Mission South heads North

Sometimes looking back to the past can lead to the most perceptive looks forward. Washington, D.C. based band Mission South stands on the shoulders of rock and blues giants to create a sound all their own.

With a strong gravely vocals, powerful bluesy guitar riffs and a keen knowledge of what makes rock music great, Mission South seems poised to take off in the music scene.

Featuring UVM alumni Max Harwood on drums, this trio is currently on their first national tour in support of their 2011 EP Migration Vol.1.

The Vermont Cynictalked with Harwood about the crazy story behind the beginnings of Mission South, what it is like to be on the road and whats next for this up and coming based band.

The Vermont Cynic (VC):So first things first, could you describe Mission Souths sound for anyone that has never heard of you guys? Do you have any influences worthy of a shout out?

Max Harwood (MH):Well, weve gone with dubbing ourselves an alternative blues trio. Its rock music, but there are a lot of blues influences. We call it blues because its got that soul and that raw emotion that comes with the blues, but we kind of take our own direction and make our own unique arrangements that go beyond just the 12 bars blues tradition.

As far as influences, theres a huge range: going back to the blues tradition, guys like Taj Mahal and B.B. King and up to more contemporary stuff theres the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Id say even the Black Keys. Im actually a huge Led Zeppelin fan so I try to bring that into the equation as well. So, its a range of old and new that we try to bring together.

VC:What is Mission Souths story? Where are you all from and how did you get started playing music together?

MH:Well we actually got started way back in the day. Weve been friends since elementary school. We grew up just hanging out and jamming together. High school was the first time we got together and officially dubbed ourselves Mission South. Back then, we really had more of a rock/reggae style so our style has definitely come a long way since then.

Then basically what happened is that we all ended up going to different colleges. I ended up going to UVM, Dan (the lead singer) went to Tulane down in New Orleans and John (the bass player) went to Virginia Tech. At first, we were kind of all separated and basically Mission South was our summer job. We’d write songs but then not really see each other for seven or eight months. Junior year of college, we began to write more of our own original compositions and thats when our style evolved. We started bringing in those blues influences and crafting our own sound. At one point we just kind of noticed Hey, these tunes are actually pretty good and people at shows would be like is that yours; did you write that?

Senior year, instead of looking at the distance between our schools as some kind of setback, we started viewing it as an opportunity. What we did is try to book as many shows as we could at each others schools so that for a while wed have these three week tours in the middle of school where wed drive or fly to each others schools over the weekend.

It was honestly totally insane because wed have to borrow equipment from people and it was so raw because the last time wed played together was over the summer. Basically we were just doing it live, but it went well and it was a lot of fun. It probably put us a little bit behind in school but we made it through and we all graduated and thats basically we are now.

VC:Last year you guys released the EP Migration Vol.1, part one of a planned three part series. Whats the idea behind the three-volume release and the project as a whole?

MH:There are a couple of reasons we decided to go with the three-volume release; one is that it just kind of made sense: we had five songs and we were ready to record them. We just started building on that idea and thought, what if we have a series that chronicles this transition from being college students playing just in the summer to being a full-time group?

We also decided from a business standpoint, by looking at the music market and seeing the way that people are buying and consuming and listening to music, is that we see a change in the way people are listening to music. We thought that the idea of a 16-track album coming out all at once is kind of dated. A lot of people listen to about five tracks and then theyre ready for a change of pace and I dont think that theres anything wrong with that.

Instead of going the route of the album is dead or its all just single iTunes downloads, we decided to go the route of making an album that caters more to the way people listen to music these days.

VC:So you guys just started your first big national tour. How does it feel to be hitting the road and spreading your music?

MH:Its exciting. Thats all it is, just really exhilarating. Its a cool change of pace from working in the practice room on all the nitty-gritty work. You hit the road and from there its just a show.

You get to meet a lot of new people, make some new fans and its always exciting to have that handful of people singing along from Migration Vol.1 at shows.

VC:Im sure coming back to Burlington and your old college stomping grounds has to be particularly exciting for you, right?

MH:Oh yeah, definitely. Honestly, I think its going to be surreal. Its such a great place though awesome music community and I still stay in touch with a lot of my friends who live there and other musicians who live there.

Itll be really cool to be back in Burlington and I hope a lot of people come out and check out the show; its going to be an awesome time.

VC:You actually used to work for The Cynic as the news and opinion editor. Looking back, what do you feel like you got out of that experience?

MH:I think the communication skills are the main thing I got out of theCynic. A lot of people think that playing in a band is all just being a rock star and playing music all day every day, which it is, but like my drum teachers always said, music business is two words: music and business and you got to be able to do both sides of it.

I think theCynic, and UVM, taught me the good communication skills needed to book a lot of gigs and really handle the management side of being in a band.

VC:So whats on tap for Mission South? Any new material to look forward to?

MH:Absolutely. Were already in the process of writing five or six new tunes that were bringing on the road with us for the fall tour. Then, as soon as the fall tour ends, were straight back into the studio for Vol. 2.

We have a music video coming out early 2013, and then Vol. 2 will probably release March of 2013. Then its back on the road again for our spring tour 2013. Its all moving forward for Mission South.

Download Migration Vol.1 for free on missionsouth.com, and if youre 21+, check out Mission South live at The Red Square on Oct. 27.