MAJOR AND THE MONBACKS is the latest group continuing the tradition of Soul n’ Roll twang-pop, which is so closely associated with the culture of Tidewater Virginia and Norfolk. If you’re from Virginia and don’t know about the sound, just look up “Sweet Virginia Breeze” by THE ROBBIN THOMPSON BAND, and you’ll probably immediately pick up on what makes the sound so distinctively Virginian.

For a band comprised of recent college graduates—some who are actually graduating this month—it’s a throwback to a sound that Virginian musicians and bands, such as CHARLIE MCCLENDON AND THE MAGNIFICENTS, pioneered in the 60’s.

Describing themselves as “Otis Redding and Chuck Berry playing a beer-soaked fraternity party”, the band has been crashing house keggers, festivals, bars, and almost anywhere else imaginable all across Virginia and the East Coast. We spoke with Neal Friedman, who is not only lead vocalist, but also plays guitar and the organ, about the Rock n’ Soul genre and how the band was formed around it, and their summer plans to go on a three month long tour through the region, spreading their brand of “Monback Mania”.

When did this band first get started? How did it end up becoming a nine-piece Southern style, soul and pop-rock group?

Cole (bassist) and I have been playing together since we picked up guitars in the sixth or seventh grade. We’ve just been jamming in my room in our parents’ house for a long time. We actually started the band back in middle school as a few other bands. It’s been done from my room ever since, and we’d have people come in my room on weekends and just jam. Some of those people we played music with back then, have played with the Monbacks. In high school, we had another band called THE YOLKS, which essentially became the Monbacks. At that point, it was five or six people, then we got Harry (technician/guitarist/vocalist) on board a couple of years ago. Along with Jay (saxophone), those were our last additions. It’s evolved over the years.

Having played for so long and with other people for a while, what kind of music were you guys playing then? What’s changed since those early years of playing music with most of the people in this band?

We didn’t originally set out to be a soul band or a party band. We used to play a bunch of different kind of stuff. As for the R&B, soul sound, Cole and I have been listening to music like that for a long time with our dad. What we ended up playing, just kind of ended up sounding like that a little bit. Once we started playing fraternity parties, it kind of made sense to play some more classic soul numbers for parties. I like the idea of the “rock n’ soul” genre. We just latched on to the idea of bands playing that.

In Norfolk, the Rock n’ Soul genre is pretty synonymous with the region. But it does seem like not a lot of people in Virginia even really know what that is. How would you describe Rock n’ Soul to someone who’s never heard of it?

It’s influenced by a lot of early Motown, so groups like THE TEMPTATIONS, THE SUPREMES, THE FOUR TOPS, and then there’s an influence from older rock bands such as THE BEATLES, THE KINKS, and ROLLING STONES. I used to be a big MARSHALL CRENSHAW fan, and I love ELVIS COSTELLO. We’re also into other classic rock groups like LED ZEPPELIN and PINK FLOYD.

You guys are planning to tour and play nearly every day all this summer. Before delving into your plans for this summer, what can you tell me about your previous experiences of being on the road and what a typical show is like for your band?

We’ve usually just gone on short weekend tours. It’s hard to organize anything longer because we’re all in school, so it’s hard to get us together. Usually once or twice a month, we get together and play a few shows over a weekend, Thursday through Saturday and play different college towns. We usually play at our own schools sometimes, so we usually have friends there, and we’ll crash at their house. There’s usually after-parties and hanging out ‘till late. It’s chaos trying to organize it sometimes. With nine people coming, it’s usually like a Monback caravan of seven or eight cars pulling out of a place getting to the next town. It’s a lot of fun - lots of sleeping on floors, maybe sleeping on a couch unless you can find a girl to go to bed with. Usually a lot of beer getting spilt on your instruments - we play some groggy basements. It’s tiring sometimes, but it’s fun.

What universities do you guys attend and regularly play at?

Cole goes to University of Virginia, and I go to William & Mary. I actually graduated on Sunday, and Cole’s graduating this weekend. We’ve had members go to Roanoke, Wake Forest, NC State, and JMU. A lot of the band is out of college and based in Norfolk nowadays. Tyler (percussionist/hype man) works with the Electroganic crew running sound. Mike (guitarist/vocalist/harmonica player) is deep in the Williamsburg restaurant scene.

Cole and I are graduating, so we finally have time now that we’re not in school anymore. It just seems like we’ve been playing around and creating a buzz. Cole’s been applying non-stop to festivals and other gigs. We got into a lot of them, so we can’t just sit on our backs and wait. It seems like it’s our time to go for it.

Since you’ll be traveling much more regularly this summer, are you guys going to be consolidating the seven-to-eight car caravans?

We actually just bought “The Monback Van” two weeks ago. It’s a 15-passenger van, so we’ll be able to spread out a little bit. I’m stoked about it.

Being booked for so many festivals and shows this summer, what do you guys have planned for your live show? What can people expect?

We’ll definitely be playing newer songs this summer. I want to try breaking out a lot of songs we’ve had written but not able to play because we haven’t been able to practice much in the last year. I’ve been writing some songs. Harry and Mike (guitarist/vocalist/harmonica player) have a few things they want to do, but I’m real excited for our next batch of songs we’ll be introducing. I think they’re better than the ones we have out now.

Are you going to be recording any of those new songs soon? What’re your plans for after this summer?

That’s going to be our next step—recording. We just released a single, “Don’t Say a Word” that we recorded with the studio Electroganic, so we’ll be recording with them again soon. The only thing [holding us back] is money, so we’re looking to put something together and maybe do a few demos once things settle down with the summer schedule.

Thanks for talking to us here at The Dominion Collective. Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about y’all?

We’re looking to go for it. We’re trying to write and play great music and give the best possible time on stage in Virginia. We want to continue our high standard of performance.

For more updates on MAJOR AND THE MONBACKS, be sure to visit their website, “like” their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter and Instagram, and listen to their music on Bandcamp.

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