15 Bands to Watch in 2015

Local bands and artists to pay attention to in the new year

In the past, we've used our annual Bands to Watch round-up to take a look at the local scene to see which up-and-coming acts stand poised to make some noise in the coming year. We've tweaked the formula a bit this time around. Instead of simply focusing on new bands, we've provided profiles of local bands with a significant release coming in 2015. Even though he has a studio release ready to drop in the first quarter, we've excluded Machine Gun Kelly because he's really become a national act. Here's a look at 15 local acts that look to make an impact in 2015.

Broccoli Samurai

The year is closing on a new Broccoli Samurai, with 2014 seeing the departures of a founding bassist and guitarist. But the horizon is a glowing one. The current lineup — Ryan Hodson on keys, Chris Walker on drums, Josh Sebo on bass, Mike Miller on guitar — infuses a new energy into the region's headiest jamtronica outfit. They spoke with Scene from an eastside recording studio, where they're putting late-night work into the next album. Word on the street is it's a doozy. "We're really excited for the names we're getting in here to help us out with this album," Ryan says somewhat guardedly. And with a fresh batch of compositions, the band sounds more excited than ever. "We've definitely learned each other's styles a lot more by playing together so much over the years," Chris says. "We've been getting a lot more locked-in and structured with songs, as well as trying to blend songs together and have a seamless set."

The band's growth translates into both renown in cities far from Cleveland and a hometown reputation that's built on communal passion. Recent shows around town and elsewhere (available online, often enough) bear out as much. Audio from the Nov. 26 gig at the Beachland is circulating, with the band chopping up a host of newer songs. They're becoming more creative in how they integrate keys and synths with lead guitar and funky bass lines. All of that adds up to an energetic live show with plenty of aural enticements and dancing. Already, 2015 is shaping up to be Broccoli Samurai's biggest year. They've left a terrific impression on the Cleveland music scene, and all signs point to deeper moves in the coming months. With promises of "huge announcements" that can't yet be divulged, the guys are psyched about what's to come. And you should be too. The first festival announcement came out in early December, with Broccoli Samurai picking up a slot at the Ville over Memorial Day weekend. That's one more reason to eagerly await the summer months. (Sandy)

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Cobra Verde

Earlier this year, local glam/indie rockers Cobra Verde celebrated their 20th anniversary with a short tour. In 2015, they plan to put out a new album and reissue three of their albums. The band has had its songs featured in TV shows such as Sons of Anarchy, Shameless and Entourage. The touring line-up — singer-guitarist John Petkovic, drummer Mark Klein, singer-guitarist Frank Vazzano, bassist Ed Angel Sotelo and guitarist Tim Parnin — has kept a low profile for the past five years as band leader Petkovic has focused on other projects.

"Cobra Verde has always been as much of a road movie as it is a band — we could go on tour without having a show booked," says Petkovic in a press release. "It's always been more about the adventure and the pure joy of wandering and bumming around than the destination, than hustling T-shirts. We've always taken that same approach with our music. We would be happy making an album, even if it never came out and we threw it away without anyone hearing it. Some might find that as 'not caring' and being somehow dismissive of the art. We've always thought that that's the only way to create it. We've always been too fucked up of a band to calculate every move. The downside is that we might have enjoyed more success here or there, doing this or that. But we've done whatever we've wanted without caring how it would be judged and it's been liberating. Unlike a lot of bands that have been together for a while, we actually enjoy doing this." The new album doesn't yet have a title but Petkovic and Co. have written about 20 songs so far. It's due out in the fall of 2015. (Niesel)

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The guys in the thrash/power metal outfit Deadiron recorded their forthcoming album, Into the Fray, late in 2013 and through the beginning of 2014 at Dave Piatek Studios. Drummer Tom Walling shot the photo for the album cover and designed the logo. "We like to keep things in house if possible," he says. "We're very DIY." On the song "Cast No Shadow," the band writes about the events of the Arab Spring and on "Travis-ty," it pays tribute to the troubled Travis Bickle, the lead character in the cult classic film Taxi Driver. The group has just released a music video for the track "Bloodline," and it has a CD release show scheduled for March 7 at the Agora.

