A few months ago, the biggest problem was deciding whose playlist would dominate the speakers on the long car rides to each gig.
Feeding off the success of its debut EP “Marconi”, the South Philly band known as The 1940s had hit the road to broaden its audience in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Night clubs were jumping. The sets were tight. And The 1940s were spreading their wings from the origins of basement jam sessions at 26th and McKean streets. The foursome, which consists of brothers John and Matthew Mackara, along with Josh Stephenson and Nick Cervini, had hit their stride.
Old fans, along with some new ones, were enjoying the live shows — until they couldn’t.
A worldwide pandemic was the only thing that could slow the momentum of The 1940s, but the band was still all smiles as it released its second EP “Night Birds” last week on Spotify and other streaming devices. They’ll just have to wait for the chance to promote the new record in front of live audiences as originally planned.
“We had a lot of shows in April and May and we were about to start booking for June,” said John Mackara, the older of the two brothers. “This summer, we were hoping to do another East Coast thing. And now that we have a second record, it was way more important to really get out there. But it halted.”
Well, not completely.
In the days of COVID-19, the band is using different ways to get its music out. While quarantined together, the Mackara brothers have been performing live mini concerts each week on The 1940s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/the1940smusic/.
“At first, we were just going to play every time we had a show canceled,” John said. “After the first one, we said, why not just do it every weekend? We have enough material. We can learn almost any cover. And there’s a lot of artists doing it but they do it one time and they’re really not good at it. And we want to prove we’re better than 85 percent of the rest of them.”
So far, so good. They’re still perfecting the craft of virtual performances, while having some fun in the process.
“We’re just doing it with our phones,” Matthew said. “Neither of us know how to make a live stream look great or sound great. It’s more just about doing it each week and having fun and not really thinking about it too much. That’s what live music is all about.”
The catalog has grown, thanks to the recent release of Night Birds, which can be found on devices such as Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, SoundCloud and YouTube.
Listeners can now hear studio versions of “Summertime,” “Drank Taylor,” “Pirate” and “Am I Right.”
The band describes its new record as having an Arctic Monkeys sound, and “Night Birds” is different from its debut “Marconi,” which told stories of South Philadelphia and, more specifically, was an ode to Marconi Plaza.
“All the songs are in minor keys,” Matthew said. “It’s a little darker than what we did on the first album. It’s a little sexier. I think we have an eclectic sound and I think ‘Night Birds’ kind of adds on to that. ‘Marconi’ was a South Philly record. ‘Across from Peking’ … Anyone eating Chinese food across from Penrose knows what we’re talking about.”
The new venture was mixed and mastered by the band itself. It was recorded on tape instead of digitally, which is another difference from the debut. Band members said it was more challenging, but they were up to the task. The other band members helped make it smooth sailing.
“Nick (Cervini) goes home and works on songs on his electronic drum kit,” John said. “He’ll rehearse just the drum lines. If he makes a mistake, it’s so rare. Josh (Stephenson) is the same way. They just don’t make mistakes. The fact that they don’t mess up 98 percent of the time really allows me and Matthew to explore our follies.”
The studio sessions have the band and its fans excited. Soon, they’re hoping to get out and play in front of crowds.
“We’ve been lucky,” John said. “Everywhere we go, we gain fans, which is really cool, and people seem to generally like us, which is a surprise to me every time. I think that if you see us live, you’re going to be a fan. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you like. You’ll enjoy the music and you’ll enjoy us.”
Just getting back to normal and getting to the shows is not the only hurdle. Which playlist to listen to along the way?
“John is kind of hard to road trip with because he’s one of those people that is like, ‘I made a playlist,’ and that’s all that’s going to be played on the whole trip,” Matt said. “And that’s what you’re going to be stuck with.”