MAHAYLA

mahay7

Mahayla is a band that has risen from multiple collapses. Front man Dave Fera was prematurely plucked from the Richmond indie scene by an over eager record industry still drunk off the flannel-filtered wine squeezed from Nirvana’s golden teat. His band, The Seymore’s were handed a major label deal after their first show (an indie-music fest with Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, Labradford, Versus and Small Factory). They had a video on Alternative Nation, a national tour schedule and even a cotton Dockers’ ad in which they preformed their single, “Arcade Boy”. Then came the collapse. Labels folded, the record stores disappeared like a creative commerce rapture. Dave and his late 90s signing swoop peers were left weeping gently with their guitars without a home.

In 1999 Fera relocated to New Orleans where he formed Mahayla with drummer, Mark Davis. Mahayla enjoyed local success in a vibrant indie scene that blossomed under the shade of more traditional New Orleans’ music. They recorded their debut EP, Songs to Stalk To with producer, Brian Paulson. The EP found its way into heavy rotation in the college radio circuit. They followed that up with, Powerlines, a full-length recorded at the Living Room Studio with Offbeat Magazine’s engineer of the year winner, Chris George. The single, “I-10” drew rave reviews from Antigravity Magazine editor Dan Fox who described it as, “a real rib-sticker of a song– and an instant mix tape classic.” He went on to say, “It not only stoked my ears but my regional pride as well. There’s something truly unique and accessible about Fera’s brand of faster-than-it-should-be folk rock and that dark, weighty voice of his which holds its form even in a scream. As a relative newcomer to New Orleans he also has the eye to capture the daily poetry of life here without any preconception, gimmick or pretension, turning a simple Westbank fishing trip or a bike ride through the city into a treasured snapshot. It’s an approach to songwriting earned over a monk’s life in music.”

In 2002 Fera started Big Blue Marble, a side project with Blair Gimma and Adam Campagna. A side project that would eventually lead to the fizzling out of the initial Mahayla era with four albums: Scuba School, Stars in Suburbia (produced by Tape Op founder, Larry Crane), Natchez and a self-titled release. Then came the second collapse. Hurricane Katrina brought Fera’s adopted city to its knees and a period of complete uncertainty. Fera and his band mates stuck it out through the rebuild, watching as their landscape completely changed. These changes and personal demons lead to the end of Big Blue Marble and had nearly the end of his career as a songwriter.

In an interview in the December 2013 issue of Antigravity Magazine, Fera shared his struggles, “I was in a funk for three years. I didn’t do shit. I couldn’t write; I just sat on the couch and got fat. I just wasn’t happy.” After a jarring exchange at a gig one night, he knew he had to pull himself up again. “One night at the Howlin Wolf, someone asked me if they could come over and talk about songwriting; and the way they put it was like, ‘Now that you’re done, would you mind sitting down and plucking on the guitar and talk about song crafting?’ I was a little taken aback by the bluntness and assumption. It made me realize I was wasting years of my life.” Seven years after he put them on pause Fera turned to Mahayla bandmates Mark Davis, Ike Aguilar (guitar) and Chris Johnson (bass) to help lift him from his funk.

The familiarity and comfort with his bandmates spurned a writing spree. In December of 2013 Mahayla released the first leg of this melodic marathon, Electricspaceagesweetheart. The album was recorded in parts by Chris George at the Living Room Studio and with Better Than Ezra’s Tom Drummond at Fudge. These two settings and engineers helped create Mahayla’s psychedelic Americana sound, which should be the soundtrack to ever teenaged make-out session. Dave explained the importance of the two studios and engineers to capturing their signature sound, “I wanted to go over to the Living Room to get that big room and analog vibe that you get there. That’s really important to me and half of the record has that rich analog drums and bass. The record needed it. Even though it was recorded in two studios, it still feels like it has continuity. It all fits together. It needed the meat-and-potatoes real analog feel. Tom is awesome at editing and his biggest gift to me is his work with my vocals. Instantly he knows the right take. He’s also a genius with ProTools. I wanted his editing acumen on this record, so that it’s competitive with big budget records, but it had to still have that feel and warmth you get at the Living Room.” This new burst of creative energy has already lead to enough material to fill the next Mahayla record and another side project, The Grasshoppers —a bluegrass outlet whose first album is currently being recorded at the legendary Studio in the Country.

Mahayla’s resurgence has seen them share the stage with the likes of the Meat Puppets, the Breeders, Sebadoh, Cracker and Camper van Beethoven. They have also taken their show on the road, including a very successful showcase at SXSW. They have fully committed to their craft divesting every resource they have into not only songwriting, but also packaging and promotion. They started their own label, Serial Lover Records to serve as a vehicle for not only Fera’s output, but also the projects of the satellite musicians and collaborators Mahalya and its members work with. As Fera has said, “I had to make my mind up that I wasn’t going to have money for anything else other than this. That’s the attitude I have. Music is the most important thing in my life and that is where all of my finances are going. I’m going to do it right. I’m not going to half-ass it, because I have half-assed it in the past. I want to roll out a complete product, do it right: make videos, do publicity, do radio, go all the way with it.” A reignited passion, a new maturity, an understanding of past mistakes and an album loaded with their own recipe of indie-pop has ushered in a exciting new chapter to one of New Orleans’ longest tenured alternatives to its brass and jazz heritage.

 

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