"We wanted to maximize audience turnout and interest in this show by expanding beyond the confines of our own style of music, especially because [the local metal act] Solipsist is having their CD release show the same night as ours at the Foundry, and thus, the metal community will be split," says Walling. "We have also invited several talented comedians to perform prior to and between musical acts." The group will also travel to Germany over the summer to play Wacken Open Air 15, the annual metal fest that draws tens of thousands of fans. (Niesel)

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Essential Groove

Building a band and a community of fans is always a complex act. Doing so as a young, class- and job-strapped eight-piece is even tougher, but Essential Groove has been doing just that for the past few years. They've developed a nice rep around town for an awesomely danceable, must-see live show. But over the past six months or so, the band has played fewer shows than what's typical. They've been hard at work assembling a springtime EP release and, as far as official plans go, a summertime album. As they slip new tunes into their setlists, the excitement has only grown for new studio takes. The band draws on a number of different influences, including most notably the jam band ethos.

"Our music has a large jazz influence and our horn players are especially active in the jazz scene," drummer and singer Emilio Jarufe says. "Improvisation is a monumental part of our music. The solos you hear live are almost never planned, which is what makes the songs different and fun." Last year, the band released The Bright Side, which Emilio says offers a "tame" version of the band -- fewer solos and improvisatory "goodies" that now make up such a major part of the band's live presence. Still, it's an enticing album. "Rain," for instance, combines jaunty riffs with upbeat percussion and calls to mind the more reggae-inclined elements of 311. Lead guitarist Nick Jammal dishes up some fine work on that tune, foreshadowing the rampant shredding he tends to throw down onstage. (Sandy)

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Two years ago, we profiled guitarist TeeJayy Lewins in our feature looking ahead to 2013. He had just returned from a soul-searching trip to Colorado, and his vision for Cleveland's first legitimate rock 'n' roll band in years was but a glint in his eye. His solo work found him buzzing onstage, acoustic guitar in hand, writing and performing what would eventually become portions of the Gypsydaze repertoire. Here we are now, proudly warning of Gypsydaze's intent to wreak blistering havoc on the city and its many-pronged music scenes in the year ahead. "I'm a man of my word," TeeJayy says, exhaling a smoky plume outside Iggy's in Lakewood one night. "We're gonna rock every single fucking joint in this bitch. Every single one." With a new lineup — including Kenny Kerns on keys, Bob Conner on bass, Vincent Netzler on drums — Gypsydaze is taking its 2014 successes and quite literally blowing them up. The live show has transformed into something of an aural narrative for TeeJayy's life. "Gypsydaze is a story," he says. "It's all a storyline of where I've been and where I go."

They pound out dozens of songs in a row — boom, boom, boom — segueing immediately into whatever's next on the set list. This is ice-cold, dirty blues-rock. More often than not, the pickguard on TeeJayy's guitar is splattered in blood by night's end. The band will be pushing a new EP with a handful of tunes shortly after the new year. Later in 2015, they'll be dropping a 25-song album. After continuing to huddle throughout the winter, writing and recording and writing and recording, the band is planning to hit the local touring circuit harder than ever before. "It was a sad fucking day for me when they were like, 'We're gonna change the model of Cleveland from the heart of rock 'n' roll,'" TeeJayy says, referring to the tourism bureau's ongoing brand overhaul. "I'm bringing that shit back, 'cause that's not gonna fucking fly with me. This is the rock 'n' roll capital, and I'm gonna make goddamned sure that happens." What else is there to do, anyway, in times like these? "I'm not going back to cage fighting, I can tell you that," he says. (Sandy)

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The Lighthouse and the Whaler

