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No Mo But Still Humble.

January 4, 2016

MoLowdaGM01OnlineText and top image by G. W. Miller III. Studio images by Chris Fascenelli. Concert images by Tyler Horst and Tim O’Donnell.

It’s late in the evening on a sweaty night in East Kensington. The trio behind Mo Lowda & The Humble are at The Headroom Studio wrapping up the recording of their upcoming album.

“Are we getting a lot of room?” singer Jordan Caiola asks from inside the sound room as bandmate Shane Woods sets up the mixing board in the adjacent room. “It sounds like we’re getting a lot of room.”

Bass player Nate Matulis sits on the couch, scrolling on his smartphone. At his feet, on the coffee table, are bottles of Svedka vodka, Jefferson’s bourbon and Jose Cuervo, plus a bunch of empty coffee mugs that clearly were not used for coffee.

Finally, Caiola begins to sing:

Sick of living where the sun don’t shine, sick of walking on the same old line.

The voice is mature – a bit gravelly and slightly cracking at times, with almost a Southern accent. His words trail off at the end of sentences and he sounds bitter, as though life has let him down.

I can’t live like a runaway.

He’s thin, wearing a white T-shirt, black jeans and a pair of well-worn, brown Sperry dock shoes with no socks. His appearance and that voice seem incongruous, a well-adjusted young man belting out pain.

Mo Lowda & The Humble have not seen a lot of pain as a band, however. The guys got together when they were in high school. They performed regularly when they went to college and wound up having their first album – a 45-minute blast of good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll – recorded and produced for free.

“After the first album, we thought, “Now it’s going to happen,’” Caiola recalls.

They hit local and national milestones and drew comparisons – repeatedly – to Kings of Leon but then things eased back a little. They finished up college and moved back home. Caiola now works in the parks and recreation department in Lower Makefield Township, mowing lawns and doing other odd jobs in Bucks County.

As they prepare to drop their sophomore release, they are making tweaks to the band and their sound.

After nearly five years as Mo Lowda & The Humble, a random name chosen when the guys were in high school, they will now simply be known as The Humble.

“Same great taste,” Woods says. “Same great look.”

Their new music is more accessible, with fewer long jams that made otherwise radio-friendly songs a little too drawn out.

“The new stuff is absolutely still rock,” Caiola says emphatically. “It’s just different.”

MoLowdaCFonline07Caiola, who is the primary songwriter, began performing when he was in 5th grade, when he was selected for the school chorus.

“I was one of 20 kids who could carry a tune,” he says modestly.

He soon learned a few chords on the guitar and began singing over them. Woods was learning the drums at the time and they began messing around together. When they were both attending Pennsbury High School in Fairless Hills, they added Matulis and they had a band.

They practiced for 30 minutes just prior to their very first show.

“It was ridiculous,” Caiola says, noting that Matulis had to read the music during the performance.

But it worked. Even as a teenager, Caiola had that soulful voice. Matulis and Woods added strong rhythm and tight hooks.

They packaged a demo in 2012 when Caiola and Woods were at Temple University and they began playing the basement party scene.

“At one point,” Caiola says, “we were trying to play Philly every week.”

They performed at the weekly open mic night hosted by Mic Stew at Maxi’s, a bar on the Temple campus.

“We were like the house band,” Woods says. “One time, a guy came up to us and said, ‘Yo man, can you just stay up there and I’ll rap over it?’”

They decided to spread things out to get a larger draw.

Their hook-heavy, progressive pop started gaining a following and they got the attention of Bell Tower Records, Temple’s music label. Their debut full-length, Curse The Weather, was recorded at school and released in the fall of 2013.

The band was featured in a 2014 Huffington Post article with a headline that read, “Someone Needs to Give Mo Lowda & The Humble a Record Deal Immediately.” It was a classic click-bait title but the reporting was real and the enthusiasm earnest.

That, along with their music being added to Spotify, helped gain them a national fan base. In January, the guys played a packed room in Northampton, Massachusetts, which prompted Matulis to ask the crowd, “Who are you here to see?”

And the crowd screamed, “You guys!”

Last June, they did 300 pre-sale tickets for a headlining show at the Black Box, the smaller room at Underground Arts.  A few friends asked them for comps but the room was nearly sold out. So all three members of the band stood in line on Callowhill Street and wound up buying a few of the remaining tickets.

“We didn’t buy all the tickets,” Matulis remembers. “We didn’t want to be assholes to the other people in line.”

Where they used to have three-minute songs with four-minute outros, they ‘ve cut tracks in half, creating more tangible tunes. The ideas presented in the lyrics remain deep – connections to Caiola’s childhood, a life-changing car crash, fictional tales steeped in reality – but the new focus is on creating catchy tunes.

“Lyrics are not the deciding factor,” Caiola says. “The melody is what grabs me. The melody is going to draw more attention to the words, anyway.”

The three bandmates sit by the mixing board at Headroom talking about the meaning of their music.

“I try not to write a love story every time,” Caiola says.

“They are emotive,” Woods says of the lyrics. “Sometimes there are songs I don’t really understand.”

“Lyrics take on a new meaning over time,” Matulis adds.

“We’re kind of emotional dudes,” Caiola continues.

“We don’t have any conversations without explaining things,” Matulis says, almost completing Caiola’s sentence.

The new album is set to drop in early 2016 and the bandmates are optimistic. It will be their first as simply The Humble, which they realize is a branding problem. But the name is fitting for the three longtime friends who come from solid, middle class backgrounds.

“The main goal right now is to get on support for a major tour,” Caiola says, noting that it must be the right tour. “We’re not just going to take anything.”

Even their aspirations are humble.

All of the guys have recently moved back home to lower Bucks County, though Woods works at Headroom. They stay overnight at the studio frequently, like tonight, and crash on friends’ couches in the city often.

“Once we can get by on the music, we’ll be here,” Caiola says.

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