When FRED MASCHERINO took his side-project-turned-full-time-gig THE COLOR FRED through Montgomery, Alabama, last month during his acoustic tour, he had no idea he’d be leaving with the makings of an entirely new band in place. But a chance meeting with former HOT ROD CIRCUIT frontman ANDY JACKSON led the pair to put their other projects aside and begin writing for what they both now consider to be their main priority: INITIALS. The duo enlisted a rhythm section featuring recent free agents STEVE LUCARELLI (bass, ex-ONCE NOTHING) and ANTHONY MARTONE (drums, ex-VERSAEMERGE) and within a few weeks had the creation of a full-on super-group on their hands. In their first interview as members of Initials, Mascherino and Jackson explain what got them to this point and why you just might see Jackson looking for deals at the local guitar store.

INTERVIEW: Tim Karan

So how did Initials come about?
MASCHERINO: I had been doing the Color Fred as a side project when I was in [Taking Back Sunday], and I wound up doing it full-time. But recently, I was like, “What do I really wanna do?” So I went down to Alabama to record some songs. I demoed like 20 songs and said, “Let’s pick the best five of these and start with those.” About two weeks after I did the recording, I ran into Andy [Jackson] in Montgomery, Alabama.
JACKSON: I was doing sound at the club that I work at sometimes and the Color Fred came in and played during his acoustic tour. We just started talking and he said he had some jams and wanted to put a band together. I was like, “Man, I would love to play with you. I’ve always liked your songs.” He said the same thing. I just kind of took it all with a grain of salt, but he called two weeks later saying, “Hey, I wanna do this.” So he sent me some songs and I listened to about 30 seconds of the first one and called him and told him, “I love it.” I said, “As long as we’re writing songs like that, I want to be a part of this.”
MASCHERINO: We kind of wanted to do our version of straight-ahead rock–we called it “American rock music.” Of course, a lot of people who’ve heard it think it just sounds like what we would play. [Laughs.] I told someone I was really thinking of Tom Petty when I wrote it, and they said, “I don’t hear the Tom Petty.” But that’s what was on our minds. Soon after I started playing with Andy, we started putting guys together and started playing some of Andy’s songs, too. On his songs, he’ll sing, and on mine, I’ll sing. We both had the same sound in mind, so whether one of us writes it or the other, it’s not gonna sound like two different bands.

Andy, what about those original demos appealed to you so much?
JACKSON: It was like big rock songs with a story. It reminded me of feel-good, American rock, but not without having the Color Fred and Hot Rod Circuit indie-rock feel. The first song I heard reminded me of, like, if the Foo Fighters and Sunny Day Real Estate had a baby. [Laughs.]

Fred, what was it about Andy that made you want to work with him?
MASCHERINO: Aside from being an amazing songwriter, the one thing that’s big with Andy is just the positive energy he brings. He’s such a motivational person. The first time we jammed, I didn’t know how it was gonna be, but he came in knowing all my songs. From the first chord we hit, he was getting into it and bringing the spirit of the whole thing to life. He brings sort of a magic.

Andy, were you looking for a new band at the time?
JACKSON: Not really. In all honesty, when Hot Rod Circuit broke up, my main gig has been running my studio. Actually, I sold about 90 percent of my guitars and gear. I was kind of hangin’ it up. The band that I’ve been playing in, Death In The Park, is something where I just sing when we play live, so I was even getting away from playing guitar at all. But once Fred and I got together, we hit it off. We just have unbelievable chemistry.

How did you bring on Steve and Anthony?
MASCHERINO: I toured with Anthony when VersaEmerge and [the Color Fred] toured with Craig Owens earlier this year. Obviously, he had just become available and I always thought he was a great drummer, so we called him. We tried out a few people, but he’s been around and we’re feeling that right now. I met Steve on the road through a mutual friend–he was filling in with War Of Ages. We got to talking about how we both like jazz music, but neither of us have never been in jazz bands. That led to us saying we should jam sometime. Steve and Anthony were the two guys who were the most passionate about the project, and on the same page as us. All four of us have left bands or the bands have ended within the last year or two, so we’re all in the same place. We’re all like, “Man, I just wanna be in a band again.” [Laughs.] We just wanna feel that family vibe and like we’re part of a team. We kind of talked about all of the philosophical parts of the band before we even played together.
JACKSON: We just all really clicked. Everybody in the band and everyone at the house when we were practicing was blown away at how well it went. Everyone automatically knew what parts to sing and our voices just sounded great together. We were all just smiling ear-to-ear for the few days we were together.

