Saint Mela is a self-described “D.I.Y. indie-pop” group consisting of Steven Dewey (production and keys), Wolf Weston (lead vocals and lyrics) and Jason MacDermott (drums). Although the band is based out of New York City, the three originally met while studying at Ithaca College. During their undergraduate careers, the catchy tunes of Second Dam and the hilarious lyrics of the Ska group Gypsy Gets Shotgun, created a buzz in the Ithaca College music scene from 2012 to 2015.
Now graduated, Dewey, Weston and MacDermott—who all performed in different bands—have united to form Saint Mela. The trio uses a complex mix of sampling, synthesizing and harmonizing to create their genre bending sound. Tracks like “Molly and The Birdman” can make listeners dance and smile, whereas “Guts” examines the complexities that come with losing someone.
In addition to bringing powerful lyrics and a high-quality sound to their records, the three create an exciting and upbeat dynamic to their live performances. As Tatiana Sy, the Director of Events for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said in a previous interview with MegsRadio, “If you’ve heard (Weston), then you know she will have everyone with chills by probably the first song.”
These three Ithaca College alumni are returning to central New York this week for two different shows. Saint Mela is performing today at the CFCU Summer Concert Series and they will play tomorrow at the 27th Annual Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance. In addition to performing live versions of the band’s six tracks released on SoundCloud, audience-goers might catch a new song or two in their lineup. The trio also plans on sharing an additional track or music video in November 2017. Come 2018. the members of Saint Mela are preparing to make their debut release.
Elena Piech, the Outreach Coordinator for MegsRadio.fm, interviewed Saint Mela’s lead singer, Wolf Weston. Prior to attending Ithaca College to study Communications Management and Design, Weston said she didn’t think too much about singing for a band. Growing up, Weston said most of her vocal training came from singing in her church’s choir.
The choir experience seems to have paid out. Weston’s powerhouse vocals and Dewey’s sampling selection create the beauty that is Saint Mela. In this MegsRadio Artist Spotlight, Piech and Weston discuss Saint Mela’s songwriting process, their move to New York City and the band’s future projections.
Elena Piech: Prior to forming Saint Mela, while at Ithaca College you were the lead singer for Second Dam. How did you meet the other members of Second Dam?
Wolf Weston: (Second Dam) was forming for the better part of two years. When I was a freshman, I got into one of the a cappella group on campus. But, I was like, “This is great, but I think I was more of a band experience.” And so basically I met PJ Scott, who was the bassist of Second Dam, because he was in the same a cappella group. And then three of the other guys I met through (an) open mic night. And another member I had met my freshman year. That was a weird hodgepodge, but it worked out.
EP: And how did you find the other members of your current group, Saint Mela?
WW: Well Steve (Dewey) and I have been working together forever.
(Steve) is the one that recorded Second Dam’s first EP and album. So both This Guy and Swimming—he was the guy (on the cover of) This Guy—and we, over a couple of those processes, started to get to be really good friends. He was—in between our senior fall and senior summer—he was actually gone for a lot of it. He was doing ICNYC (Ithaca College New York City) and he didn’t have any instruments on him, so he was just like sampling and cutting stuff up and sending me and asking me what I thought. And then he was like, “Write something.” And then I’d send it back to him and it just evolved from there.
Jason (MacDermott), you know, because he used to play in Gypsy Gets Shotgun, (and) like basically other students bands—the people that Second Dam would play with a lot. So when Steve and I got it together and sort of put a name of what we were doing and it had developed, Jason’s name was at the top of the list. Steve had also used him as as a session drummer in recording those other people’s records.
EP: So with the three of you together, how would you describe the sound of Saint Mela?
WW: Steve and I have been talking about shifting our genre definition. A better way to explain that is basically describing ourselves by methodology instead of sound. Right now we are basically toying with the label of D.I.Y. pop—which Steve can explain frankly better than I can. But, it’s just a descriptor of the methodology and what goes into how we make what we make. Particularly starting with with the old sampler the he uses because it allows us to be more manual and hands on. So we’ve been going through D.I.Y. pop because it kind of lets the genre bend while describing our methodology. The real thing to put on everything that Steve produces is the methodological as opposed to the outcome.
EP: You worked with Steve and sent samples back and forth. Later on you two officially added Jason. I’ve been to a few Saint Mela shows and I’ve noticed that sometimes you have backup vocalists on stage and other times it might be just the three of you. What factors influence what type of setup Saint Mela might have for a live show?
