MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The boys were back in town.
Jake Stam, Nick Gennusa, Don Senese, Dan Walsh and Matt Montgomery-all MHS grads from the Class of 2013-now live in Los Angeles. But they were back in Mahopac last week on a business trip, so to speak.
Together, the five are known as Friends at The Falls-an indie rock band on the cusp making it to the big time. The five were back on the East Coast for a “mini-tour” that included stops in Boston and New York City. The quintet is promoting its latest EP, “Wild in Our Ways,” which is attracting some attention.
While Friends at the Falls has come a long way in the four years that they’ve been a band, the five young musicians have been friends for a long time and have worked hard in various incarnations to get where they are.
“We were friends first, dating back to preschool,” Montgomery, the group’s drummer, said. “Some of us went to Fulmar, some went to Austin. Once we got to middle school, we kind of convened into one group. But it wasn’t really about music then.”
Montgomery said that by the end of high school, Stam, in particular, had developed a passion for songwriting and performing and began to pursue music more diligently when he got to college.
“We had a high school band; it wasn’t much, just a little bit of fun,” Stam said, noting that they all performed in the high school’s renowned annual rock extravaganza, “Illusion.” “We did mostly covers but had one original song. We weren’t really serious. I was just starting to write, and your first stuff is always a bit embarrassing to show your friends.”
Various combinations of the five began to perform as a unit, first just as “Jake Stam.”
“Which was ridiculous because we’ve always been a group,” Stam said. “We finally decided, let’s start from scratch; let’s make a band. We thought of a lot of the band names and eventually Friends at the Falls stuck. Me and Matt were together and wrote all the [first batch of] songs in our sophomore year of college.”
Stam wrote the bulk of the material while at SUNY Purchase and would send it to Montgomery online, who was at UMass, for his contributions.
The band initially cut two EPs, both of which Stam says are forgettable except for a few songs. It was on their third release, “Wild in Our Ways,” that the magic finally arrived.
“It was very special because we were finally a unit,” Stam said, noting that no matter who had the initial idea for a composition, every band member put their own personal spin on it with their contributions.
Stam said it was when Don Senese, a classically trained piano player, joined the band that things really began to change.
“The songs we write don’t match Don’s capabilities,” Stam said with a laugh. “He is so talented, it’s unbelievable. I try my best to write parts to get to that level. We begged him to join. We are all so needed. If one person goes away, the whole thing collapses.”
Walsh’s addition as the bass player is a bit more amusing. He has absolutely no musical background and didn’t play an instrument when the band asked him to join. Or maybe he asked them.
“I am not sure how it happened, if I asked them or they asked me,” Walsh said. “We were on a road trip to Cape Cod. I was asked to join as a bass player, and Jake said not to worry, he would teach me. I knew nothing about the bass. I remember the first time I put it on, I was like, what is this?”
Stam said he would rather have a friend in the band who he could teach, rather than invite an experienced bass player who he didn’t know.
“It wouldn’t have felt right to just have some random kid up there,” he said. “I told [Walsh] I would rather have him up there doing just basic stuff than to have some kid ripping on stage who I don’t know.”
That was four years ago. Now, Walsh is pretty darn good. “I am surrounded by incredible musicians and I always feel like I am tailing [behind],” he said.
Getting Nick Gennusa to join on lead guitar was the last piece of the puzzle, Stam said.
“We were touring as a four-man band, and basically what happened was we had played three shows, but things weren’t meshing with our tour guitarist,” Stam recalled. “He had his own obligations. We called Nick, who was writing songs already. I told him he would remember this phone call for the rest of his life and said, ‘Please be in this band.’”
Gennusa didn’t hesitate.
“I remember walking into my bathroom to take the call for some reason,” Gennusa said. “I was like, ‘All right, let’s do it!’ I always felt limited in the songs I was making. I wasn’t getting enough organic sounds, but now the guitar has allowed me to do that. I put my head down for a year and a half and just grinded it out every single day, three or four hours, whatever it took to get as good as I possibly could.”
The hard work, determination and relentless touring (and perhaps the relocation to L.A.) seem to be paying off. The group has a team of entertainment lawyers behind them and could be on the verge of signing a record deal.
“It’s a big year and we’ve had some big meetings,” Stam said. “We have been a band on paper technically for about four years. But we stumbled. It wasn’t until about two years ago that we were a fully realized band. I think once we were all together, the work just skyrocketed.”
He said the “Wild in Our Ways” EP was a game-changer.
“We did that one right. We took our time and meticulously made the songs,” he explained. “We sent it out [for mixing] to someone who is way better than me. We sent it to Sterling Sound, a highly regarded mastering suite in New York and it resulted in a record where people noticed the production rise and that’s what we were going for. This past month has been huge.”
“The team is building,” Walsh added. “We have entertainment lawyers who’ve been helping us. We have a lot of interest from the industry. It’s culminating.”
Trying to make in the music industry can be intimidating and challenging and a lot of it seems like groping around in the dark.
“When you first start a band, you are kind of in the dark about the secrets of the industry. We are weaving ourselves into the industry,” Stam said. “We are not just some local band being talked about behind closed doors. We have the means to stay in the game. We are road warriors. We have played New York a bunch of times; the last two shows have been sold out. The Mercury Lounge there is kind of our go-to place.”
The band describes the music they make as “alternative rock” but isn’t necessarily comfortable with labels. Plus, they don’t really live a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle until they get on stage.
“We aren’t rock ‘n’ roll types of guys,” Stam said. “We don’t spend our nights smoking and drinking. We are in bed by 10 and are very clean-cut dudes. The one thing that is rock ‘n’ roll about us is that we shred. Our music speaks for itself.”
The boys say their musical influences come from the classics and range all the way from the Beatles to Coldplay.
“My dad had tens of thousands of [vinyl] records when I was growing up, so I probably heard a little bit of everything. The Beatles are a major influence,” said Montgomery. “Also, bands like The Killers, Coldplay, Walk the Moon. There is a wide variety of music tastes, but those three are a good representation.”
Stam said he is a big fan of Bruce Springsteen and loves the way The Boss writes lyrics.
“He’s an unbelievable lyric writer; he really knows how to write a narrative,” Stam said. “He’s a huge influence. We just saw his Broadway show.”
Gennusa points to guitarist Johnny Marr of The Smiths as a major influence.
“He has these incredibly quick arpeggios where it sounds like he’s always moving. I love his grooves,” he said. “He doesn’t put out the loudest sounding riffs, they just serve the songs really well. And the Beach Boys had a big impact on me, too. The rich harmonies and they had super-melodic songs.”
Stam said Friends at the Falls is trying to make it the old-fashion way-by hitting the road and playing as many venues as they can to bring their music to the people rather than create online videos and push the tunes on music services (although they can be found there as well).
“At the end of the day, there aren’t a lot of bands any more who are putting it out there, grinding it out and doing it the real way and making a run for it,” Stam said. “It speaks volumes for the bands like us who are out there doing it.”
The Friends have a lot of new music coming out this summer and much of their existing catalog can be found on Spotify, iTunes and all the music distribution sites.
“It’s going to be a big year,” Stam said.
Visit the band’s website at www.friendsatthefalls.com.