Local indie rockers the Lighthouse and the Whaler have had a great year. In early 2014, they released a remix EP that includes Savoir Adore's terrific remix of the single "Venice." The Savoir Adore remix loops a few more vocals into the mix and adds some bleeps and blips that give the song a bit more texture. The EP also includes remixes by Chancellor Warhol and Adam Snow as well as an acoustic version of "Venice." "Basically, the remix was built around the song 'Venice,' and for some reason that song exploded," says singer-guitarist Michael LoPresti. "It was just organically growing. People had been doing remixes of that song on their own. I had this idea to do a remix EP. We wanted to give the song its time. We went through all the remixes that people did of 'Venice.' I listen to the Adam Snow remix all the time." Originally featured on the 2012 release This Is An Adventure, "Venice" has gotten more than one million plays on Spotify. The band also spent the year touring in support of fellow indie rocker Matt Pond PA. "It was amazing," LoPresti says of the tour. "We finally have a national following. It's gratifying to see so many people coming out."

The group is in the process of recording a new album due out in 2015. The guys have been writing songs since the summer and have completed 13 tunes. "We're hoping to put a few tracks out early before the album actually drops," says LoPresti. "We've been doing demos at [the local studio] Bad Racket. I think this record is a maturation record. We learned so much about the music industry. We learned about each other as band mates. It's a culmination of all that stuff. All of that comes to a head really. The songs are personal and reflect this idea of growing up. It parallels our lives." The band will go to Montreal in January and February to record a new full-length album with producer Marcus Paquin (Stars, Local Natives, Arcade Fire). (Niesel)

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Ginger Pangas

Ginger Pangas, 19, started singing with School of Rock in Cleveland a few years ago, when she was still in her mid-teens. Since she wasn't yet of legal drinking age, it was a bit of shock for her to go into local bars and clubs. "It was very different for me," she says. "I was used to being in choirs and things like that. I started performing in bars, and I wasn't used to it." But she gravitated toward rock and pop, and during her senior year of high school she released "Believe," her first single, which she recorded in New York with producer Arty Skye at a studio in Times Square. Pangas has recently shifted from rock/pop to country pop.

Early this year, she released her third single, "Country Beach," a track she describes as a "strong, upbeat summertime song." It's her first collaboration with songwriter and producer Allan Licht who recorded the tune locally at the Reel Thing studio. Pete Tokar, a Grammy-winning engineer who worked with the late Gerald Levert, engineered the song. She also released a couple of Christmas singles in time for the holidays. One of the songs is an original tune and the other is a cover of the Blake Shelton tune "Home" that puts her big voice up front in the mix. For 2015, she's planning to release another EP that will include an original tune and "a remake of an old classic with a Ginger flare." (Niesel)

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Earlier this year, rapper Matthewmaticus released his terrific debut, the mixtape The Job Will Not Save You. Produced in part by local Cashous Clay, the album is, according to the bio, "the soundtrack to a night out, driving through an urban landscape bathed in streetlight, a beautiful woman in the passenger seat, perfectly blissful." "It's a record about trying to change your circumstances," says the rapper, who cites David Bowie, Andre 3000, GZA and Jay-Z as influences. "I have done music a lot in my teens and twenties. The itch was always there. I'm coming out of some life situations. I want to make a record to move forward."

The album is certainly trippy as the song "Floating Through Space" features a heavy-duty bass line and a hook that references David Bowie's "Space Oddity." "I love David Bowie, who doesn't?" he says when asked about what inspired the Bowie sample. "The beat is so melodic. I was just screwing around thinking of ideas. It just worked. When you're writing hip-hop, the hook almost comes to you in a dream." In 2015, he plans to release two four-song EPs, each with two or three new songs and a few freestyle tracks on it, and a full-length mixtape tentatively called Lefty. "I started doing the Lefty songs before the last album was finished. I got excited and motivated to turn out some new stuff." (Niesel)

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The Modern Electric

Indie rockers the Modern Electric spent three weeks earlier this year in Austin recording their new album, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, with producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon). "We found his name on the back of a Spoon record. We sent him [the song] 'All We Have is Now' and he was into it," says singer/pianist/guitarist Garrett Komyati. "He had a free month coming up. We thought he wouldn't even respond. He made all our wildest dreams come true. He took our process to the next level. Where our first record was a little more acoustic guitar based, this one has a fuller sound with piano taking center stage. It's still cinematic pop. On one or two songs, we tried to put some soul into it."

