What do you do when you find out your band has won the highly coveted Ernie Ball's Vans Warped Tour Battle Of The Bands 2015 title? You don’t quit. At least, that’s the mindset of Chicago-based pop rockers Marina City, comprised of Ryan Argast (lead vocals), Todor Birindjiev (lead guitar), Brian Johnson (vocals/guitar), Aaron Heiy (bass), Matt Gaudiano (vocals/keys) and Eric Somers-Urrea (drums). Fresh off a successful run at New York’s CMJ Music Marathon, the six-piece recently wrapped the journey on the road back to their hometown, but not without playing a string of shows along the way. AP had the opportunity to catch up with the band before their show at Stony Brook University in Long Island to talk about their big win (just one week after they were “crazy people in the streets of New York” upon hearing the news) and what comes next, namely two weeks on Vans Warped Tour and a recording session with well-known producer/musician/songwriter John Feldmann (5 Seconds Of Summer, All Time Low, The Used).
For 19 years, the Ernie Ball's Vans Warped Tour Battle Of The Bands contest has provided bands with a unique chance to showcase their music to a much broader audience outside of hometown shows and the wide landscape of the internet, where the competition to get noticed has become increasingly high. Along with two weeks on the Vans Warped Tour, winners also score 3 song EP with producer John Feldmann, a feature in Alternative Press Magazine, a $15,000 Guitar Center shopping spree and over $20,000 in music gear from DW, Zildjian, LP, Blackstar, Mark Bass, Electro-voice, TC Electronic, 1964 Ears, Ernie Ball, and Ernie Ball Music Man. Quite the prize package for a band that prides themselves on grassroots marketing and an infallible work ethic! According to lead vocalist Argast, an opportunity like this “means everything” for an DIY band like Marina City. “In a world where music is more popular than ever, where people are just bombarded with new bands every day, something like this can separate a band,” he says. “This opens the doors to almost every opportunity we've worked for these past three years. This can change a band's career and its members’ lives. We couldn't be more thankful for this opportunity and plan to take full advantage of it.”
Argast says he was exchanging emails with Ernie Ball Director of Event & Entertainment Marketing, Ryan McLain, who told him “something [was] up” with the band’s contest page before he suddenly dropped a bombshell and asked Argast if he and the rest of Marina City would like to record their next EP with John Feldmann. “I don’t think I actually said anything but ‘What? What? What?’ I kept saying ‘what’ over and over again,” Argast recalls, laughing. “And [McLain said] ‘Yeah, John Feldmann,’ and I was like, ‘What does that mean?’ [McLain] said, ‘You guys are the 2015 Ernie Ball's Vans Warped Tour Battle Of The Bands winner.’ … Everyone erupted—cheers happened. Hugs happened. It was a lot of fun.”
Their success could have been derailed before it even started though, with the group contemplating not even entering the competition. With other shows and projects to focus on, Marina City felt like many bands put so much focus into promoting Battle Of The Bands that they forget about everything else, and they were determined not to let that happen. They signed up but didn’t initially make it their priority. “We went into it that way, and we ended up getting on [Vans] Warped Tour for the Chicago date, and then this happened,” Argast says. “The moment when we basically were going to give up on this, it actually ended up happening. It’s crazy.”
While the band readily admit they did not pay much attention to their contest page at the beginning, vocalist/guitarist Johnson said fan comments began pouring in at an unimaginable rate, which gave them hope that they might actually make the top 100 category, where Ernie Ball staff, Vans Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman and John Feldmann would actually have to listen to their music. “The comments that came in on our page were incredible. Our fan base went all out and poured their hearts out on there about how they felt about us. It was really, really cool,” Johnson says. “All of us were blown away by the things these people said about us, and we were just like, ‘Man, I can’t believe they feel this way about us.’ It really turned our heads to the point like we might really have a shot of getting on this thing. Lo and behold—we got on it, so it was really cool.”
Now, with producer John Feldmann at the reigns, Marina City are set to take its current pop-rock sound, which pulls different elements from their biggest influences (Panic! At The Disco, the Used, Good Charlotte, D.R.U.G.S.) to whole new places. “I can only imagine what it will be like to actually have the music we’ve been wanting to write come alive,” Argast says.
Feldmann, who has been involved with Battle Of The Bands for five years, has worked with previous winners like Night Argent and Beautiful Bodies, many of which have gone on to land record deals. He has not even seen Marina City in person yet, but calls them a mix “between Fall Out Boy and Avenged Sevenfold” and looks forward to their studio time together. “This’ll be interesting meeting a band live in the studio and going immediately to work—seeing how the bands will adjust to my work ethic and immediately changing melodies, rhythms, everything like that. Typically, I only have three or four days with bands, and we work fast. So it’ll be interesting to see how they deal.”
Though Marina City wield a melodic Top 40 sensibility fused with a heavy punk-rock edge that fans adore, they believe it’s the lyrics, rather than their sound, that keep fans coming back for more and sticking around for the long haul. According to drummer Somers-Urrea, the band talk a lot about struggles in life and trying to achieve dreams, which he thinks people really connect with. “It resonates with a lot of people, so I think that’s where we get a lot of the heartfelt messages from [fans] that are just incredible. It’s weird to think we write almost selfishly the music we would like to hear, and to have such a great response from a fanbase is the coolest thing ever,” he says.
“I think we’re very motivated and very, very excited for this opportunity … we want this to be the start of something beautiful and something we’ve always wanted to do,” Argast says. “It’s going to be crazy. That’s all I can say. We’re going to give everything—blood, sweat and tears.”
Can’t get enough Marina City? Check them out in our Google Hangout tomorrow (10/28) with Marina City at 6pm EST—go to youtube.com/altpress