It took a full three years of friendship and living as roommates before Harry Kagan, Duncan Shea and Lee Putney realized they wanted to play music together and before Harry, inspired by the rock scene in Ithaca, New York, where the three were attending college, would approach Lee about starting a project of their own.
In the three years since they started playing together, the guys in Music Band have gone a lot of places they weren’t expecting: they’ve moved to Nashville, were mentioned several times among the bands expected to rule 2014 in the Nashville Scene’s 2013 Rock ‘n’ Roll Poll, and are currently touring with Those Darlins.
But just a handful of years ago, the three were college roommates---all with musical interests but with little to no skill at the instruments they now play in Music Band. Though Lee had started drumming when he was about seven, he’d only ever had one lesson; Harry had started playing the guitar in 8th grade, but by college had basically given it up; and Duncan had been drumming since age seven, but had never played bass.
Nevertheless, with a blossoming rock scene in Ithaca that included lots of his friends, Harry was inspired to pick up his guitar and finally told Lee that he felt like it was time to start a foray into music again. Lee, too, had been a fan of all the music that was happening in Ithaca and he was itching to get back to drumming. “It turned out, Lee was dying to play too,” said Harry.
Though he’d never even attempted playing bass, Duncan volunteered to learn the instrument and fill in until a permanent bass player could be found. The opportunity to start playing bass happened to come at a time when Duncan had just begun to challenge himself to learn more about music.
“I had decided it was important to learn other instruments so that I could understand the music I was playing easier and how it all fits together,” he explained. According to Lee, after doing some recording in Ithaca, Duncan decided to continue on with the band. “He sat in with us,” said Lee. “And then he just stayed.”
Though Duncan may have initially planned to be with the band only as a short-term arrangement, the chemistry the band has onstage makes it clear why he decided to stay. People frequently remark to them that it looks like they have a great time playing together and the members of the band seem to agree that their connection brings something special to their music and performances.
“It wouldn’t work if we didn’t have that natural relationship,” said Duncan. “We’re really, really good friends.”
In addition to providing a stable base for the band, their strong friendship has helped them connect with audiences. “We like to be goofy,” said Harry. “Even if it’s a bad show and we’re messing up, we try to laugh about it. People respond positively to that. There’s nothing worse than a meltdown or flipping out on a band mate. It’s important to find lightness and humor in everything. Hopefully it comes out in our demeanor and relationships with each other on stage.”
“We have the same sense of humor,” said Lee, of his relationship with Duncan and Harry, both of whom he still rooms with. “We’re always clowning on each other, like brothers. We get each other. We butt heads too, but we’re always cracking up.”
“That chemistry is present on stage,” he continued. “Sometimes we laugh at ourselves more than people exactly laugh with us. But people see our chemistry, even if they don’t get the joke. The chemistry in the band is really what propels us forward and if someone were to decide to go in a different direction musically, it wouldn’t necessarily break up our friendship, but it would be hard for the band to go forward. Anything we have reservations about has been put on the table so we’re all on the same page.”
When it came time to start a new chapter for the band, it really became evident that Harry, Duncan and Lee were all in it together. After playing around Ithaca for about a year and finishing college, they decided to look for a new home base for the band, along with a few other friends from school, including the members of the band Duncan played drums for, Tropical Punk.
Duncan knew immediately that he would go wherever Music Band went. “I knew I wanted to move with the band,” he remembered. “I wasn’t a huge part of deciding where we moved geographically, but I made it clear I wanted to continue.”
At first, Harry had his heart set on moving the band to Brooklyn. “I have a sister in Brooklyn and I thought it was a good idea. It had always been the plan in the back of my mind but after finishing school, I realized it was not the place for a band to try to establish a name. It might be the place to base an established band, but if you’re unknown, you could probably play a show every night and nothing would ever happen. I think it was my mom who actually said, ‘Check out Nashville.’”
So, in 2011, the band made a pit stop in Nashville on their way to SXSW. They fell for the town immediately.
“In a way, it was a shot in the dark. We only visited once before moving, but we met some people and bands that we liked a lot. Everyone had good things to say about the city. It was kind of like the rock scene in Ithaca but on a larger scale,” said Duncan.
“When we stopped in Nashville, we saw Those Darlins at the Basement. Everyone was so hospitable and there were so many bands we loved,” remembered Lee. “It was a toss up between here and New York but now it seems like a no-brainer.”
“We had a good time when we stopped here,” explained Harry. “We got an amazing vibe from the city and the people. Part of the reason I love it here is just the people I’ve met and friends I’ve made. In 2011, people wanted to know ‘Why Nashville?’ but now everyone that comes here falls in love with the city.”
When he first moved to town, Harry was surprised at the daily differences he saw in peoples’ lifestyles in Nashville versus where he grew up, in Chicago. Harry says that in Nashville people live at a much more relaxed pace.
“It really is a much slower, more laid back lifestyle and I’ve really taken that on and adopted it. What sets it apart from other music cities is that the scene is really supportive and people are interested in what you do from the get go. If you’re sincere, people appreciate that. If you’re not nice, you’re not going anywhere. From our own experiences, it’s much better to be nice and bad than mean and good,” he explained, laughing.
For Harry a lot of what the band tackles in their songs comes down to the age old battle of good versus evil.
“I’m not religious,” Harry started. “But I think about the devil a lot and what that means in rock and roll music. I think having sympathy for the devil is really interesting. A lot of our music and ideas have to do with good versus bad and figuring out what that means.”
In Lee’s opinion, their music is an amalgamation of the interests of the different members. “We all had to start from the beginning, to learn how to play and how to play together,” he said. “I never thought I’d be in a band, even though I really wanted to. So, after being in Music Band for a while, I decided I had to contribute to the songwriting. I got a guitar and fiddled around. I still don’t know theory. But I just had to contribute. Now, I write songs. When we started, just Harry sang. Now we all do. We’re all a part of the songwriting.”
“We all have different likes and influences,” Lee went on. “I’m going through a mid to late ‘70s punk phase and that’s a driving force in my songs. Right now, Harry is bringing this kind of Sweetheart of the Rodeo influence and Duncan’s a wild card. He might throw in a little Pavement or Andrew W.K. We’re different enough to bring something new to the band but similar enough to be able to consolidate it all into one song. And Music Band---that name is vague enough to encompass so many genres. Our sound is always evolving.”
“None of us were very good at our instruments when we started playing. But we’ve grown as musicians by playing together. The band is a representation of all our progress and growth,” said Duncan.
Not only did Harry, Duncan, and Lee have to learn to actually play their instruments, since moving to town they’ve started focusing more on determining what their plans are as a band.
“We weren’t very well versed in what our goals were,” said Harry. “And one of our friends said we needed a mantra. I’ve been thinking about that. What sets us apart from other young rock and roll bands? And I think it’s just being as nice as we can be.”
“We want to be conscious of what we’re doing,” he went on. “And not just try to break into the music scene but to be a part of it in other aspects as well. We came here with the intention of living here first. It’s hard for a band that’s been together for a while to go somewhere new, but, in Nashville, if you’re interested in making real friends, it’ll set you in the direction you want to go and I’m so thankful for being welcome here.”