Forming a band is like developing a romantic relationship. You hope for chemistry and, if you’re lucky, an instant connection. More often than not, it’s the former. What you see on stage is often the result of musician-soliciting want-ads, auditions or just friends attempting to turn rock-star dreams into reality. Unless you’re Gerald Music.
What began as an impromptu jam project at Kilby Court in the fall of ’99 resulted in the band now mesmerizing local audiences. Comprised of Mandy Jeppsen on vocals, Scott Bell on bass, Jeff Juip on keyboards, Rylee Mills on drums, Josh Emery on guitar and Stephen Kesler rounding out the combo on both guitar and vibraphone, Gerald Music delivers an unrivaled sound. With their soulful fusion of rock, jazz and lounge, they appeared to come from nowhere to claim City Weekly’s Music Issue audience award for Band of the Year. They, too, were surprised by their elevated status. “It was a complete surprise,” remembers Mills. Kesler adds, “It told us we were going in the right direction, getting praise from the people and not just music critics.”
Playing such a non-conventional sound, given the prevailing bar scene’s fascination with alt-rock and disco cover bands, would seem like a gamble. “But we all agreed we were sick of the indie-rock genre and that we shared an appreciation for the same form of music,” Bell points out. “It’s as if we had some unspoken understanding about our direction.” Including influences from ’60s and ’70s tunes rather than MTV.
“The music we each experienced when we were young, the stuff each of our parents played around us, had a lasting effect,” Emery remembers. “That’s why we all have such different musical tastes. But every style we bring forth somehow complements each other.”
“Because of that chemistry, there’s not really one songwriter,” Jeppsen adds, “Everyone in the band was the ‘alpha’ contributor in their previous bands: I think that’s why it works.”
“What we’re doing now, it’s a lot more challenging than simply playing hard and loud,” Mills explains.
Kesler agrees. “The crowd reaction differs—it’s not the instantaneous reaction you get from straight-out rock.”
As Jeppsen notes, “It’s more about appreciation than just reaction.”
That is perhaps what prompted a fellow musician to suggest they’d have to play somewhere like New York for the band’s unique sound and subdued stage presence to really succeed. However, in time, Gerald Music’s sound soon earned them a loyal and ever-growing local audience.
Bell sees Gerald Music eventually becoming a self-sustaining enterprise. As for Juip, “I just want to make music without needing a day job.”
Emery agrees, “Success would even be nationwide touring, without it costing us money.”
With their growing success, it’s Jeppsen that struggles to find balance between her role as artist and performer. At times, she still identifies herself as more of a writer, the songs she performs being the same she’d otherwise create for herself.
With a recently-released EP, Gerald Music might be making the next step. “It’s really too soon to tell,” Bell muses,” but we’ve been getting a good response. And it only represents what we could finish in time for recording.” Now the band is preparing to develop their press kit, approach music labels and increase their album’s distribution, as well as performing at the Athlete’s Village during the Games for an international audience next week.
Although the group epitomizes the very definition of solidarity, there’s one secret that remains between them: the origin of the group’s name. Bell laments, “Only Stephen knows, and he’s not telling us.”