Three good-looking, well-dressed men approach the ’50s-style booth in the corner of the bar at Chuy’s—it seems appropriate to meet one of San Antonio’s more outwardly successful bands in the ever-expanding Texas-born chain restaurant.
As the rest of the members of Hydra Melody trickle in, they all casually introduce themselves to talk about Friday’s show at Jack’s Bar, the first local concert since last November. With three EPs, two nationwide contests (finalists in one, winners in the other) and a monumental tour behind them, the Hydra Melody members give off a certain confidence. Though the alt-rock band initially formed in 2005, the most recent—and most successful—lineup has been together since 2011.
“We’ve all been in and out of bands for a really long time,” Jordan Berlanga, lead vocalist and founding member, told the Current. “I’ve known our two percussionists [Manny Prince and Matt Gomez] since middle school and high school and we’ve all been jamming together for over a decade now.”
Once Jason Harari, bassist, and Taylor Ferguson, lead guitar, joined Hydra Melody, Berlanga said the focus shifted to touring, branding and the business side of the industry—not that they’re looking to get famous by any means necessary. All five agree tending to business themselves for as long as possible is preferable to having a label do it for them.
“We don’t want to do anything that involves signing our lives away until we know we have our business in order,” said Harari. “Unless somebody offers us something that is undeniable—like in The Godfather, they make an offer you can’t refuse—I think the dream come true would be that we never sign. We’re not willing to take the risk of being thrown to the bottom of the stack because Katy Perry wants to do a new record.”
Prince agreed when Berlanga, equating a music label’s support to a loan, said many bands don’t realize that money must be paid back before revenue can be generated.
“It’s great doing it homegrown, though,” Prince said. “From the business aspect, we’ve really figured out what a record label is—it’s just money from a bank.”
Perhaps the biggest break for Hydra Melody in 2013 was an invitation to join ’90s alternative rock icons Third Eye Blind for a 20th anniversary tour sponsored by House of Blues. The headliners chose a different band to open on each leg of the tour, and Hydra Melody joined the likes of Gentlemen Hall and Team (the latter is ex-Boys Like Girls bass player Bryan Donahue’s new project).
In spite of little name recognition, Hydra Melody’s manager Chad Richardson contacted artists he knew would be touring in the upcoming months to solidify a spot for the band. Third Eye Blind, a last-ditch, shot-in-the-dark effort, was the band that bit.
“We got lucky,” Harari said. “We were the underdog and the indie band.”
The nine-day tour began November 17 in Orlando, Fla., and ended December 1 in New Orleans.
“When I was a teenager [my influence] was Third Eye Blind, so this tour for me was like a 13-year-old girl going to see Britney Spears,” Harari said. “I kind of flipped out a little bit every day.”
Hydra Melody had multiple opportunities to rub elbows with Stephan Jenkins and Brad Hargreaves, fulfilling those denim-clad fantasies of garage bands past.
“The first night we played, I was side stage taking it all in and Stephan comes up to me and is like, ‘Drinks in my dressing room later?’” Prince said. “That was the first impression. They’re all really good guys. We got to hang out with them and make good contacts and see what they do.”
“That was a good model for us just seeing how it’s done,” added Berlanga.
That sounds a little humble considering some of Hydra Melody’s other recent successes: A $20,000 check for winning the grand prize in Summerfest 2013’s Land the Big Gig in Milwaukee and placement as a finalist in Converse + Guitar Center’s Get Out of the Garage.
As with other SA bands on the rise nationally (see: Wild Party, Lonely Horse), the question of whether Hydra Melody will continue to call San Antonio home has already come up. Especially angsty music fans may have noted that while Ferguson attended classes at the University of Texas last fall, Hydra Melody rented a room at Space Rehearsal Studios in Austin and stayed for five weeks to begin work on a forthcoming EP.
“I feel like a lot of bands like LA or New York, but then you can’t afford to do your work,” Harari said. “San Antonio’s a blessing because we’re close enough to Austin, the weather’s good and living here makes it easier to afford the ability to get out of here.”
“It’s kind of a break from Austin,” he said. “They’re two extremes.”
Focusing on the business aspect of the music industry makes the decision to stay in San Antonio—for now—the practical one.
“Why do you want to go to a huge city and be a needle in a haystack when you can be in a place like San Antonio and be that needle that was right in the open the whole time and someone notices you?” Berlanga said.
Even though Harari agreed, he admitted there’s no harm in appreciating other markets.
“We hope to be the hometown hero one day, but there’s no shame in artists or bands or musicians saying, ‘We totally love other markets as well,’” Harari said. “Great people are everywhere.”
While San Antonio’s mark on the band shows through the Latin percussion influences in the music, touring the country has inspired Hydra Melody to approach songs from different angles.
“[Prince] set up his drums to where he’s playing congas and looks like mission control—he has a million things going on,” Harari said. “[Gomez is] getting into some digital drum pads and adding samples, [Berlanga has] got the keys now. [Ferguson] can’t walk into Guitar Center without buying a new pedal, so that’s changing the sound a lot.”
“Some people like drugs, I like pedals,” added Ferguson, who was a fan of Hydra Melody before he joined the group.
The band agreed the sound has matured significantly in the past three years and that it is now “more digestible, but not at the expense of dumbing it down,” Ferguson said. “It’s almost becoming smarter.”
That “smarter” sound is what they’ll bring to Jack’s on January 24.
“We were so used to throwing all of our energy into 30 minutes (during the tour) and now we get a chance to play for an hour and a half and spread all that energy out,” Berlanga said. “It’s going to be really nice to have a hometown show and see our friends and family. It’s going to be one that we will remember, I know that.”
The constant touring has also turned them into better musicians, and they’re eager to show off their newfound chops.
“Based on the experience we had at our last show at Jack’s, it’s going to be at a whole ‘nother level,” Ferguson said. “All the things we’ve learned ... I can’t even talk, I’m so excited! I’m just itching to get in the rehearsal room and work out. We all have these ideas we want to try.”
Fans attending Friday’s show will likely hear a sample of songs from the upcoming EP, the first to be released since 2011’s 10-track self-titled one. A full-length album has never made it out of Hydra Melody’s recording studio.
“The ultimate goal is definitely to release a full-length and we’ve been talking about it for so long,” said Berlanga, who, despite his reservations about record labels, confesses to dreaming of a bigger audience. “It would be nice to be backed by someone and release it to a lot of ears instead of just locally.”
“It’s a story, it’s a book, whether it’s small or large,” Prince said. “It’s continuing to tell that Hydra Melody story ... I’ve been in the band since 2006 and haven’t been as excited to write, play and record as now.”
With the new EP to be released prior to the SXSW Music Festival (March 11-16), it’s just a matter of time before Hydra Melody takes off again to tour and further expand its fan base.
“Three years ago, the vibe within the band wasn’t like this,” Berlanga said. “This is the lineup that always should have been there and now we’re here and it’s just the most amazing feeling.”
Smart business sense, a wary approach to record labels and constantly reevaluating the Hydra Melody sound seems to promise the momentum gained in 2013 won’t fizzle anytime soon.
“There’s a lot of blips and flash-in-the-pan kind of bands, but we really hope to God that’s not us,” Harari said. “We’d rather work our way up and pay our dues the hard way rather than hoping for the get-rich-quick scheme, because it would really suck to be huge for, like, a year. But, hey, we’ll take it if that’s all we get.”
Doors at 8pm Fri, Jan 24
3030 Thousand Oaks
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