John Melillo thinks that what sets his band Algae and Tentacles (A & T) apart is the way he and his bandmates embrace extremes to make people feel both safe and uncomfortable at the same time. “I want, I guess, there to be a space for people to get into the music, like, actually engage with it through shock or a good melody or a cool sound,” he said. Pausing for a moment to think it over, he then added, “But then again, what band doesn’t want that?”
If Melillo, singer/songwriter and guitarist is a planet, drummers Nate Affield (The Workshop Model), Akil Wilson (The Workshop Model), Daniele Yandel (The Gytters) and Lydia Fong (La Défense) are celestial bodies orbiting around him. A & T, active since May 2010, is a band that’s constantly morphing. At its core, it is the brainchild of Melillo and can exist as a one-man band, or a larger superband depending on what combo of drummers he’s able to pull out of the rotating roster on a given week. “The original idea was to keep it really simple. When you’re in a band with four or five people, getting everybody organized to practice and go on tour, it’s really frustrating sometimes,” Melillo admitted. While the open relationship plan is designed to pare down needs to increase mobility and flexibility, the long-term goal is to expand the band’s roster by adding a variety of different musicians (and additional instruments), while writing songs in an open style to allow musicians to rotate in and out as circumstances allow.
Melillo plays with Affield and Wilson most often. Each of their drum setups is less traditional than the other—Affield plays only a snare and a tom, Wilson plays bass drum; neither uses cymbals. “The idea is to make it really atypical; and this way, there’s more freedom for them to move around,” Melillo said. And they do move around. all over the venue. In fact, at most shows, they leave the stage and go out into the audience. Wilson attaches his drum to his back, and Affield often carries his snare into the crowd. “There are a lot of songs where we surprise people, so we’ve got a little bit of that performance art element to it,” Melillo said.
No matter which bandmates, Melillo plays with his roster is wide enough and his music is bare enough so that putting things together on a whim is kind of the norm. “It’s pretty simple so it’s easy for me to find people quickly and be like, ‘Hey, do you want to play a show?’ And then we play a show.”
Not to say that the music isn’t well thought out. Unlike many musicians, Melillo enjoys the mundane repetition that is practice. After writing a song, Melillo brings it in and he and whoever he’s working with play it until the song seems to magically take shape. “This is actually something I’m really into. When I make a song, I love repeating it six thousand times . . .There’s something about that—maybe I’m slightly autistic or something, but there’s this feeling that you get repeating something, and that slow accumulation of getting better and better at it…” he trailed off.
Melillo best described his own music as a combination of “noise and the kind of immersive quality of something really loud with delicate, almost folk-type moments.” He continued: “I like the contrast and extremes; but then I also like kind of straight up pop-punk, so all that stuff kind of gets masked together and hopefully becomes something new.”
This past Saturday, July 23rd, at Union Pool, Algae and Tentacles played their last New York City show before Melillo moves to Tucson. He’s not too worried about finding a drummer there. “I’ve been meeting a lot of people who are in the poetry and music scenes there so I’m hoping to meet people very quickly and get involved with that.” He added, “What I think is great about the music I play is that I want to play in punk and DIY-type settings and that’s all about meeting people and community.”
Have a listen for yourself at www.myspace.com/algaeandtentacles.
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