WW: That shifts with people’s availability.We previously had Namarah McCall singing background vocals
for us, but she is independent and doing her own thing in Philly. So since then we played as a threesome just because it was easier to travel that way. Now we have Josh Rollin who has joined us on bass synth. And he has added a keyboard to his sampler setup. So we have been trying to do a lot of work in terms of opening up our sound and opening up our space for improvisation. It has been really important for us to sort of figure out a way—because you saw our earlier shows—it was essentially Steve producing all of the sound that wasn’t bass and vocals. We’ve been trying to figure out, you know, just how to not only take that weight off of him but to use that space more creatively.
The lineup shift was pretty much who’s availability we have, so who was available for whatever show. We parted ways with Namarah because she’s very visibly pursuing her own thing. And Josh we have whenever he’s able to. So Josh will be with us for the Summer Concert Series and for GrassRoots. That’s just sort of how it worked out. All of these people are, for lack of a better word, family. So it all just depends on who is available and who is down to help us expand the set and make it a little different (from) what we did last time.
EP: Talking about schedules and availability, do you think your performance for the Summer Concert Series might be different than your previous live performances?
WW: I think we got a lot more energy to bring. You know, Josh being there is a great support. It frees us up a little bit more to worry a little bit more about our execution and to get lost in the feeling of performing. So I definitely think that parts of it will be different. I also think that we’ve got a lot of new music, honestly. Between now and last October pretty much our entire set will be of new material. We are always excited to share it. We are executed for both the (Summer Concert Series) and GrassRoots as well. Because we, we are playing the Wednesday night before GrassRoots.
EP: You mentioned heading back to Central, New York, for the Summer Concert Series and Grassroots, currently Saint Mela is based out of New York City. I know you met your two other members while studying in Ithaca. What influenced the band’s decision to move from Ithaca to New York City?
WW: It was pure convenience, honestly. I had just lost my job when I was moving here. And Steve was the one with the job and Jason currently was in Hoboken, New Jersey. It made the most sense for me to be down here. Basically, if this project is going to happen anywhere, it was going to happen in New York. Now I’m pretty happy.
EP: What type of reception would you say Saint Mela is receiving in the city?
WW: I would say definitely a warm one. We haven’t left any shows disappointed. It feels like we are really connecting here.
EP: The three of you are coming back up to Ithaca for the CFCU Summer Concert Series, would you consider performing in Ithaca as a “hometown” show?
WW: We definitely do. For me especially, GrassRoots. I didn’t get to go last year because I was broke at the time and I couldn’t afford the trip up or the essentials to stay there. I’m really glad I get to go this year.
We always consider Ithaca home. We know where we want to be. We talk about where we want to be and who we want to see and the places we need to visit, just because it is so rare that we get to be up there now. Not that it is far, but just that life down here can get kind of hectic. I know that we are all looking forward to coming back and visiting and being there for GrassRoots especially.
EP: You just said, “Life down here can get pretty hectic.” What are the future projections for Saint Mela?
WW: We were supposed to drop a track for GrassRoots. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will secure our pitch until the week after it. So, definitely another single and we are also looking forward to dropping something else in November. We are shooting a video soon, which is going to be really fun. We’ve got a lot of things coming. We are just trying to put things out and work hard.
EP: Taking a step away from Saint Mela, how would you describe Ithaca’s music scene?
WW: That’s a loaded question. It definitely varies. It is a very strong one. Definitely varied and definitely, there’s no music scene like the one in Ithaca.
EP: Even if you say that Ithaca’s music scene is hard to replicate, there are still people in Ithaca who have never attended a local show or listened to a local artist. MegsRadio is a web app designed by students at Ithaca College and Cornell University. Essentially this free music discovery app promotes local artists and upcoming local concerts. What do you think of the idea of MegsRadio?
WW: I think it is an incredible one. One of my biggest problems with some of how music works today is that it’s not accessible. I think making music accessible is so important when press is really so much of how your music gets heard. I think if there is a place that is made to mix both mainstream and local artist, then it helps to break up some of that inaccessibility. I think that is really important work. Not everyone can afford a 9 dollar a month streaming service or even a computer to play Pandora on. How do you make music accessible has always been one of my biggest questions. I definitely think that Megs is doing work to making local music accessible.