Maria Mar’s Local Radar: Empire Escorts, Small Town Scoundrels & Xero Gravity

What’s up, locals? Yes, we meet again. As the summer is rapidly passing me by, I must say I have found more talent out there than ever before. Maybe local bands are hustling harder, or just playing more, but whatever it is, keep doing it big! Or maybe it’s the fact that they have good people backing them. Hey, without a local scene, there is no scene. It’s so important to get out there and stay relevant, and keep doing what you love. Let’s do it for the cause! Anyway, it’s time to spotlight some more bands that I think you need to get on your radar. I have touched on my bands in these past few weeks including Kid Felix and Lost In Society, and yes, the genres of my choices are completely eclectic. That’s the beauty about New Jersey music—nothing sounds the same. At this rate, I am never going to run out of material.

First and foremost, let us start with a band that goes by the name of Empire Escorts. Never heard of them? Change that now. This foursome from Brick is basically as rock and roll as it gets. Do you ever see a band and tell your friends, “Hey, this is a band you HAVE to see live?” They are the picture perfect definition for that statement. Sure, their recorded stuff is great, but some musicians just belong on a stage. I met them a few years back, and their sound has done nothing but evolve. Everything they have they’ve done on their own; increasing their solid fanbase by playing live on a consistent basis. They make music because they love it, and they’re damn good at it. It’s the best feeling in the world to see people in the crowd singing their songs. The band recorded their first self-titled EP in 2011 at Lakehouse Music in Asbury Park with producer Jon Leidersdorff, and it released this past December. In a short time the band has toured regionally and has been featured on many radio stations. Lead singer Joe McCaig has somewhat of a Maynard James Keenan (Tool) influence in the best way possible. If you are into drumming, Cameron Lockwood is an absolute animal. His emotions come out through the kit, one stick at a time. Sometimes you may find yourself drowning in his beats, and not even attempting to come up for air. Tucker Williams and Tim Spaulding are also a dynamic duo in their own respects, controlling the guitar and bass, respectively. My favorite track of theirs is the radio friendly “Electric Whiskey,” with its contagious chorus and attractive hooks. If you haven’t done so already, check my dudes out.

Next on the list is Small Town Scoundrels. The five-piece from Hillsborough blew my mind at The Break Contest for Bamboozle a few months back. I asked myself and people around me, “Who the hell are these guys, and why am I just hearing about them now?” Well, better late than never I suppose! They got to play the festival, and rightfully so. The band consists of Chris, Eddie, Ithamar, Kevin, and Josh, each bringing something different to the table. Now, I cannot compare these guys to anyone if I had too. Their genre is a solid mix of alternative rock, indie, and even some hip-hop, but there’s also sporadic jazz rock and prog mixed in. Combining different sounds somehow makes them more unique than most. If you are ever at one of their shows, consider wearing one of your most comfortable pairs of sneakers, for you will remain standing the whole set. They bring the fun back to music. It’s completely apparent in their live set that they fuel off of their love and passion for music. After all, that is what makes good musicians. From originals to covers, including everything from Notorious B.I.G. to The Killers, there is something for everyone. They recently opened up for The Dirty Heads and Matisyahu at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, where they amped the crowd up with a solid pre-game performance, bringing in patrons from off the streets for a taste of the flavor. I look forward to seeing what happens to these guys in the future, for I know whatever it is, it will be all their own. After a bad day, the twinkling optimism of Small Town Scoundrels will put things into perspective. Plain and simple, they’d rather be musicians than rock stars.

Last but not least, let’s focus on a little band that goes by the name of Xero Gravity. Being one of the youngest bands to ever be featured on my show, Jersey Rock, there is nothing young about them other than their age. After all, age is nothing but a number, right? They shred metal harder than bands double their age, and do it with their own unique style. They blew me away upon first listening to their Slayer covers, and trust me, in order to cover Slayer, you need to do it justice. They went above and beyond justice—call that perfection. The three-piece resides in Marlboro and makes music their priority. They came to the studio to enlighten me about the history of the band and you can tell just by listening to them talk how serious they are as musicians, writing all of their own riffs and material while gaining everything they get on their own. They have a long career ahead of them and belong in the genre. Many people believe that the name of the harsh-sounding screams and heavily distorted guitars is “heavy metal” when, in fact, metal has hundreds of subgenres. Xero Gravity brings that “it” factor to the table. Although people may tell you that metal corrupts the minds of our youth, keep in mind that those people are generally very closed-minded and these dudes are merely teenagers. Breaking the mold? I think so. In fact, I think young musicians should aspire to be like them, for they are confident, talented, and not afraid of doing what they love. I’d be exaggerating if I said that there was something for everyone in Xero Gravity, but I strongly believe that if people would take the time to find out more, they would find a band or an album that could fit their own tastes—good, real music.

Alright folks, so there you have it, three more, great quality, original Jersey bands that you should do your best to get on your playlist. I try to keep this column as diverse as possible to grab as many of you as I can to come to the bright, local music side. We, as artists, as musicians, as writers, as deviants, as slackers, as hopeless romantics or as the most jaded of disparagers, must support one another, so let’s start here, week to week, at Maria Mar’s Local Radar. Cheers!