There’s a certain rite of passages South Philadelphian adolescents tend to experience.
Pursuits commonly include attempting alcohol buys at corner stores, meeting up with friends at nearby parks and, at one point or another, dreaming of escaping it all.
As two brothers spent their youth noodling on guitars, nuances of such South Philly routines gradually surfaced in their music.
Flashforward several years, 25-year-old John and 22-year-old Matthew Mackara are solidifying their emerging rock band, The 1940s, with the upcoming release of a debut EP fittingly titled “Marconi.”
Needless to say, inspiration for the record rests largely in the South Philly green space spanning across Broad Street. But, influences for “Marconi” – and the band – spill beyond the parameters of the plaza.
Growing up at 26th and McKean streets, John Mackara, the band’s lead singer, lyricist and rhythm guitar player, recalls scribbling Eminem raps in a notebook and dabbling with Backstreet Boys harmonies.
As he entered his early teens, though, his taste in music veered toward staple bands such as U2, The Strokes, The Cure and, especially, Oasis. The shift in music interest, he says, arose around a time in his youth when he found himself getting into trouble.
Hanging with the wrong crowd, John would often escape to resonating Oasis lyrics like, “I was looking for some action/But all I found was cigarettes and alcohol” from the band’s debut album, “Definitely, Maybe.”
“For me, at that point in my life, it didn’t feel achievable, like those uplifting sounds of music,” he said.
At this point, Matthew started picking up his older brother’s music preferences and eventually started taking guitar lessons. After being grounded around this time, John, at the age of 16, was confined to his house when he asked Matthew to teach him how to play the instrument.
Gradually getting the hang of strumming, the brothers sparked a synergy, as they dedicated hours to playing covers of their favorite bands, pouring energy into guitar riffs from songs, like The Strokes’ “Someday” or The Cure’s “A Letter to Elise.”
While they wanted to tackle other songs, specifically by U2, they say the advanced technology used in the Irish rock band’s discography led the brothers to more instrumentally rudimentary but well-respected music.
“When you’re a young kid, you don’t have a job,” Matthew said. “You don’t have the means to get that stuff. You have a $100 guitar and a $50 amp that sounds like crap. And what sounds good going through them? Oasis, because Oasis songs are just these loud distorted songs with five chords. So, it’s really easy for someone to learn, and they’re good songs.”
As Matthew further developed his work on the fretboard, John fostered pop rock, yet raspy vocals – a blurred intersection between Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and Chris Martin of Coldplay.
Over time, the brothers’ bedroom jams of covers evolved into original songs.
Whether purchasing beer while underaged or having relationship troubles, John would often chronicle his feelings with written word – usually, he says, while lingering in Marconi Plaza.
“Marconi was basically a second home to me,” he said. “From 16 to 20, my whole life, relationships, drinking, partying, fighting, having fun, having not fun, getting in trouble, just missing trouble. All of that happened in Marconi or around Marconi. That was our home base.”
Bringing the verses back to his brother, Matthew would craft some composition to complement the verses, such as “I’ll put the money up, you put it under your name/I lost my fake ID,” from the song “Across from Peking,” which was inspired by a not-so-innocent evening at local hotel near Marconi.
Or the lyrics, “And if I listened to your two cents, then I would go nowhere/I said, I was a fool to stick around with you, darling, but now, I just don’t care,” from their single, “Florida,” The song, which was recently released on Spotify and Apple Music, was written when John and his friends were planning a road trip to the Sunshine State after a mundane day at Marconi.
“To me, ‘Florida,’ the message I want people to take, at least, from that song, is – getting out of wherever you are and going somewhere better,” Matthew said. “Florida can be any place that you want to get to that you’re not at, and the song is not about where you’re at. It’s about just getting there.”
Seeking their own sort of “Florida,” the brothers aspired to bring these songs to life, so they began partnering with local musicians, and in 2012, the band introduced its first lineup with a drummer and bassist.
While the group experienced turnover of members, the band played live for the first time at World Cafe Live in 2014, which was followed by occasional gigs over the next few years at places such as Connie’s Ric Rac, PHS Pop Up Gardens and the MergeArts festival at Coda. The band also recorded an original version of “Marconi,” which was streamed on YouTube.
Seeking a new bassist, Matthew’s close friend, 23-year-old Josh Stephenson, a native of 7th Street and Oregon Avenue, joined the crew in 2017. As middle schoolers, the duo grew close, hanging out around, of course, Marconi.
“I would hear the music as it was being written,” Stephenson said. “So Marconi, the park and the music, has a special place to me for that. But also for the fact that, in a way, it’s actually how this whole thing started.”
In February 2018, the band sought out a new drummer and eventually found South Jersey native Nick Cervini.
While the 29-year-old drummer didn’t grow up in South Philly, he says finding The 1940s was a personal revelation, as he immediately fell in love with the band’s originals.
“As far at the Marconi EP goes, to me, it’s kind of like a new beginning, a fresh start, because my first exposure to those songs was a couple weeks after I left my old band,” Cervini said. “Those songs just make me think of getting out of New Jersey and starting a fresh life in South Philly. So, in a way, they’re just as important to me as they are for everybody else.”
Although South Philly residents will appreciate some subtle local references, the majority of the album is rather ambiguous, conveying universal themes of love, loss, jealousy and dreams.
Band members say one song on the EP, “Zombie,” is considered the most open-ended, as it has received a range of interpretations from audiences, including as an ode to the television show “The Walking Dead” and a statement about the opioid epidemic.
“No song ever goes, ‘This is from South Philly. This is what we do,’ ” John said. “I think you can take whatever you want from any song.”
Over the past six months, The 1940s recorded the official Marconi EP, which has technically been in the works for close to a decade, in their row home basement at 26th and McKean streets. The songs were recorded and mixed by audio engineer Rich King and then later masted by engineer Bob Bowling.
Currently, The 1940s is in the process of uploading the EP on various streaming services, including Spotify, Apple Music and iTunes. Band members say the full record should be available on these platforms by the summer.
But, in the meantime, audiences can experience “Marconi” while the band clinches gigs at local venues.
Last Thursday night at Connie’s Ric Rac in the Italian market, The 1940s seized the Christmas light-fringed stage among a few other bands when two busted strings on Matthew’s guitar couldn’t stop the South Philly musicians from rocking the crowd.
“I want to hit the road and play in front of bigger crowds, because for me, there’s nothing better than playing in front of people,” Cervini said. “The studio experience is great. I love being creative, but I really come alive on stage.”
Although, for now, they’re staying local with upcoming gigs at spaces like The Fire in Fishtown, the band strives to tour around the tri-state area and then eventually the entire East Coast.
And maybe, someday, they say, The 1940s will return to their South Philadelphia roots to sell out Lincoln Financial Field with the sounds of “Marconi.”
“A part of the record is for South Philly – almost like a dedication from us to it,” Matthew said. “…If we do go on to do great things, we’re still going to be the same guys who hung out in Marconi and drank 40s.”
The 1940s recently-released single, “Florida” –