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Band out to tell real stories with new EP

Photo Courtesy pf Mike Farley

Rock band The Villains may not have a tour planned yet, but Columbus is on their radar.

“We hear you guys have a pretty good hamburger restaurant near campus,” said bassist and vocalist Dan Call after he offered his congratulations to the Buckeyes for their Rose Bowl victory. “We’d be in there for sure. I wouldn’t mind checking out the Horseshoe either.”

The band, which hails from Decatur, Ill. and Atlanta, will release its first self-titled album Feb. 2. The group plays a style of music which Call labels “Americana pop rock;” music which combines the rocking approach of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers with the pop-friendliness of Sheryl Crow.

Call said that the idea to form the band came while he was on tour playing with country artist Keni Thomas. Four of the group’s six members were playing in Thomas’s band: Call, vocalist and keyboardist Michael Magno, guitarist Michael Wilkes, and drummer Sean McNally, a Cleveland native and Buckeye fan. Friends of the existing band members, guitarists Jimmy James Schmitt and Alan Schaefer were added to the lineup as well. The group also brought in Sheryl Crow’s guitarist Peter Stroud to perform on three tracks.

Call and Wilkes had previously been in a hard rock band called Swagger, but Call was inspired to soften up the approach after touring for three years in the country scene. Call noted that nearly everyone in the band came from a different style.

“Magno is a big ‘80s guy; Mike, a big hard rock guy; Sean, a big hip-hop guy; and Jimmy James Schmitt is old-school country,” Call said. “When you put it all together, this is just what it sounds like. There was no preconceived idea [of what it would sound like]. It’s just us.”

Call said the original intent was to form the band strictly for recording purposes.

“Anything I record is mostly for song-writing stuff. The Villains thing came out of me going in to record, but I wanted to use these guys,” said Call, who writes songs for other artists as well as running a music licensing company. “Halfway through it, we all went ‘Holy… this sounds like a record.'”

Call admitted that the eight tracks that will be on the band’s debut album do not fully sum up the group.

“It was such an experiment. If we needed hip-hop beats we threw it down. Those tracks will definitely be used for the next record. We condensed it down to eight, but that’s a new act,” Call said. “We’d rather give eight really great statements than confuse anyone.”

Call used the band’s diversity to his advantage by writing songs for specific band members to perform. Magno handles vocals on four of the album’s tracks, while Call sang two and Schmitt and Schaefer each sang one. Magno sang the album’s pop tunes, while Schmitt took a more country-sounding song and Call handled the vocals on the most personal songs himself.

Regardless of the vocal style, Call stuck to one mantra which is declared on the band’s Web site: “The Villains Out to Tell Real Life Stories.”

“You’re gonna get those songs. I don’t see how you couldn’t,” Call said. “When we’re on stage, it’s for real. We mean it.”

Call pointed out that while tracks like the band’s first single “Let’s Forget About It Tonight” keep an upbeat rhythm, there is a darker side to each. “Tonight” emphasizes the stress of everyday life while tracks like “Going Deaf For a Living” describe the hardships of being a touring musician.
Despite said touring hardships, Call says that The Villains are at their best in a live setting.

“The crowd is looking in at a private moment,” he said of their live performances. “You see the smiles. You see the frowns.”

Call says that The Villains are scouting for acts to go on tour with in the spring to promote the new album.

The sooner they do so, the sooner Ohio State students can check out if Call’s claims about the band’s performances are true, and the sooner The Villains can enjoy some Columbus hamburgers.

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