The band embarked on its first official tour earlier this year and should receive some national attention for the new album as it's hired a publicist to help with the promotion. Starting in January, the band will release a new song every month and will have "a visual counterpart to each track." The album arrives in June. (Niesel)

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New Planet Trampoline

Locals New Planet Trampoline have been a force on the scene for years. They picked up a good head of steam after releasing The Curse of the New Planet Trampoline Blimps & Aeroplanes EP in 2004. They also toured regularly before singer-guitarist Matt Cassidy dropped out of the band because, as he has said, he got "burned out." But after participating in 2013's Lottery League, the semi-annual event that randomly puts local musicians in new bands with one another, he had a change of heart and regrouped with the New Planet Trampoline guys. The Wisconsin Witch House, a four-song EP it's been hawking around town at local shows, gets an official release on Jan. 10. It's a trippy mix of music that includes the 17-minute tune "Free Poison." The band is currently working on a double LP that it hopes to finish in 2015.

The Wisconsin Witch House is the accompanying EP. It consists of one totally new song, one song that it put out a long time ago, another song that it started and then finished and one that only had a chorus. "There are bits and pieces of music from the last ten years," says Cassidy about the new EP. "From the beginning, the idea was that we'd be a psychedelic band. That means you can do whatever. We all like Pink Floyd and obscure prog rock. At first, we wanted to do stuff that sounded like Syd Barrett and now it's just bizarre and unexpected." The guys have remixed the drums for the digital release of Wisconsin and have a new full-length (the working title is Dark Rides and Grim Visions) slated for release in 2015 as well. (Niesel)

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Ohio Sky

Claiming local accolades for a few years running now, Ohio Sky has certainly staked its name among Cleveland's landscape of rock. And as time goes on, these guys have only gotten bolder, more experimental and just straight-up more assertive in their music. In the words of one local promoter, "I've never worked with a band that was so passionate about their music." The band's new album, The Big Distraction, will be released on Jan. 24 through Cellar Door Records at the House of Blues' Cambridge Room. The album builds off previous releases, most notably via the band's intense approach to collaborative songwriting. They've carved up a nice name for themselves in Northeast Ohio, but this album blows away everything else they've done. If you haven't caught the train yet, Ohio Sky has arrived.

Album opener "Slow Down Stay Alive" begins unassumingly enough, but listeners soon launch into a swirling onslaught of distortion, dazzling upper-register melodies and frontman Vinnie DiFranco's soaring vocals. Later, "Momento Mori" blends pulsing verses with an anthemic chorus. Think something along the lines of a Mars Volta/early Incubus hybrid, if you will. After a number of lineup changes, the band settled on a one-guitar format. "I think we were all excited to try something different," bassist Michael Bashur says, referring to his switch from six to four strings. With the more stripped-down structure came "a wider sound," Bashur and DiFranco say. Ohio Sky became less a progressive monolith and more a band interested in compositional integrity and hands-on production values. The Big Distraction confirms the band's achievements. Keep your eyes and ears peeled; it's gonna be a good year for these guys. (Sandy)

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Before calling it quits last year, the local metal band Cellbound had a great 8-year run that resulted in three albums and regional tours. "Our drummer retired from music and we just decided to go our separate ways," says singer Chris Emig. "I knew when Cellbound ramped up that I would do something and I knew I wanted to be the vocalist." In January, she recruited drummer Jeff Morrow and Olathia slowly came together after that. Three months ago, it went to the studio to record the very first two songs it ever wrote.

