Joe DeTillo, Will Fredette, Taylor MacMillan and Will Hahn, also known as El Modernist. The band is releasing a new EP, American, in March. Michael Hallisey / TheSpot518
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Will Fredette walked into a conversation that included radio personality Jeff Morad of WEQX. The radio station just concluded the second round of its annual battle of the bands competition. It pits four bands against one another to determine who opens Pearlpalooza, a large all-day block party in the middle of Albany. On this night it looked like Fredette’s band wasn’t going to be it. His band lost, earning first runner-up honors to Dooojj.
Fredette extended a hand and thanked Morad for the opportunity to play. His El Modernists had just played a tight set. Despite the short 20 minutes, the four came out hot. They got the Friday night crowd on their feet with a lively punk act that contrasted against the popular jam and garageband sound across the scene. If he was dejected by the loss, he didn’t show it. The kid’s toothful grin made it look like he just earned the job.
“Nice burp you had there,” Morad said, complimenting Fredette for appearing loose enough on stage to let out a belch into the mic. The lead singer admitted to downing a drink just prior to taking the stage. He felt the air bubble crawling back up from his gut as he was introducing the band to the crowd. He laughed as he later explained what was a pending dilemma in his mind. Should he back away or just own it?
He shrugged it off. “I had to own it,” he said.
El Modernist came out with, not so much a devil may care attitude, but more of an affable and earnest personality between them. Afterall, the band wasn’t supposed to be there. The collection of bands playing in this year’s competition included recognizable names. Acts that had CDs to sell at their merchandise table in the back of Jupiter Hall. The four of them just formed as a band. They only played their first gig together on St. Patrick’s Day five months before.
“Honestly, that first set… we liked that opportunity,” said Will Hahn, El Modernist’s drummer and occasional rapper. The 15 minutes allotted to each band in the preliminary rounds was like doing a late night show on television. Just enough time to do a quick highlight of the band’s act. “Get it done and leave people wanting more.”
It was enough to have judges bring the band back to the final round, and the gratitude was expressed yet again on stage. The largest crowd out of all the rounds gathered for the last act to see who would win. There were members from other bands, promoters and manager scattered around. The local music community was in one room. As if in tune to the fact, Hahn announced he created a Spotify playlist, “We Are Albany NY,” to market all of the local bands online.
“Every single band in every round we played with was a great band,” said Hahn. “Not only that, but very supportive. Awesome people to work with. Fun part of the event was that you get more people to play some shows with.”
These newcomers were going against veterans. Honey Suckle Vine, though relatively new to the local scene, had played together out West before moving into town. Joey Jaquez, who often sported a mean harmonica, fronted the four-piece band that brought a blues flavor to the party. Dooojj, who beat out El Modernist in the second round, was a good four-piece garageband. Then, there was Bendt.
The members of Bendt knew how to embrace the local music community. Before taking the third round, Matt Plummer knew to thank and compliment his competitors. Hahn said he couldn’t “be mad” to losing to a bunch of guys like them. In the final round, taking the stage after El Modernist, with each of its four members sporting a T-shirt from Girl Blue, Good Fiction, Stellar Young and Hasty Page. If any one band knew how to win, it was Bendt. The band’s grunge style won Schenectady County’s Battle of the Bands last year.
El Modernist, however, stood out with elements of punk — screaming guitar riffs and electric drums. The four each graduated from the College of St. Rose’s prestigious music program. They’ve messed around with other bands before coming together in March, blending various influences and creating something entirely their own.
“El Modernist seemingly came out of nowhere to take us all by surprise with their performance at the finals,” said Morad, after the four earned the coveted Pearlpalooza slot. “It says a lot about them when you consider they knocked off the likes of Bendt, Honey Suckle Vine and Dooojj!”
Morad said El Modernist pulled away with the win because of it’s “high energy, engaging and unique.”
“Going from the wild card slot and winning it, I was little surprised,” said Joe DeTillio, El Modernist’s bass player. “Aside from that, it was so cool.”
The opportunity now places El Modernist in the same company with Good Fiction and four different national acts coming in to Albany to play Pearlpalooza: Kitten, The Greeting Committee, Caroline Rose and Superorganism.
“The four other bands are all national acts that blew everybody away at the 2018 SXSW Fest in Austin,” said Morad. “We’re glad to have been able to put them all together on the same day — for free! Not to mention, but I am mentioning, all four national acts are female fronted, cause girlpower.”
El Modernist is already on the move. After the band sets the scene for Pearlpalooza this Saturday, at 1 p.m. and follows up with a gig at Savoy Taproom at 9:30 p.m. The band released its debut single “Up” on all available streaming services, including the band’s Albany-centric playlist on Spotify.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.