Wow. When I first started the Rising Stars of Geek Rock series, I never imagined it would have so many installations. Today's band is my fifth featured, with many more waiting in the wings. Chicago geeks, you're too talented! I am no longer going to number the titles.
...Enough about that, on to the music! The GameMen are a shiny, new video game cover band. Their track list stretches from the good ol' days of 8-bit to the era of Nintendo 64. While most local gamer bands play rock covers, these gents incorporate many digital/synth elements. This style lends itself particularly well to tunes from Sonic the Hedgehog, Castlevania, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Their debut performance was just in January, but they already have over 1,000 Facebook fans!
All five GameMen- Joe LaRocca, David Kuchera, Doug Ferdinand, Mike Cantella, and Al Blackshere- contributed to this interview. Enjoy, and scroll to the end for details on their next show.
Geek Girl Chicago: "How did you guys meet, and how did you choose video game music? I'd love to hear the origin story."
The GameMen (David, Drums): "Joe and I were friends at Berklee College of Music (circa 2005-2006). By 2011, we were playing music together in Fifth World in and around Chicago. Forming a band to play video game tunes was something I always wanted to do... Once Joe was on board, he recruited our friends and fellow Chicago musicians Mike, Doug, and Al. After our first rehearsal, I think it was clear that this project was going to be a lot of fun- for us and for classic game music fans like us."
GGC: "You call yourselves Chicago's 'premier' video game cover band. What makes you stand out from other names in the genre?"
GM (David): "'Premier' is an ideal, really. In a city this old, it's difficult to be the 'first' of anything, but we sincerely hope that our musicianship and respect for the material will be something that fans can hold in high regard. We try to make the songs sound as authentic as possible. Anything we add to the arrangements or in the timbre of the sounds is always done to preserve the spirit of the original composition. There are many talented groups who exclusively play video game music, but many of them are driven toward rock or metal with lots of guitars. Our approach isn't as one-directional; it's as diverse as the music we are playing."
GGC: "What are some of your favorite video games?"
GM (David): "The most simple answer is 'anything I loved as a kid'- almost any role playing game on the SNES, classic arcade beat-em-ups, puzzle games... contemporary sandbox/open world games are a lot of fun, too. Just to rattle off a few all-time favorites: Super Mario RPG, The Guardian Legend, Zelda: A Link To The Past, The Simpsons Arcade, Mortal Kombat II, Street Fighter II, Doom, Super Smash Bros. 64, Diablo, Super Metroid, the Final Fantasy series, Disney games..... and I'm a sucker for R.B.I. Baseball."
(Al, Sampling Pad/Programming): "Assassin's Creed, Battlefield 3, Skyrim, Fallout & Anticipation for NES."
(Doug, Keyboard/Synth): "Shaq Fu."
GGC: "How do you choose which songs to cover? Do you lean towards what audiences want, or simply what you fancy?"
GM (Joe, Winds): "We have our fair share of audience pleasers, but we also take into account general badasserey. For example, many of the Castlevania tunes are generally not as recognizable, but they are bad ass and fun to learn and play."
(David): "We enjoy getting our fans involved on the musical selection as well, be it a poll on Facebook, or a drunk guy at our show screaming, 'F-Zero!!!'"
GGC: "What do you guys think makes a great cover of a song? Should it stay true to the original, or be more about the band's personal style? Why cover a song at all?"
GM (Joe): "Originally, we wanted to make it so we stayed as true to the original as possible... but as we delved into the material, we decided to add slight nuances to the arrangements. For example, changing up the grooves and adding solo sections for Doug and me."
(David): "That's the great thing about being in any band. All of your individual personality, history, and eccentricities come out in your playing, and you use [them] to make your particular art. Playing a cover is just a way to give tribute to something that is important to you, but riding the line between 'verbatim' and 'personalized' is the fun part."
GGC: "Who are some of your musical inspirations?"
GM (Joe, Winds): "Jethro Tull, Dethklok, Ravi Shankar, Gerry Mulligan, Mr. Bungle, and so on in that fashion."
(Mike, Bass): "AC/DC."
(Al): "Michael McDonald, Frank Zappa, Vinnie Colaiuta, Koji Kondo."
GGC: "You already have over 1,000 Facebook fans. That is some MEGA fast growth! What advice can you give other local bands about generating a fanbase?"
GM (David): "Understanding your demographic is important. Fans of video game music may be niche, but they are passionate and everywhere. We started a sponsored ad campaign on Facebook to let them know that we're out there. The response so far has been amazing."
GGC: "Your debut performance was at Weeds in January. How have you evolved since then, and what are you trying to achieve before your gig in March?"
GM (Joe): "Since our Weeds gig, we have added a good amount of material to the set, in large part responding to what we have gathered that people want to hear. For instance, before the first gig, we figured that the hits like Mario 64 and Mega Man would get the biggest crowd response. To our surprise, it was the music from Dr. Mario... something about the Fever theme really got people pumped!"
GGC: "Speaking of gigs, where is your dream gig? Does it include other bands, a specific type of audience, etc.?"
GM (Joe): "Our dream gig in the short term is MAGFest next year. They showcase a ton of bands and it seems like a really fun event to be a part of. In the long term, we would certainly like to tour Japan. We also have our sights set on various music festivals and conventions."
GGC: "Plug time! Where can my readers hear your music? Upcoming shows? Online?"
GM (Joe): "Our next gig is March 14th at Reggie's Music Joint. All of the recordings we have done and will do are available for free at SoundCloud [and] on Newgrounds.
GGC: "I always ask this- do you have a special message for your female fans? It's Geek GIRL Chicago, after all!"
GM (David): "We have female fans?!"
(Joe): "Come out to the shows! Bands like ours tend to only attract a heavily male audience, so we need as many of you as possible to come out. As you know, a party is no fun without ladies. So far, 80 percent of our fans are males; that needs to change."
GGC: "Anything else?"
GM (Joe): "Game on."
The GameMen (w/ Cast Iron Skillet). Thursday, March 14th, 10PM. Reggie's Music Joint, 2109 S. State. $7.
Thank you to The GameMen for the time and energy- can't wait to see the guys at Reggie's!
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