Staten Island, New York, has a kick-ass local music scene. With plenty of venues to play music on the island, it is no wonder that the local music scene has been able to flourish. When I was a teenager, I would spend plenty of weekends at a show or concert at a local venue, The Full Cup, listening to local bands play, enjoying every second of it. Plenty of my friends played in bands, and watching them play was both a great way to spend a night and support the local arts.
I always wondered during the shows whether or not a career in music was going to be the end-all for those musicians. I would look around, during a show, and see how great an effect the bands had on the audiences. It was always inspiring to see a group of people from your hometown, close to your age, achieving such major goals. Young adults were playing music for peers and making money from it. The whole idea was slightly mind-blowing: they were getting paid to do things that they loved, something unheard of for a seventeen year old. Without having the local music scene – without having the venues and the audience – these musicians would not have been able to see their dream come to fruition.
Besides giving those who otherwise would not have had a chance to play outside of a garage or practice space an actual venue in which to perform, the local music scene also opened up a network for them. Musicians who played at the same venues would be able to communicate with other bands, managers, and events coordinators. Playing one show could then turn into playing a multitude of shows through collaborations with other artists and coordinators. EPs would be traded, and bands helped promote other bands. Comradery was high within the local music scene.
Although having a local music scene offers many great things for young bands, it is still important for them to venture out of their hometowns. Staten Island is a prime location to start out in. It is in such close proximity to Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey, all which provide bigger and better venues. Many Staten Island bands have gone on to compete in battle-of-the-bands-style competitions, playing in venues such as Starland Ballroom (New Jersey) and the Greene Space (Manhattan). There has been a citywide Battle of the Boroughs for the past five years that looks to find the best undiscovered performers in New York City, and many Staten Island bands have competed in it.
Although many of the bands I used to go see play have either disbanded or evolved into bigger and better things, the local music scene still thrives. New bands have come onto the scene and are reaping the benefits it has to offer. One such band is Cat Myles and the Possessions. In 2013, lead singer Cat Myles, performing under a different title (Cat Cosmai), won the Battle of the Boroughs: Staten Island. In 2014, Myles won Staten Island’s best solo music competition, beating out international pop singer Ingrid Michaelson. It is moments like these when having a local music scene really helps a career. Having a community to support you is priceless.
I was able to catch up Frank Schiazza, the guitarist and keyboardist of Cat Myles and the Possessions, over the past week. I interviewed him about his band and about their place within the local music scene. Cat Myles and the Possessions is a southern rock/urban soul quartet comprised of Myles, Frank Schiazza, Gary Nieves, Jr., and Dave Volano. Formed in 2011, they have since made a name for themselves in the local music scene and beyond into the surrounding areas. Myles, a songstress who had been in other bands before, did not venture out as a solo artist until she met Schiazza. Together, they formed a songwriting partnership that garnered glowing reviews for their first album, The Line. Rock NYC Live & Recorded named The Line as one of the 100 best albums of 2012, with their song, “Waiting for Me,” as one of the 100 best songs of the year. In 2014, they released Dust, a fusion of southern rock and R&B with Myle’s unique urban soul. Signed with Vital Records, they have found themselves within the local music scene. Although at times, having come from Staten Island is more of a challenge than an asset for this group, it has allowed them to compete in citywide competitions and share their music with a wider audience. It has also allowed them to fulfill the southern-rock niche Staten Island is lacking; they are a truly unique sound and can thus market themselves in that way. The full interview with Schiazza can be read below.
CM: Okay, so first question: who are you guys?
FS: We are Cat Myles & the Possessions, with Cat Myles on vocals, Frank Schiazza on guitar and keyboard, Gary Nieves Jr. on bass, and Dave Volano on drums.
CM: What kind of music do you play?
FS: We play a brand of music we call “Southern Rock / Urban Soul,” which is really just our way of saying that we play the heart of American music. It’s part rock, park classic R&B, part groove, part soul. It’s just a blend of good-time, old-school rock’n’soul.
