There is a certain rite of passages that teenagers in South Philadelphia tend to experience.
Chases usually include trying to buy booze at convenience stores, meeting friends in nearby parks, and at one point or another dreaming of escaping it all.
As two brothers spent their youth playing guitar, the nuances of these 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 aptly titled “Marconi”.
Needless to say, the inspiration for the record is largely based on South Philly’s green space that spans Broad Street. But, the influences of “Marconi” – and of the band – go beyond the parameters of the place.
Growing up on 26th and McKean streets, John Mackara, the band’s lead singer, lyricist and rhythm guitarist, remembers scribbling Eminem raps in a notebook and dabbling in Backstreet Boys harmonies.
In his early teens, however, his musical tastes shifted to staple bands such as U2, The Strokes, The Cure and, most importantly, Oasis. The change in interest in music, he says, came at a time in his youth when he found himself struggling.
Hanging out with the wrong crowd, John would often escape to Oasis’ resonant lyrics like, “I Was Looking For Action / But All I Found Was Cigarettes And Liquor” from the band’s debut album, “Certainly, Maybe”.
“To me, at that point in my life, it just didn’t feel achievable, like those uplifting sounds of music,” he said.
At this point, Matthew began to understand his older brother’s musical preferences and eventually began taking guitar lessons. After being punished around this time, John, at the age of 16, was confined to his home when he asked Matthew to teach him how to play the instrument.
Gradually becoming familiar with strumming, the brothers created a synergy, as they spent hours playing covers of their favorite bands, injecting energy into the guitar riffs of songs, like “Someday” by The Strokes or The Cure’s”A letter to Elise.
While they wanted to tackle other songs, especially from U2, they say the advanced technology used in the Irish rock band the discography has led the brothers to more instrumentally rudimentary but highly respected music.
“When you’re a young kid, you don’t have a job,” Matthew said. “You can’t afford this stuff. You have a $100 guitar and a $50 amp that sound like crap. And what sounds good going through them? Oasis, because Oasis songs are just these distorted loud songs with five chords. So it’s really easy for someone to learn, and it’s good songs.
As Matthew developed his work on the fretboard, John encouraged pop rock, but raspy vocals – a blurry intersection between Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and Chris Martin of Coldplay.
Over time, the brothers’ cover jams in the bedroom evolved into original songs.
Whether he was buying beer while underage or struggling with relationship issues, John would often express his feelings in writing — usually, he says, lingering at Marconi Plaza.
“Marconi was basically a second home to me,” he said. “16 to 20, my whole life, my relationships, drinking, partying, fighting, having fun, not having fun, getting in trouble, missing out on trouble. All this happened in Marconi or around Marconi. It was our home base. »
Bringing the verses back to his brother, Matthew would create a composition to complete the verses, like “I’ll put the money, you put it in your name/I lost my fake ID”, from the song “Across from Peking,” which was inspired by a not-so-innocent night out at a local hotel near Marconi.
Or the lyrics, “What if I listened to your two cents, then I ain’t going nowhere / Said, I was silly to stay with you, honey, but now I don’t care”, of 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 through the Sunshine State after an unremarkable day in Marconi.
“For me, ‘Florida,’ the message I want people to take away, at least, from this song is to get out of where you are and go somewhere better,” Matthew said. “Florida can be any place you want to be and you’re not, and the song isn’t about where you are. It’s just about getting there.
Seeking their own kind of “Florida”, the brothers yearned to bring these songs to life, so they began partnering with local musicians, and in 2012 the band presented their first line-up with a drummer and bassist.
While the band experienced member turnover, the band first performed live at World Cafe Live in 2014, which was followed by occasional gigs over the next few years at venues such as Connie’s Ric Rac, PHS Pop Up Gardens and the MergeArts festival in Coda. The band also recorded an original version of “Marconi”, which was released on YouTube.
Looking for a new bassist, Matthew’s close friend Josh Stephenson, 23, from 7th Street and Oregon Avenue, joined the team in 2017. As college kids, the duo s is close, of course hanging out with Marconi.
“I would hear the music as it was being written,” Stephenson said. “So Marconi, the park and the music, has a special place for me for that. But also for the fact that, in a way, that’s actually how it all started.
In February 2018 the band searched for 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 for the Marconi EP, for me it’s kind of like a fresh start, a fresh start, because my first exposure to those songs was a few weeks after I left my old band,” said Cervini. “These songs just make me think about getting out of New Jersey and starting a new life in South Philly. So in a way, they’re just as important to me as they are to everyone else.
Although South Philly locals 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 a song from the EP, “Zombie,” is considered the most open because it has received a range of interpretations from audiences, including as an ode to the TV show “The Walking Dead” and a statement on the opiate epidemic.
“No song ever says, ‘This is from South Philly. That’s what we do,” John said. “I think you can take whatever you want from any song.”
Over the past six months, The 1940s have been recording the official Marconi EP, which has technically been in the works for almost a decade, in their townhouse basement at 26th and McKean streets. The songs were recorded and mixed by sound engineer Rich King, then mastered by engineer Bob Bowling.
Currently, The 1940s is uploading the EP to various streaming services including Spotify, Apple Music and iTunes. Band members say the full disc should be available on those platforms by summer.
But, in the meantime, audiences can experience “Marconi” as the band lands gigs at local venues.
Last Thursday night at Connie’s Ric Rac in the Italian Market, the 1940s took over the stage lined with Christmas lights among a few other bands when two broken strings on Matthew’s guitar couldn’t stop the musicians from South Philly to stir up 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 like to be creative, but I really come alive on stage.
Although, for now, they are staying local with upcoming gigs at spaces like The Fire in Fishtown, the band is working to tour the tri-state area and then eventually the entire East Coast.
And maybe one day, they say, the 1940s will return to their South Philadelphia roots to sell Lincoln Financial Field with the sounds of “Marconi.”
“Part of the record is for South Philly – almost like a dedication from us,” Matthew said. “…If we keep doing great things, we’ll still be the same guys that were hanging out at Marconi and drinking 40s.”
The recently released 1940s single, “Florida” –
Discover them on Soundcloud and Youtube.