Hours of rehearsals. Performances in front of total strangers. Sweaty palms and rattled nerves. Everything has built to this moment. Five bands will step on stage one last time at Jammin’ Java in Vienna and play their hearts out. Only one will walk away a winner.
The ninth installment of the Mid-Atlantic Band Battle has reached the final stage, with regional bands Cyrenic, Holly Would, Sub Radio Standard, Simone & The Spectrum and Tattooed Beachsluts all vying for the top prize — $2,500 plus a slew of other prizes. Of course, bragging rights are on the line as well.
Mei Verba, who is the Jill-of-all-trades at Jammin’ Java — in charge of marketing, ticketing, the website and local booking — said the venue really tries to put the music first.
“[The band battle] is one of our popular biannual events at Jammin’ Java,” Verba said. “I think what distinguishes this from any other band battle is that even those who applied and weren’t accepted into the prelims still had a chance to have a show, whether it was a matinee or a ‘Local Scene’ show that I also work on. Those who don’t make it through to the finals get a chance to be involved with a show at the venue also. It really gives [the bands] an opportunity for us to see them.”
Brian Zuckerman is the front man and founder of the modern rock band Cyrenic. Originally, Zuckerman said he worked solo, but found out that people wanted to see the entire band.
“I had never been in a band before and I hadn’t planned on being in a live band,” Zuckerman said. “I had recorded two albums by myself. When I was done with the second one … there was a demand for us playing live, so I figured maybe I should give this a shot. I put some people together and after many lineup changes, we’re a full band and we’ve recorded two more albums together.”
Cyrenic, which Zuckerman says is a play on the word sirenic, meaning “melodious and seductively alluring,” had played a lot around the Baltimore area, but wanted to venture into new territory.
“We’ve mostly played Baltimore and some of the bigger places around Baltimore,” Zuckerman said. “We’ve been looking to break into Northern Virginia. I had never been to Jammin’ Java but I had heard a lot of great things about it. I don’t remember if it was an ad or if someone saw something, but we submitted for it and got accepted. It’s been a great experience so far.”
According to Verba, unlike a lot of band battles at other venues, winners at Jammin’ Java are chosen a little more fairly and evenly.
“It’s done by a judging criteria,” Verba said. “We’ve enlisted the help of three judges who base [the results] on the interaction with the crowds, songwriting, their appearance. In the finals, we have four judges — one of those judges was not around during prelims. … So it rounds out the judging.”
Of course, not all band battles are the same. Different venues use different methods. As with anything, some may be well-meaning, and others might be out to make a quick dollar, according to Zuckerman.
“Normally I would say to avoid battle of the bands at all costs,” Zuckerman said. “We’ve had some bad experiences. The only other that I’ve had a good experience at was the California Tortilla Battle to Break Out at the HFStival [in 2011]. We basically did that because I had always dreamed of playing at the 9:30 Club [in Washington, D.C.]. We were beat out by a rap group. It didn’t have a great ending, but we did get to play the 9:30 Club and there was a great crowd there. And we did get some free burritos for a year from California Tortilla, so that was good.
“Usually it’s a money-making scheme kind of thing. This one [at Jammin’ Java] has actually been great. There was no entry fee or anything like that and they actually do promotions for it. It wasn’t based on how many people you were bringing to the venue — it’s based on real judging. Being from the Baltimore area, we weren’t able to bring as many people down there for our first shows as we would have hoped, especially opening night. Even without our fans representing us we were able to still make the finals, which is great.”
As for competition, Zuckerman said Cyrenic hasn’t seen a majority of the bands in the finals, but he has heard good things about them.
“Tattooed Beachsluts were on the other night,” Zuckerman said. “They’re different from us but, yeah, they put on a great show. We haven’t seen the other bands, but I’ve heard good things. I expect to win, but I expect we’ll be up against some fierce competition.”
On top of the $2,500 the winning band receives, the victors also will receive their own headlining show at Jammin’ Java, studio time, designs, photo sessions, a music video and more.
If Cyrenic wins?
“Oh, we already spent that,” Zuckerman laughed.