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Asking a music writer to do an article on a young musician is like giving candy to a child. We love it. It saves us the work of having to look for an angle. It lets writer and reader alike wash our hands of not being born superstars who shredded our first guitar solo at five months. We get to sigh and wonder what it would be like to have a career path, a life purpose, so clearly pre-ordained. Poor us.
The problem with the prodigy narrative is that it often ignores the hard work and devotion that young musicians put in. We gloss over labor in favor of the salacious shit — stuff we can envy. (Tell us the one about how the McLovins went viral on YouTube again!) Nope. Instead, I'm gonna tell you the one about how the McLovins — whose many glowing reviews have focused myopically on their age — are working to develop their band and their musical chops in the face of life changes and wild popularity.
“Are you guys sick of press focusing on your age?” I asked Jake Huffman, who drums for the three-piece jam band.
“Yes, very much so,” he says, but he also acknowledges that it will probably always be around to some degree. “I guess it is a big part of our history — YouTube gave us our start. I don't think it'll ever leave us. People will always talk about how we got started when we were really young.”
And while the McLovins' video cover of Phish's “You Enjoy Myself” was a big hit among jam band fans, it never would've happened without adequate practice. “When we started,” explains Huffman, “we were all in high school — we could put a lot into the band. We didn't have to worry about where we were gonna sleep or how we were gonna pay for food. So we got a head start to becoming a ‘real band.'”
To Huffman, the band's viral beginnings don't seem so much like the Internet-savvy older journalists might make it out to be. Establishing a Web presence was just kind of natural. “A lot of our growth has been connecting to people through Facebook, connecting to pockets of people across the country. It's basically like free marketing. We tell other bands who send us e-mails about it, ‘Interact with your fans.'”
This summer is shaping up to be a landmark one for the band, whose members hail from Granby, Simsbury and Canton. They've been invited to play more festivals than ever, including Camp Creek, Strange Creek, Gathering of the Vibes and Wormtown. They're also starting to get main stage billing, which means they can play for bigger crowds than ever.
The McLovins not only have the technical chops to deserve main stage billing, but the songwriting skills as well. Their original tunes are a varied bunch, ranging from the head-nodding grooves you'd expect, to tracks like “Virtual Circle,” which is based on a frenetic, electronic-inspired groove. As the trio blasts further into the song, they just gain more and more momentum; by the end of it, they're tearing the universe a new asshole. You can hear the intensity of their focus. “What's it like to be in that zone?” I asked Huffman.
“Oh man, it's the greatest feeling. It's something that doesn't happen like …” He pauses. “You have to be with the right people. We don't even have to look at each other, but we know what each of us is doing. We're in the same groove. It's like a surreal feeling. Especially when you're on stage, in front of a bunch of people, it's the greatest feeling.”
“How does it feel in your body?”
“I feel really like, loose, and I have better posture, and I'm more aware of everything around me, and I'm thinking about everything I'm doing, and trying to make it perfect, and feeling really at ease with everything.” His description probably sounds familiar to any musician, athlete, hell, anyone who uses their body for specialized tasks. Speaking of the zone, Huffman adds that he's getting “more used to it, more comfortable with it, and more willing to try new things” as he grows in his musicianship.
Of course, while they're doing all this, time marches forward, transforming our dashing prodigies into desiccated old men. Huffman and bassist Jason Ott graduate high school in just a few days, while guitarist Jeff Howard enters his junior year. Huffman and Ott will both be attending colleges in-state. I wondered if keeping the McLovins alive affected their college choices. “It did kinda factor in, but we do really love the schools — we think they're good decisions for other reasons, not just for the band,” Huffman replied. What's amazing is that they're not letting the change slow them down. “We're booking into September, October, November now, and we are gonna keep gigging, pretty much on weekends since Jeff's still gonna be in high school. We're gonna try and keep it the same.”
But if “the same” means “rapidly expanding,” does Huffman feel like there's some kind of critical mass approaching in the future? “Sometimes when I'm updating the website and packing T-shirt orders it feels like a business. But it's like, we're doing it all because we love creating the music,” he said.
“So feeling like a biz isn't necessarily a bad thing, just different,” I responded. “Do you think there will come a time when you have to kind of get away from that business part of it?”
“I think what'll happen is there will come a time when we need to bring on more people. But then that's just like a business growing, except it'll be our band growing.” If Huffman and company continue to be so level-headed, I'd venture that growth is all but inevitable.