Kyle Megna & The Monsoons played an outdoor show at Houdini Plaza in Appleton for Light Up Night on November 10. I watched them perform from 5:30-6:30 p.m. in the freezing cold, bundled up in my puffy winter jacket and mittens. There was a holiday lighting ceremony at 6 p.m. Overall, the event had a pretty great turn out for how cold it was.
After the show I met Kyle Megna, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the band, at Bazil’s Pub on College Avenue. As I sipped my go-to drink, Malibu and Dr. Pepper, I waited for him to pack up his equipment and talk with friends and fans. Eventually he joined me with his Seagrams 7 and 7-Up, wearing a brown beanie, a fall jacket, blazer and flannel shirt. Under the flannel shirt, he had on a v-neck t-shirt.
“I’m dressed in layers tonight because it’s 26 degrees and 13 degrees is the real feel…we played an outdoor Wisconsin gig,” Megna says.
Kyle Megna & The Monsoons is a seven piece band. The other band members include lead guitarist Aaron Zepplin, bassist Fred Velpel, drummer Mike Underwood, saxophonist Ross Catterton, trumpet player Kurt Shipe and Noah Harmon on the keys.
The band project started years ago and it has been through different line-ups throughout the years. This current line-up of band members assembled in January 2016.
“[We’re] called ‘The Monsoons’ because it’s like a storm of musicians coming together,” Megna says. “I never expected it to be how it is today and I’m just happy to be able to play with some really talented musicians.”
He’s not alone in his feelings about the success and camaraderie of the band.
“The best thing about this group is it’s a chance to play music with the people that I love on this planet the most dearly, and create something that without the other six gentlemen involved we would not be able to create,” Catterton says.
The entire band grew up in Wisconsin, although some, including Megna, left for periods of time. About half of the band members graduated in music performance at Lawrence University. Megna moved back to the Fox Cities from Tennessee in 2012 and the group was a four-piece at that time. The four-piece turned into a five-piece, and eventually a seven-piece. This current collective has been playing together for about two years now.
“We have an A-Crew, we call it the Appleton Crew and then we have an O-Crew, the Oshkosh Crew, so most of the guys grew up in Oshkosh and Appleton,” Megna says.
Although some of the band members moved out of state for awhile, it’s obvious by talking with them that their home is Wisconsin and specifically the Fox Cities.
Megna is blown away by the way the local music scene has changed and thinks it is currently thriving.
“The local music scene has done a 180 in Appleton. I originally left when I was 21 to get out of here, to kind of get away from the stale music scene, but when I came back only six years later it turned around,” he says. “Now I can sustain as a musician in the Fox Cities which is crazy, you’d never think that, so I like it and I think its going in the right place.”
Megna told a story of a time they were playing Milwaukee’s Summerfest a few years ago and went to the hotel bar after the show. The bartender asked where they were from and they replied “Appleton.” She responded by saying, “I hear that’s like a really big music community, I haven’t been there yet.”
“So when I heard that from someone who hasn’t been here yet and is from Milwaukee, I think that shows that we’re doing something right. It’s got a lot of talent, the Fox Cities,” Megna says.
Harmon says the Fox Cities is not only supportive of musicians, but residents in general.
“It’s my favorite because people are friendly, they’re coming out to see shows and people here are genuinely nice and I’ve witnessed it and I’ve been on the good end of it. Good people are hard to come by so the Fox Cities has just a plethora of good people in this area,” he says.
While The Source Public House in Menasha seems to be a favorite venue among musicians, Harmon has an unsuspected favorite in Appleton.
“I think one of the places that is probably a small place for music but is very supportive for music is Emmett’s Bar. They absolutely support all the local music and the people that come out to see shows at that place in particular, outside of all the other places we play, really come to see the music and are really engaged,” he says.
A few of the bandmates believe that one thing the Fox Valley could do to be more conducive for music making and music makers is schedule shows at earlier time slots.
“The crowd scene could be interested in seeing music a little bit earlier so instead of 10 p.m.-2 a.m. maybe 8-10 p.m. or 12 a.m. so that we don’t all have to stay out super late,” Velpel says.
Megna thinks the people who are really into the music want to see the shows early.
“It’s the people that want to hear the music; they want to get there early then they want to go to bed, go to work, and get on with the rest of their life,” he says.
Megna has been playing guitar since he was 10 years old. He played guitar on and off when he was younger and even took lessons for a short period of time. At age 12, he decided to teach himself.
“It became fun then, I think it’s that period where you’re pushed sometimes where you’re like ‘Screw this’, you know, ‘I can’t do it,’ but eventually I found that spot where I’m like ‘Okay this is where I’m going and I found something I love,’” Megna says.
The 31-year-old says his biggest influences com from the music of the 90s.
“I would say I’m a ‘90s kid. I was a grunge kid. I was learning Rage Against the Machine, I was learning Nirvana, learning Pearl Jam, and all that. The music doesn’t sound like that anymore,” Megna says.
According to Megna, most of the band members have day jobs but a few guys are full time, meaning all they do is music. Megna works about 15 hours a week in marketing for Tundraland Home Improvements.
“I actually sang their jingle,” he says.
The Monsoons have a unique, yet universal sound. Megna describes it as having a little bit of rock, alternative rock, folk, funk and jazz. Some of the guys play in other jazz groups, so there’s a lot of jazz influence in their music.
“It’s a very listenable band, everyone’s super talented and we can play a variety of different styles…we play anything, which is crazy,” Megna says. “There’s a few songs that have a rock/island feel I guess which is weird because we’re from Wisconsin.”
Even though Megna writes the lyrics, melody and structure of the songs, nothing is concrete until the rest of the band weighs in.
“I write a lot of songs on my phone. I have over 9 hours of music right now on my phone, just ideas, 90 percent I don’t use,” Megna says. “I bring it to the band and it either fails or it succeeds and that’s kind of how the songs happen. I don’t tell the band what to play; they’re amazing musicians and if they impact it in a certain way where they want to even change a bridge or change something else I’m completely cool with that. They make the band what it is; I could not do it without the surrounding guys.”
Megna has a successful solo career as well, but you can tell by talking with him that his heart is with the band.
“I feel like I have more of a soul when I play with the band. It’s always something special because it’s a little different each time and I think we surprise each other which is a really cool thing where you’re in a band and you keep things fresh and just to be surrounded by a power house of musicians, it’s insane,” Megna says. “I never would have thought that The Monsoons would have been this in 2012, so yeah I love playing with the band, I love playing solo too, but it has to be the right environment.”
Harmon appreciates the fluidity of the band’s approach to music making.
“I joined late; I was not the first keyboard player, so I got to see them and witness them as a listener and for me what I find is the most worthwhile part of the band is being able to play the songs in a way that they’ll never be played again. It’s always different,” Harmon says.
Kyle Megna & The Monsoons have a few upcoming projects in the works. The first is their live album “Live at Welcome to 1979” which was recorded in one take. Welcome to 1979 is the analog-centric recording studio in Nashville where the album was produced. It will be debuted at the OuterEdge Stage in Appleton on November 17.
“There is nothing artificial about this project – you do one take, you’re done. It turned out pretty cool,” Megna says.
Their next project is a studio album coming out this winter. Catch The Monsoons at their show on November 17, on November 22 at the Wheel House in Waupaca, November 24 at The Source Public House in Menasha and December 19 at Stone Arch at Riverview Gardens in Appleton for the second annual Warm It Up event benefitting the Fox Valley Warming Shelter.