'Super Group' out to make music fun

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11255102082586.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jonathan Hicks’, ‘Former Snaggs member Mark Muraski (left) and former Harmony Riley member Miles Nielsen (right) joined forces to form H.M.S. Goliath, shown here performing at the Olympic Tavern this August.’);

Former members of Harmony Riley, The Snaggs, Orange, Red Super Giant, Mike & the Mechanics regroup as H.M.S. Goliath

Setting the mood

It’s Wednesday night, and you’ve gathered with a group of friends on the patio. The warm August air is scented with the slightest hint of alcohol, and you feel the chill of a cold beverage at your hand. Clouds are scattered across the sky, but the moon always manages to peek through. A slight breeze carries with it the sounds of laughter and music. The thought that maybe you’ve found some strange version of utopia drifts into your head.

But this exotic paradise is closer to home than you might think—it’s the scene at the Olympic Tavern during the last two weeks when the band H.M.S. Goliath has dropped anchor.

H.M.S. is a super group of sorts, fronted by Miles Nielsen, formerly of Harmony Riley, and accompanied by former members of The Snaggs, Orange, Red Super Giant, and Mike & the Mechanics.

Founded by Nielsen and Mark Muraski (guitar), the band is the result of an intense desire to make music in an environment that is honest and open to criticism…and that’s where the H.M.S. Goliath story begins.

Setting the table

No longer members of their former bands, Nielsen and Muraski were disenchanted with the music business, and life on the road had taken its toll.

“I got beat up, man,” Nielsen said. “It takes a toll on you mentally, way more than physically. Physically, your body can learn to drink a lot and get up on no sleep and do whatever is entailed in being in a rock and roll band across the Midwest. But playing for no people and making no money—that’s the hard part. How do you think that you’re in a project that’s worth a cent when you’re not making a cent? How is our music worth anything if no one’s coming out to the shows?”

Following his departure from The Snaggs, Muraski went more than a year and a half without playing his guitar, and found himself frequently unhappy. It was then that he and Nielsen got together and began writing lyrics.

“The whole H.M.S. Goliath thing started out of Mark’s and my need to make music,” Nielsen said. “We (said) ‘these songs are kind of cool, but we don’t have anyone to play them with, so we should look for people to play with.’”

The people they found to play with were Jim Westin Jr. (piano), Andy Scarpaci (bass), and Tony Berkman (drums), a group of experienced musicians and old friends who were open to new ideas and intrigued by the possibility of a laid-back musical approach.

What has resulted is a bit of a musical oddity: a band that has a completely open and honest dialogue, and one that places having fun above being taken seriously.

“Everybody pushes each other, and no one gets upset with anybody,” Nielsen said.

Muraski added: “We’ve got a pretty open dialogue in our band for sure. We’ll just say, ‘Hey, that kind of sucks, can you do something different?’”

As a whole, the group made the conscious decision to avoid the incessant touring that had been a common link between each of their previous bands. They recognized the toll it had taken on them and their families, and wanted to be sure to learn from previous experiences.

Nielsen said: “We all have businesses to run and people to look after. So we have to keep those kinds of things in mind.”

Muraski seconded that notion: “Do we take the music part of it seriously? Absolutely. But are we out playing every weekend all over trying to build a Midwest following? No. Everybody’s got jobs, lives, and we can’t do that.”

Though they were no longer interested in keeping the hectic tour schedules they once had in previous bands, their desire to bring their new music to live venues never waned. Instead of long tours spent in vans across the Midwest, H.M.S. has decided to take a more scaled-back approach to touring—playing dates that are close enough to home they can usually make it back to their own beds each night—and focusing much of their effort on hometown audiences.

“What it boils down to is that we’re having fun making music, and if we can play our own music in Rockford, and we have 25 people come out to see us and they enjoy themselves, that’s good,” Nielsen said. “I’d rather have that than have 150 people in some city hate coming to see our band, and come in and hang for a beer and then leave, because that doesn’t make you feel good.”

Setting the bar

Anyone who has experienced an H.M.S. Goliath show is well aware of the band’s propensity for improvisation and jamming. One might not suspect while listening to their arsenal of cover tunes—everything from the Beatles to Pink Floyd to U2—that the band is actually very calculated in its approach to creating music.

As the owners of Fuse Studios in Rockford, Nielsen and Muraski have spent innumerable hours listening to every minute detail of the bands they record. This has given them what Nielsen calls the ability to “listen with a microscope.” It’s an ability that is proving to be vital to their own work, pushing them to be more self-critical as musicians and lyricists.

“You start getting paranoid,” Muraski said. “Is my stuff going to stand up to my own ear now? Am I going to make music that I’m going to listen to? Because there are records that I’ve made in the past that I definitely don’t frequent. So I just want to make music that I want to listen to and that my friends want to listen to.”

Not surprisingly, early reviews from friends have been good. What the band wasn’t counting on was the positive response they’ve gotten from fans. Crowds at local shows have been so enthusiastic that demands for the band have grown noticeably, with more and more shows popping up on the quintet’s itinerary.

Muraski said: “I love playing shows because it’s fun to just go play (songs) with everybody out in some space. That’s enjoyable, whether there are people there or not. Is it way more fun when there are people there? Absolutely. Is it more fun when there are people there who like it? Even better. But really, this is just too much fun.”

Setting the stage

Much like their schedule of shows, plans for the band are growing in size. At press time, they had just finished tracking several songs, all of which should be released in the near future. But rather than the standard ideology of recording a dozen songs and releasing them as a commercially-motivated album, H.M.S. Goliath has different plans.

“We’re not out to sell CDs for 20 bucks a piece; we’re going to sell them for probably 5 bucks a piece, and we’re going to put them all up on the Web site,” said Muraski.

The album, which will feature many of the original songs the band plays live, will be what Muraski describes as “Just a little CD with as many songs as we get done in the next week and a half.”

H.M.S. Goliath finishes their run at the Olympic Tavern this Wednesday, Aug. 31, before opening a back-to-back night stint at the Paragon during On the Waterfront. The band has hinted at big surprises for their Sept. 1 performance at the Paragon, where they perform both before and after the Cheap Trick show. Pressed for details, Nielsen offered only one bit of advice to fans: “They should keep their heads up.”

Plans beyond autumn are sketchy for the band. They’ve discussed taking time off, but they feel no pressure, knowing that the only expectations they have to live up to are their own.

“We’re doing it for fun,” Nielsen said, “and if something comes out of it, and people dig us, then that’s great. If people come out to the show, and they think we’re good, then cool—keep coming out, because it’s never going to be the same.”

For details on H.M.S. Goliath’s upcoming tour schedule, visit www.hmslive.com.

From the Aug. 31-Sept. 6, 2005, issue

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