Emig introduced the band Olathia earlier this year on Bill Peters' WJCU Metal on Metal radio show where the band played two songs, "Hellhound" and "Open Your Eyes," both of which are from its forthcoming EP that's slated for an early 2015 release. The EP doesn't have a title yet but the band's released a movie trailer-like video announcing it. "I have an iPad and all that shit is on there," Emig says of the trailer. "As an up-and-coming band, you have to be DIY approach." So how does Olathia differ from the brutally heavy Cellbound? "This band has more solos and is hugely guitar driven," says Emig. "We're all about the solos and grabbing you in the heart. I think this is more mainstream than Cellbound was but has its own life. It's not a sellout band. It's more accessible to the masses than Cellbound was." (Niesel)

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So Long Albatross

It's hard to pinpoint exactly where to classify this local trio. The songs on last year's self-titled debut alternate between melodic garage rock ("Wolves") and heavy stoner rock ("Flash Around"). Due out in the early part of 2015, the band's new EP commences with the hard rocking "Vultures," a tune that features constipated vocals that recall Motorhead's Lemmy. The band recorded locally at Whiteout Audio that's located in an old elementary school program. Jim Stewart did the production. "We recorded everything in a day," says singer Keith Vance. "That was the first time we worked with anybody. It was a new experience. We enjoyed it and it was worth the time and energy. He also mixed it and it was mastered at Cauliflower with engineer extraordinaire Adam Boose.

"We're a three-piece. We like to keep things simple. We write simple songs that are fun to play. We wanted to transfer our sound and energy to the record. In some ways, we want it be completely new and different." It's a heavy rock tune that benefits from its snarling guitar riffs that are nicely layered on top of one another. The local label and promotions company Cellar Door Records is again behind the new release. (Niesel)

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That Poor Girl

Quietly this year, they began dropping songs onto a SoundCloud page and stoking listeners' curiosities. Their live shows often had them toiling over keys and mics and guitars and boards behind glowing tapestries of psychedelic video, wholly concealed to the audience. As we round the corner into 2015, though, the air of mystery will slowly dissipate, revealing one of Northeast Ohio's most intriguing new bands. In name, That Poor Girl is Jason Smith, Tony Liotta and Connor Creegan. Songs like "Stay Eighteen" pair Tony's multifaceted beats with Jason's soothing vocals, making for an auspicious sound not often heard in the electronic scene. "My aim is to write dance music that's not one-dimensional, that's not just dance music," says Liotta, a music tech student at Kent State. "I want to write music that makes people feel something. I want to make dance music that can make people cry, but sometimes that's hard to do. I've heard piano a million times in songs and I still like it, but I'm always searching for that sound I haven't heard yet." Listen to the way he juxtaposes heavy, heavy bass against a jaunty treble melody in the second verse of "Stay Eighteen," and you'll soon find yourself on the same page.

The addition of Connor earlier this year just made everything bigger and more forceful, as Tony and Jason had been working as a duo for about a year. "I really can't stress enough how much better it got to go up onstage and feel confident because there's another set of hands onstage. It's a triangle, and triangles are extremely strong," Jason says. "We're trying to play electronic music live without a turntable, without just pressing play on a laptop. We really want to be in control of every single sound that's going on." Look for a series of five- to six-song EPs throughout the next 12 months. The first one will drop shortly after the new year. (Sandy)

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Wesley Bright & the Hi-lites

The Northern soul-inspired indie outfit Wesley Bright & the Hi-lites has had a great year. "It's been a lot of building," says drummer Nick Fritsch. "We had a busy period from April through September when we were gigging more often than not and gigging out of town. We had a couple of amazing shows. We did the Nelsonville Music Festival and that gave us a ton of exposure. The summer was a lot of festivals, which is great. We got to meet a lot of people in terms of new fans. That was really cool." The last 45 has gotten big in the UK where DJs have been pre-selling the thing. "A Northern soul movie came out there and it's not a documentary but based on that time period," Fritsch says. "It's been great for us. All the kids are getting back into the Northern soul scene. We can't keep up with it. We sold out of last 45. It's getting over there and DJs are emailing us left and right. I even got a letter from a DJ in Australia who spun our record." For 2015, expect the band to release two more 45s. "We have such a demand in terms of DJs who have soul nights in the UK," says Fritsch. "They're hardcore and spin singles only. The A side is 'I'm Afraid of Losing You'— it's a driving Northern soul tune. The B-side is an instrumental version of 'Sunny Day Love Affair.'" The local vinyl plant Gotta Groove will press the singles. (Niesel)

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About The Authors

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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