by Dan Emmons
This past chillingly windy Sunday night, The Note in West Chester, PA played host to Philly’s hottest up and coming rock band, June Divided. Opening for their heroes The Almost, All Get Out and Makeshift Prodigy at the famous venue, June Divided took the stage strong with a fire in their eyes. To start their set, they jumped right in with “Secrets”, the single for their latest album Backbone and harnessed the momentum from that moment forward. Guitarist Chris Kissel struck a dominant power rock split as he drove the leads in, seemingly keeping the tempo of the song with the banging of his head. Bassist Lenny Sasso threw his bass around almost in a rage, even jumping off the drum kit and posing statuesque on top of the floor monitors during the breaks. Drummer Keith Gill flawlessly mixed in tom and cymbal transitions with the beat that gave each song its heart. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist Melissa Menago, when not pumping up the crowd with her powerful rock vocal style, sang deceptively sweet melodies on the slowed tempos, only to flex on the crowd more, finishing the set standing atop the kick drum with her own pair of sticks, hitting the cymbals along with Gill. Needless to say, it was a very lively show coming from a band with a very bright future.
June Divided was started by a group of Drexel University students in the Music Industry program who decided to take what they were learning and apply it to their passion of making music. “This is my first band,” Menago states “Chris and I met in college and started this as a senior project as an idea from professor. At the time, we were making songs for film, then we decided to take it seriously.”After a few member changes and one Craigslist post later, the three grads Menago, Kissel and Sasso, had linked up with the northeast Philadelphia drummer Gill. Soon after the band had formed, they started writing and put out their first EP, The Other Side of You in February 2011 stirring up a buzz. With their latest album release of Backbone, which debuted in July, they feel comfortable with their style, growing as musicians and are owning it live. When talking about the maturation process, Menago says, “we were poppier when first started writing, I think that is the case with a lot bands when they first start, but we see ourselves evolving with each record and we are going to continue to evolve”. Kissel adds “I think we have a lot clearer picture now as far as writing and maturity, we kind of know what sound we want before we even go into the recording process”. The band agrees that the new album goes deeper and darker than ever before, but at the same time leaving in the some of the “fun” that gave them their first following. With a game plan in mind, they headed into the studio.
Backbone was recorded at Soundmine Recording Studios, with producer and another college friend Alec Henninger. Menago points out, “he got in contact with me because he saw what we were doing as a band and he invited us in, now we are best friends!” Although a happy memory at this point, Kissel does not make light of the effort it took to write the record, “it was tough though man, we did ten songs in three weeks” a tough task for even the most tenured of bands. With the end of their studio time coming up, June Divided was closing on a deadline without a title track, Kissel sarcastically jokes “yeah it’s not that important, just our title track for the album.” A little more serious Menago points out that they were debating on a few things, but when they were done writing the track “Backbone”, it was an obvious choice. With an album out, the band is planning on releasing a music video in mid-February for a “secret” song. “We don’t want to say to much” says Sasso, “but we had some family member cameos, even Keith’s brother Steve, our producer, and a few people who donated to our Indigogo account.” Not much is known about the music video except that “only a few minor felonies were committed,” Kissel says followed by a pause and a chuckle, “but no, no one got arrested”.
The success of June Divided has come from the support of the Philadelphia area and their active fan base. “We found our niche. Philly was tough for our genre in the sense of finding bands to play with, but now that people know our name, we have been able to play shows with bigger and bigger bands,” Menago comments. Their support has taken them to play venues all over Philadelphia, with the TLA being a favorite of Gill’s, a February 9th show at the Trocadero, and the radio 104.5 Winter Jam on January 26th at the Piazza. The band is enjoying their success, but admitted to still getting some nerves, “It’s funny I think I am more nervous about performing tonight because we have been fans of these bands on this bill for a long time” Menago points out. When comparing the nerves to their Winter Jam debut, “I’m more nervous about the cold than anything, we’re gonna have to duct tape the drum sticks to Keith’s hands” adds the cool-headed Gill.
The weather may be Gill’s biggest concern, but when asked if the band had to tackle other obstacles such as the stereotyping in rock in roll with a female lead singer, Menago was none too happy. “Let’s not use that word (female-fronted) from here on out. People are starting to use that to define a genre, we get compared to bands we sound nothing like, people look at the gender instead of the music. My dad was a musician and he passed it on to me. I never really noticed it was a ‘thing’ until people started pointing it out.”
She explains that the band gets contacted to play shows with bands who have a majority of female members to support “the cause”, but Menago believes that even though their intentions are good, she sees it as counter productive, “equality is just equality, just listen to the music”. However, June Divided does have fond memories of inspiring young women to become rockers. While playing a show in Virginia, a seven-year-old girl walked up in amazement to Menago because she had never seen a women lead a band with her voice and her guitar before. The singer/guitarist gave her the guitar pick she had been playing with and asked if she played any instruments, the girl did not, but promised Menago she would start as soon as she got home. When asked if she could give any advice to the woman in rock bands today, “it would be don’t ever say you are female-fronted. It makes no difference if a man is singing or a woman, if it’s good it’ms good.”
No matter what your musical background or taste is, June Divided will grab you with their impressive transitions and breaks in song that are as tight live as they are on their records. June Divided came out of the chilly night and commanded the room at The Note. It was easy to tell that they were honestly having fun, and that is impossible to fake. Seeing them live is worth every penny and you should catch them now while you still can. June Divided combines the gritty with the cute into a mixture of tough, yet polished, new sound of rock and roll. All the members are incredible performers with much bigger hearts than egos. They have to potential and the opportunity to be the next big national rock band out of Philly, and I am glad I got a chance to hang out with them.