focusing on writing great songs.
“We just want to make music that we think is awesome and hopefully people like it too,” Rick explains.
Above all else, HMS Revenge is four friends who have fun hanging out and playing music together. Their sense of humor is ubiquitous, sometimes self-deprecating, and their potential for success is infinite.
“Don’t forget to put that we’re really tall and really handsome,” Dan requests. “That’s really important.”
“And don’t put a picture,” laughs Rick.
HMS Revenge will be releasing Voyage at Mexicali Live in Teaneck on Friday, Jan. 7. For more information on this handsome group of swashbuckling redwoods go to facebook.com/hmsrevenge.