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Modern American Theatre

September 15, 2010

Contributing writer Daryl Goldes recently interviewed Modern American Theatre:

Photography by Brian Gurrola

Recently, I made a trip to the nearby neighborhood of Van Nuys. It is an everyday neighborhood; family-sized cars line the streets and the houses are well-kept. What is unique about this neighborhood, though, is the fact that it hosts the rehearsal space of a band that is on the front lines of a growing music scene in suburban Los Angeles, Modern American Theatre.

Modern American Theatre started in the summer of 2009. MAT consists of Natalie Diaz on vocals, Justin Bardales and Paul Bethers on guitar, John Reyna on bass, and Conner Martin on drums. Bardales and Reyna are the founding members of the band. Bethers and Diaz joined later, with Martin being the last in April 2010.

MAT played their first show earlier in the year at the Cobalt Café in Canoga Park. The band describes this show as an unusual experience because the Cobalt Café commonly features hardcore music. Modern American Theatre is a refreshing change. For a band that has been playing together for a relatively short time, they have already made an impact on the music scene in Santa Clarita.

MAT cites many musicians as their personal influences. Martin claims drummers Steve Gadd and Dave Weckl (both jazz musicians) as his influences, while Bethers says that Tom DeLonge of Blink 182 is the musician who has most influenced him. Bardales credits Professor John Bergamo from his music program at CAL Arts as a strong musical authority.

“[My professor] is accepting and supportive of whatever I decide to do musically,” Bardales explains. Bardales writes the lyrics for Modern American Theatre, but arriving at a sound is a collaborative effort. Each member of the band influences each other by what they add through their personal talent.

Modern American Theatre characterizes their sound as upbeat. Their live show reflects their cheerful sound well, as they are able to get the crowd dancing and clapping along with their music. All of the members say that when they play onstage, they get lost in the music and find it easy to convey their passion to the crowd.

Reyna explains it best when he says, “We want everyone watching us to feel as good as we feel when we’re playing.” Connection with the audience is most important to the band members; they want to make sure that the audience enjoys the music.

Diaz points out, “[My favorite part of performing] is interacting and feeding off each other, feeling the energy, and connecting with the audience, mostly through sharing our stories.”

Since Bardales and Reyna played in hardcore bands before Modern American Theatre, they both agree that it’s more fun to play upbeat music.

“[Modern American Theatre] translates live better than hardcore,” Bardales says.

“Kids are able to sing along with us, [whereas] with hardcore they just couldn’t,” Reyna adds. Reyna and Bardales personally enjoy the big shift of styles coming from their backgrounds in hardcore music. The different style in Modern American Theatre is a challenge, but they enjoy it.

When discussing the art scene in Santa Clarita, a place where the majority of the art is landscapes and classic rock cover bands, the band claims they would like to see different art come from the SCV.

“Santa Clarita is full of creative, smart individuals, not just bros in trucks,” Reyna says. The band agrees that the SCV has the potential to become a town with a thriving art and music scene.

“I dig [the art scene]!” Diaz says. “I love seeing people my age sharing the same passion as me, with emotion and creativity. The music scene is diverse, the art is lovely, and the people are simply lovely.” The band was displeased about the fact that Antioch coffee house and many other places where underground bands play have shut down, which leaves options for concert venues in Santa Clarita seriously limited. Antioch was a place where underground artists could play and find support for their music.

“Antioch liked us,” Bethers says. “They supported our style… now there’s not much [of an] outlet for us.” MAT finds that their fan base is composed primarily of friends or word of mouth, which has made it hard to go to other cities to play shows. They hope to widen their fan base so they can play in other cities and get their name out there.

Recently, Modern American Theatre spent three days recording an album. They recorded with Billy Burke in Sierra Madre; and at the time of this writing, the songs were being mixed. The album, titled “We Can Make a House,” consists of eight songs, seven of which are performed live regularly. Soon, MAT will release another album which will consist of all their older material.

Recording is a rewarding but challenging procedure for the band. MAT shares that the hardest process of recording was the repetition; they have to perform pieces of their songs over and over until they sounded right. Despite the fact that recording is tedious, MAT is grateful for the experience and enjoyed the process.

“It was so much fun being in the studio with the boys, [it’s] always a blast,” Diaz shares. “I love them so much, [they’re] like blood.”

Modern American Theatre has definite goals as a band, one of which is to tour around the country and eventually the world. They agree that they would like to turn music into something they can do as a career.

“I know for a fact that none of us want to be working a 9 to 5 [job],” Diaz says, “so if I can play music and do what I love while getting paid for it, then I’m going to do that.” Immediate goals for the band include promoting their new album as much as possible in order to get the attention of record labels. MAT has already gotten some attention from producers, including Loren Israel, the producer of Jimmy Eat World and Sugar Cult. With a new album being released, it will be much easier for them to show off their music.

MAT sets their sights high. Bethers jokes, “We want to get a song on the Jersey Shore. If we can do that, we can quit.” On a more serious note, MAT wants to keep creating and being inspired.

Diaz shares, “[I’d like to] maybe play with my top inspirations.” Overall, Modern American Theatre’s biggest desire is to keep their music creative without having to compromise their sound.

Once we wrapped up the interview, the band was gracious to ask me to stay and watch their rehearsal. As I watched the band members play, one quality stood out: although it was a rehearsal, the band plays as if they are truly onstage, performing in front of an audience. Each of the members was in the zone, enjoying the music as well as paying attention to the technicalities of it all. The passion I felt from them was electric, and I found myself sharing the joy that they surely felt as they played the songs that they had rehearsed for so many hours.

If there was one word I could use to describe Modern American Theatre, it would be “passionate.” MAT is passionate about their music and will do whatever it takes to get out there and be known. I am excited to see what the future holds, and I know that it will be good.


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