What are some of the philosophies you guys talked about sharing?
MASCHERINO: We all agree that we want to be more about the music than any type of look or style of music. It’s more about the songs. I’ve always really respected Andy as a songwriter and I think we have a mutual respect there. And Steve and Anthony wanted to do it because they thought the songs were great. I feel like the songs I’ve written are the best I’ve ever written–they certainly blow away anything I’ve been doing in recent years. It’s sort of pulling Andy to the table with his best stuff, too. So mainly, our philosophy has just been about focusing on the songs.

What about those songs make them your best work?
MASCHERINO: Well, I had sort of an inspirational year. [Laughs.] There’s a theme to the album-my town [Coatesville, Pennsylvania] was under siege while an arsonist set about 50 fires before finally being caught. It’s really sad. I actually live in the town next to it now, but the town morale has only gotten worse since the fires. But when you see something like that happen to a town you love, sometimes you can do something about it. But in this case, I was inspired to write. I’ve also definitely been sort of wondering where I’m going next with my music and thinking about the next chapter. There’s a lot of songs about that. I’m not writing any songs about my band break-ups in the past. I’m not even touching that anymore. It’s all about where I’m at musically now. It’s been a real introspective period for me just trying to figure out what I’m doing.

[Laughs.] Aren’t we all?
[Laughs.] Yeah, and in general, too. The economy and everything has affected people I love. It’s been a tough year, so it’s produced songs that are a little deeper.

Andy, what about the songs you’re bringing in?
JACKSON: One of Fred’s big things was that he doesn’t want this to be “the Fred Band.” He wanted it to be a band. I had a handful of songs that I thought would be appropriate for what we’re doing. There’s this one song called “Crazy” that’ll probably done in the next week or so. It’s an older song that I wrote around the time Hot Rod broke up. It’s just been sitting on the shelf, but I gave it to Fred and he heard something in it. It was a real poppy, almost do-wop, Weezer type of song and now it’s turned into quite a monster. It’s not like that at all now. It still has its melody, but it’s got more of a swing to it. There’s a relationship theme in it, so it ties in with the songs he’s writing. Now that I know all of the stories he’s pulling from, I’m gonna try to pull all that stuff in, too. But that’s the coolest part of the band: having a theme and a story to tell.

But now you have to buy more gear…”
JACKSON: [Laughs.] Yeah, I still have some stuff, but I gotta go buy some guitars. It’s funny because I don’t think Fred knew that’s where I was at that point in my life. But I wasn’t definitely giving up. It’s just that nothing had caught my interest enough to go out and tour. But if I can jam with somebody as sweet as Fred, I’m gonna do it.

Do you consider this your main focus now?
MASCHERINO: Yeah, the Color Fred started out strictly as a solo project, and I think that’s what it’s gonna remain. I’ll still do tours with my friends playing with me or acoustic, but Initials are the full-time thing for sure. I’m hoping that it’s gonna be all about Initials for the next months or years. We’re just so excited.
JACKSON: Definitely. We all went out to eat the day after our first rehearsal, and Fred asked me how serious I was about it. I told him, “I’m 100 percent.” Death In The Park aren’t breaking up-it’s just kind of a fun thing anyway.
What does the immediate future hold for this band?
JACKSON: It’s looking really bright. Every day we get new news. I’ve been doing some acoustic Hot Rod shows and kids already knew about this band somehow. I was like, “What is going on?” [Laughs.] But I think that’s a good thing, though.
MASCHERINO: We’re done writing the record for the most part. I already had an album written and Andy has a dozen songs in his vault for it. We’re just working on those one-by-one and trying to get the record done and out. If we can do a tour before then, we’re going to. We’ve already gotten offers, but we’re looking to go out and open for one of our friends just to get the word out. I’d say we won’t have a record until Spring. I’d love to say it’ll be out tomorrow, but everything takes longer than you want it to.” alt