CM: What influenced your sound?
FS: We’re influenced by more bands than we can mention. Cat loves Mariah Carey & Amy Winehouse & Whitney Houston and the great R&B divas; I love the Allmans and Stevie Wonder and Neil Young and the Bee Gees 70’s rock; the other guys all love funk and hip hop and soul. So we’re all over the map, musically… but it works.
CM: When and where did you start your band? And how did it form?
FS: Our band began in 2011, when Cat and I met. We were coworkers at a local high school and we got to talking one day – during a firedrill, no less – and realized that we both played music. We began to work on stuff right away and released Cat’s debut solo album a few months later. From there, the other band members started to trickle in, and now you have the band as it is today.
CM: Why did you start Cat Myles & the Possessions?
FS: We’ve all been in bands since we were old enough, pretty much. We love it too much NOT to be in a band, so it’s really a moot point for us. It keeps us young and, at least in our heads, cool.
CM: What do you think your place is within the local music scene?
FS: We’re the only band that plays this authentic style of American roots rock and soul. There are some great bands out here, but we’re pretty much leading the way as far as bands that play music with both a modern punch and that retro vibe. We’re the band people turn to when they want to hear some real, honest American music.
CM: How has having a platform in your hometown/college town helped you find grounding outside of your hometowns?
FS: In truth, it really hasn’t. Our hometown is small and doesn’t have too much recognition outside of itself, so we don’t really benefit from it.
CM: Do you think you would be in the positions you currently are in without having had a local start?
FS: We often wonder where we would be if we were from a different town. It’s a catch-22, because on one hand, our sound is unique in our hometown, which gives us a niche; but it also keeps us from gaining any widespread fame. That said, if we played somewhere down south, just say, we would be a dime-a-dozen band. So it both helps and hurts us.
CM: What competitions have you all competed in? / Have you won/lost?
FS: We competed in the 2013 Greene Space Battle of the Boroughs, and won our Borough! (We lost in the last round to Manhattan, however.)
CM: How did it feel to win/lose? Did it change how you pictured the future of your band?
FS: Winning, as always, felt great, and it definitely kicked us into another gear. It made us hungrier, and lit the fire under our ass that hadn’t yet been lit.
CM: What label are you signed with, and are you happy with your label? Why?
FS: We are signed to a small indie label: Vital Records. We’re happy enough with them, but of course we would love to branch out more to a label that can get us heard around the world.
CM: How has that affected your ability to distribute your music?
FS: Distribution is always hard, even in this age when you can send a song around the world in just one click. There are just so many people out there, YouTubing and SoundClouding that it’s hard to find a niche. But we decided long ago that we would just write and play the best music we could and let the rest play out as it’s meant to.
CM: How has living in close proximity to Manhattan helped/harmed your careers?
FS: It’s helped, mostly, because there are always places to play and be heard. Manhattan is still the center of the world, even if the scene isn’t what it was even just a decade ago.
CM: Has starting in Staten Island been a good or bad thing for your band?
FS: Ultimately, it’s been good. It’s allowed us to progress as we would naturally, almost in a vacuum without that big city pressure.
CM: Where do you see yourselves going in the next few years?
FS: We just want to make the most music we can, and the best music we can, for as long as we can. That’s how we quantify “success.” If we look back in five or ten years and we have a collection of amazing, original music to our credit, we will have succeeded.
CM: Is getting famous your endgame? If possible, would you keep playing in your band as a career?
FS: All of us would love to be able to play music for a living. We don’t have any delusions of grandeur – we know that pop-stardom isn’t our destiny. But, collectively as well as individually, we are all pretty great, and so we have no doubt that we can do this for a living it all breaks right for us. For as long as our bodies let us, that’s what we’re going to try to do!
They will be releasing a new album, Beautiful Mess, on December 20, 2014. Make sure to order a copy and support local arts!