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Local Bands to Know: Flashback Forward

Posted by Matt D'Ippolito on 01/26 at 05:00 PM

Student rockers Flashback Forward are tired of the same old, same old in State College. That’s why the band is trying to invigorate the local music scene with its own brand of hard rock, something members of the band say is missing here.

Guitarist Aida Mekonnen (junior - health policy and administration) said she finds the cover band culture of State College constraining to the creative atmosphere, while the variety of original bands is limited.

“I feel like there’s a lot of ska here, a lot of Dave Matthews Band fans, a lot of sort of blink-182 wannabes,” she said.

“There are a lot of talented people here, but we play a different style altogether than any band I’ve heard here,” keyboardist and lead vocalist Tyler Ringland (junior - chemical engineering) said. “We rock a stage. That’s what we do.”

They have only released two singles so far, both of which can be heard and downloaded from their website. The first, “Surrender,” is fairly close to a psychedelic rock song. It opens with a jaunty, semi-syncopated guitar rhythm that kicks off each bar with a triplet. This is quickly joined by soft synth chords sneaking in underneath, and the bass dropping in and settling into its line. Meanwhile, a swinging xylophone rhythm reinforces the original guitar riff with a straight rock drumbeat offering a stark contrast. Ringland’s vocals have an almost Chris Martin quality about them when they first come in. But that changes as soon as the chorus hits.

In the chorus, all of the instrumentation becomes suddenly sedate as Mekonnen’s voice harmonizes Ringland’s. The two vocalists croon out the song’s title after a sharp, isolated breath. It’s here that the song takes on a more psychedelic personality. After an instrumental bridge that includes a xylophone feature, some heavy cymbals and really cool guitar effects, the song hits the chorus once more before ending on some ambience and white noise.

Their other single, “XIX,” is very much a straightforward hard rock piece. It’s driven by a militaristic snare drum that breaks into a standard rock beat utilizing the full set during the chorus. A simple guitar line also breaks down into more powerful chords in the chorus. The vocals are very different from the soft tone taken in “Surrender,” taking a brighter approach that sounds akin to pop rock of the 90s.

The varied style exhibited by these two songs is a product of the many different tastes in music the four band members have. For example, while Ringland lists John Mayer and Michael Buble as major influences, bassist Zach Johnson (junior - materials science) prefers classic and progressive rock bands like The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Tool. Drummer Elliot Frost (junior -mathematics) lists State Radio, The Strokes and The Guess Who as influences, and Mekonnen said she is most influenced by acts as diverse as U2, Joy Division and David Bowie.

Their process for writing music is one they say is unorganized, but works. Mekonnen does most of the initial writing. Then she brings “a couple of chords with some lyrics” to Ringland for the pair to play repeatedly to flesh out. Then, Ringland works on fitting additional lyrics. Next, they bring the song to Johnson and Frost. These two play through it, and then give and receive feedback until the song is complete.

“The worst thing ever is when we think a song has the potential to be good, and it’s not done yet but we hold onto it like it’s the best thing ever,” Mekonnen said. “Then there’s that day when you just realize, ‘This is it; it’s the end of the road.’ ” One example is a guitar riff they refer to as simply “Catchy, Catchy.”

“It’s just this guitar riff that’s really catchy and we can’t do anything with it,” Ringland said. “It never really developed.”

After recording several songs, including their first two singles, with some School of Audio Engineering seniors in New York City (where Mekonnen is originally from) the band members said their next goal is to compile those recordings into an EP to release. They also plan to book shows downtown.

“The main thing is - you know how bars are downtown - they all want cover bands, which is why it’s tough,” said Raj Suresh, a recent graduate who helps manage the band. The frustration with the local cover band culture is something that was echoed by the band members.

“I just think we’re obviously going to be better at playing our own songs,” Mekonnen said. “And playing to an audience that is open to falling in love with new music is better than playing to an audience that just wants to hear ‘Wonderwall.’ ”

{name} Author: Matt D'Ippolito
Bio: Matthew D’Ippolito is currently a senior majoring in print journalism at Penn State with minors in political science and music technology. He plans on writing for Rolling Stone or Variety one day. Matt enjoys reading, playing sax, hiking and fishing. He enjoys a wide variety of music, but some favorites are punk, indie rock, classic rock, dubstep, jazz and classical. His favorite bands at the moment are Titus Andronicus, Streetlight Manifesto, Cloud Cult, Explosions in the Sky and ZOX.

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