Ara Vega: The distinctive sounds of modern rock

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“Ara Vega: Where the heck have these guys been hiding?” reads the latest issue of Veer Magazine, which features local band Ara Vega as one of six nominees for the award of “Best Emerging Artist” in the Hampton Roads area. Ara Vega, whose name was inspired by the Vega star—one of the brightest stars visible in the night sky—consists of CNU senior Matt Johnston (synthesizers), recent CNU graduate Josh Duncan (drums), TC Mercado (vocals), Ethan Mitchell (guitar), and Travis Cook (bass).

For Ara Vega, 2012 marked a year of hard work and creative growth, as the band collaboratively wrote, recorded, produced, and began distributing their first album with singer Mercado, entitled “Cowboy Killer.” As evident by their recent nomination, the band’s hard work has paid off. “It was exciting to find out that we were nominated,” said Johnston.

“It’s really cool because we released our first EP almost a year ago, and it’s nice to see that it made some waves.” The band was nominated for the award by Crizti Walsh, DJ of 96x’s Local Radio Show, which airs from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Sunday nights. “Cowboy Killer” and “The Architect” are two Ara Vega songs that have been receiving steady airplay on the radio show for the past eight months.

“The Local Music Show on 96x has been a huge blessing as far as exposure, so we’re all really grateful for that,” said Mercado.

Ara Vega has come to find that their efforts to gain widespread exposure have not gone unchallenged. So far, one of the biggest challenges the band has faced is getting people to “take them seriously,” according to guitarist Mitchell.

The band believes that this is, in part, due to the fact that their music style does not fit into one specific genre.  “When there’s a ton of metal bands and some do a show, you’re pretty much sold to see a metal show. That’s how the scene works, so when we’re just selling an ‘Ara Vega’ show, people don’t know what the hell that is or what to expect,” explained Mercado.

What listeners can expect is an undeniably distinctive sound, a sound Mitchell described as “modern rock mixed with a new wave, 80’s feel.” Eighties new wave bands such as Depeche Mode, New Order, and even the modern alternative rock band The Killers, have all contributed to the well of inspiration from which the band frequently draws.

Ara Vega’s unique sound has made it difficult for them to work with outside producers, because many just do not understand “the Ara Vega sound,” which includes driving guitar riffs, aggressive keyboards and groovy bass lines. The band has found that recording and producing independently is the best way for them to achieve the sound that they want, without having to compromise financially and artistically.

“Essentially, we are our own record label,” said Johnston. “Everybody tries to get us to sound like somebody else, whether it be The Cars or a boy band. Eventually we just started doing it [recording and producing] ourselves.”

Another challenge Ara Vega has faced is finding local venues willing to let them play original material, without having to pre-sell tickets. Johnston described this as the “pay to play” method, in which a band has to pre-sell tickets to their show and then give the money to the venue’s promoter or owner in order to ensure that the venue will not lose money that night.

“The band usually walks away feeling ripped off,” Johnston said. “The trick is getting out of this cycle and getting venues to pay you to play your music.” Ara Vega now plays venues that allow them to play their own material and do not require that they pre-sell tickets.

One venue that has been especially receptive of Ara Vega is Schooner’s Bar & Grill, located in CNU Village. “Schooner’s has been really good to us because it was one of the first paying venues that gave us a chance, and we’ve built a really good relationship with them,” explained Johnston.

“It’s always really enjoyable to work with laid-back, cool management who are willing to try something new, something that’s different from the cover bar band formula.”

So what is the ultimate vision for Ara Vega, and where can we expect to see them in the future? “Madison Square Garden,” said Johnston, noting that the band is aspiring to achieve national recognition. In the meantime, the band will continue to play shows locally, with three shows scheduled for March. ν


Show Schedule

March 2 at 9 p.m., at Bar Louie in Peninsula Town Center (21 and up)

March 8 at 8 p.m., at Aromas in City Center (all ages)

March 17 at 9 p.m., at Schooner’s in CNU Village (21 and up)