dominating the atlanta scene, the 54

April 21, 2010

It’s Wednesday night in Adams Morgan, and I’m still dressed from my office day job. The suit and tie look isn’t exactly what I shoot for when I go to Asylum Bar & Lounge, but I didn’t have time to go home and change before the show for Atlanta-based rock band, The 54. Narrow would probably be the best way to describe this particular venue, but it’s certainly one of the more enjoyable spots in the area under the right set of circumstances.

Dominating the Atlanta Scene, The 54
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(The 54)

Briefly familiarizing myself with The 54 through their page on MySpace, I figured it be worth it to check them out. Sitting at the bar, I got my usual starter drink of Van Gogh Double Espresso vodka on the rocks, although they’re usually a little more generous with the hooch.

The band had been setting up when I arrived, finally starting their set around 9:30. Their aggressive hard rock sound was especially fitting for a place like Asylum, and I was immediately drawn in by the energy of their performance. Between the seemingly boundless energy of bassist Mercury Jackson as he worked the stage, the commanding vocals from lead singer Enye Willingham, finder-bleeding guitar work of Walter Chastang, and the thunderous drums of Mike Jones, I got the sense that the stage was just too small for them. Not that the band let it hinder their performance.

(The 54, Domination)

Even at their most chaotic, the band still had a sound that was focused and deliberate. They knew when to lower and raise their intensity, going from decidedly mellow tracks like “Throw It All Away” to more hard rock/punk-inspired fare, namely “Dominate”. This is the point in the show when audience participation was key, with Mercury leading everyone to chant along to the “colorful” lyrics of the song’s chorus. Even I, in my work slacks, button-down shirt, and tie, couldn’t resist joining others in some spirited head-banging.

After the show, the band and I chatted about their tour, how they got together, and what’s next on the horizon.

So guys you just played Asylum here in DC. What did you guys think of your show tonight?

Enye: It was good. We’re kinda spoiled on big stages at this point in the tour. But it’s always good to get into a crammed dive bar, smell the man next to you and just rock out. It was good. It was fun.

I thought it was a really good show, and I could definitely tell, especially with Mercury, that the stage just couldn’t contain all that energy.

Mercury: I think energy is the most important part of our performance. I’d consider our sound just audible energy, and when we get on stage, and there’s a keyboard on the left, or a speaker on the right, or something like that, all that shit needs to go, ‘cause we need that space to rock out.

(lead singer, Enye Willingham)

Yeah, just as far as the energy you guys put out in your performance, that’s one of the things I was looking forward to from the time I got on you guys’ MySpace page, and checked out your music, and thought to myself that this is a pretty dope band. And certainly not just on the level of a black rock band, but just as a rock band in general.

Mike: Thank you, we appreciate that.

Especially getting the guitar solos in there, ‘cause it’s hard to listen to rock on the radio nowadays, and it seems like no one’s doing any real, “melt-your-face-off” type of guitar work. It’s okay, but it’s not that shit that’s gonna melt your face off!

Moving on though, how do you guys prepare for a performance? What’s the process, so to speak?

Enye: Well, we usually start with a song, “Everyone’s Pink On The Inside”. Give ‘em a little bit, Walt!

Mike: Yeah, we’ll start with a stomp and a clap, and Walt will get into it.

**The band begins to stomp and clap, as Walt sings.**

Mike: Then you gotta do your neck and your hip rolls, make sure you don’t pull a muscle or something. It does happen.

Mercury: I actually did stretch before tonight’s show!

Mike: Yeah, I had to hold back on the crazy, just a little bit.

You were definitely getting into it on the drums, though. I appreciate that.

Mike: I actually do kinda miss being on a small stage sometimes. When you’re on a larger stage, one guy’s here, another guy’s way over on the other side. You start to miss each other a bit. Merc will always come visit, though!

(drums, Mike Jones)
But it does give me the impression that even when you’re on a big stage, you work that stage to its full potential. That’s the only thing I feel like I missed out on with this show, ‘cause it just seemed like you guys really wanted to bust the walls down, ‘cause it is a pretty small club. It’s a great place, though. But what’s been your impression of playing DC?

Mercury: For us, each city has been different. And how we memorize a city is usually by the people and the food. Food here has been off the chain, and the people . . . the people have been really friendly!

Mike: It’s been a lot of people of all colors and backgrounds walking by during the show, and we saw a lot of them hearing the music and stopping to see what was going on. They were probably on their way someplace else, but they looked like they really wanted to come in if they could.

I definitely got that impression. And speaking of food, this being DC, I’ve gotta ask . . . have you been to Ben’s Chili Bowl?

Mike: Oh yeah, we’re definitely gonna check out Ben’s!

Mercury: Yeah, Ben’s definitely. We did go to Busboys & Poets. The chicken club was off the chain.

Enye: Yeah. But I’m originally from Cincinnati, so we’re all about chili.

Mike: Skyline dip!

You guys have also opened for Janelle Monae. What was that experience like?

Mercury: It was good. The whole Wonderland crew, they’re all great people, great to hang out with, and very professional.

Mike: It really felt like we knew those guys for like three or four years after that tour. We really miss ‘em.

Enye: It’s crazy touring with the band, too, ‘cause you develop this relationship you feel like they don’t have with any other person. And since we’re doing our own independent tour since we met up with them, it’s weird, ‘cause we’re waiting on Calindo and Janelle and the rest of the band to walk through the door, and it’s not gonna happen.

So how did you guys come together?

Enye: I sent out a Facebook message looking for like-minded individuals, and that’s how I got with Mercury.

Mercury: And I showed up at his house with a laptop and an acoustic guitar, and we recorded a record. And Walt was my next-door neighbor.

Walt: Yeah, back in college, we always used to jam on acoustic guitars. And when Mercury knew he was gonna working with Enye, he said I should join up with them.

Mike: I used to be roommates with their old drummer, and at the time, I was just getting my first drum set, so I’ve been playing for about four years now. But I hooked up with Walt, and since their drummer was graduating before the rest of us, they needed a new drummer, so they came to my dorm room and we just jammed out, and it was pretty much my audition. I didn’t even realize it was gonna be an audition, but that’s pretty much what it was.

(The 54)
Cool. But what I definitely notice about you guys is that you really have this vibe like you’ve been playing for a lot longer than you have been. It definitely enhances the experience when you goes are performing, and I assume, when you record.

Enye: Yeah, I mean, like Mercury said, we met up and recorded a song that day . . . then he spent the next two months sleeping on the floor in my apartment! From there, we just spent a shitload of time together, ‘cause we all want the same things. We all have the same goals.

Well, with that in mind, what is the next step for you guys? You’re obviously putting yourselves out there, touring, paying your dues, and making a name for yourselves. The song “Dominate” in particular, it seems to be that song that people who know about you really gravitate towards. Especially me, ‘cause the first time I heard it, I thought it was pretty dope. And it’s a shame, ‘cause everything about the song, it really works as a radio hit, except for the profanity-filled chorus!

Enye: Yeah, that song really started out as a joke, but we realized we were workin’ with a monster, and we started playing it at our shows. But really, the next step is the studio. We need to do another record. That’s where our heads are at, right now.

That’s cool. But anyway, it’s been great talking with you guys, and I wish you the best of luck. I think you’re a great band in general, and you’re doing your part to let people know that there are more guys like you out there.

Mike: We appreciate it, man. Thank you.

Eyne: Yeah, definitely.

Check them out on their Afro-punk page, here
and on MySpace, here.

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