Washington D.C. based quintet Moodroom has just released their debut album Hung Up On Breathing. Led by the seductive singer / songwriter / guitarist Stef Magro, along with guitarist Gene Diotalevi, bassist Mike Wolpe, keyboardist Jay Hardin and drummer Sean Saley, Moodroom may be taking a risk promoting an album filled with angst, passion and edgy pop songs in a near bankrupt musical economy filled with the dying strains of rap/metal and the affected smiles of boy bands. But considering that Hung Up On Breathing is such a strong debut, chockfull of great songs, it's a risk that the band apparently feels strongly enough about taking.
Livewire's Tony Bonyata recently talked with an upbeat Magro about the band's apparent influences, the possibility of breaking big, discreet ink and that special place for troubled teens.
Livewire: How long have you guys been playing together?
Stef: We've been together as Moodroom for two years now.
Livewire: And your new release Hung Up On Breathing is your first full-length album?
Stef: Yeah, we've had a couple of EPs, which had like 4 or 5 songs each. But this is our first full-length. We're all really excited about it.
Livewire: Are all five of you from the Washington D.C. area?
Stef: Yeah, we're all from the D.C. area. I'm in New York now, but I guess we pretty much claim to be the D.C. band.
Livewire: Where did the name Moodroom come from?
Stef: Every time we tell this story it's always different, but it basically came from Jay - our keyboard player. He used to work at this, um, not really a psychiatric place, I'm not sure exactly what it was, but it was a place for kids that were troubled in a way. And there was one room that they would always have the kids go to when they just wanted to be on their own and do their own thing. They called it the 'moodroom.' So it kinda came out of that. Jay would describe it a little bit more dark and morbid, but I took it a different way. I thought it was a spot where you could vent your emotions without reservations.
Livewire: Sounds like a halfway house.
Stef: It was probably something like that.
Livewire: I see you've got a string of club gigs out East. Do have plans to do a nationwide tour soon?
Stef: Well, I think we're pretty much focusing on the East Coast right now, although I'm not really sure what might come out of this. Right now that's our focus. As soon as the album comes out we're just going to really push it on the East Coast. Right now we're going on our own budget, so (laughs) maybe when we get a little bit more backing we'll go national.
Livewire: Your record company, Fowl Records, is a small indie label, isn't it?
Stef: Yeah, yeah.
Livewire: It seems like this album has the potential to generate interest within the majors.
Stef: Well, I hope so!
Livewire: Have you toured overseas yet?
Stef: We played in Paris. We had a two week showcasing at the Chesterfield Cafe, a club known for having American rock bands. It was great experience and so much fun! We were actually the one-and-only headlining band for this one club, which is totally different than what it's like here in the States. It was different crowd every night and we were 'it.' They really loved it. It was a really good time.
Livewire: So you've been to Paris, but haven't played Chicago yet?
Stef: No, not yet. Are you in Chicago?
Livewire: We're based between Chicago and Milwaukee. Sounds like a road trip is in order for the band.
Stef: Yeah, it'd be nice. What are the local sounds out of Chicago like right now?
Livewire: Well, it's not as well-defined as in the early '90s, with bands like Liz Phair, The Pumpkins, Urge Overkill and that whole alternative scene. There's a small metal faction in some of the clubs and then there's the alt-country scene, with bands like Wilco and The Blacks and Bloodshot Records. Not to change the subject, but how would describe your live shows?
Stef: Lots of energy! (laughs) We just kind of do our own thing. It's not like note by note -we improvise a little. We have fun with it. We love performing live. It's our favorite thing to do. We try and schedule as many shows as possible. Most of the songs we do are from the CD, but we've got a lot of new stuff right now. I really like the live shows the best.
Livewire: So you prefer that over recording?
Stef: I guess I would, actually. I'm kind of getting used to the recording process, but it's a totally different animal. With recording you don't get the feed or interaction with the audience. In the studio you're in this sterile recording booth starring at the microphone. So it's really a different vibe of how I perform emotionally, because there's more controlling in the recording process. I definitely like the live performance because you can just do your thing. I like to feed off the audience.
Livewire: I take it that they're feeding off you as well?
Stef: Hopefully (laughs). We've had great shows as far as audiences go, but we've also had shows where we're like 'what was that?' (laughs) I try and target the people in the crowd that are really into it and vibing. So it's like I'm performing for them. It's really a two-way thing.
Livewire: How do you feel about the comparisons being made to Moodroom and bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and Garbage?
Stef: Well, the Pumpkins and Garbage, I'm actually a fan of those two groups, so I would take that as a compliment. I have such a wide variety of tastes, and they're part of that group. So it's okay when people say that (laughs).
Livewire: It seems as if you're resurrecting that early '90s guitar -driven alternative sound, which lately has given way to a sea of mediocre rap/metal and faceless bubblegum acts. But with bands such as your own, it seems that there's a bit of a renaissance of substantial music starting to take seed.
Stef: It seems like it, and I'm hoping that it becomes a little bit more diverse and a little bit more interesting. It seems like a lot of 'hop on the bandwagon' kind of sounds happen and it's just the same thing - done over and over.
Livewire: Did these early alt-rock bands have a direct influence on you and the band?
Stef: Yeah, I guess so. It's strange because almost all of us write. Three of us mainly have been writing the songs and then I usually do the melody and lyrics. So when we come together on a song, we're coming from all different kinds of influences. Everybody has their own favorite, so when the song actually comes together - depending where our listeners are coming from, they're like 'oh, it sounds like this or like that.' It's an interesting kind of combination. I've definitely been influenced by the sound of the Pumpkins - those raw guitars and very straightforward kind of pop formula - as far as songwriting goes. I like an edge or a passion and intensity in songs.
Livewire: Speaking of raw guitars and intensity, is that your menacing sounding guitar on the album, or is it Gene's.
Stef: It could be a combination of both our guitars. We've pretty much found our niche for complimenting each other when we play. He usually takes a little bit more of the lead role on some of the guitar parts. And I'm more like the rhythm. I give the wall of sound.
Livewire: So you're Billy [Corgan] and he's James [Iha].
Stef: Yeah (laughs). Probably.
Livewire: You not only sing and play guitar but also write all of the lyrics for the band. When did you start writing?
Stef: Oh God, I don't know. Not to be cliche', but, seriously, I've been doing this since I was eight. I've always been kind of doing the music thing - just writing stuff from different genres all across the board. But, yeah, I've always written. I usually write with my guitar and come up with stuff as it comes to me. As I'm inspired! (laughs)
Livewire: It seems that a lot of the lyrics on Hung Up On Breathing are pretty emotionally charged.
Stef: Yeah, a lot of them are relationship based, and I think that just happens. It seems to naturally come out of what you're experiencing. I always tend to write from my own experiences or if I've experienced something through someone else, I'll try and relay that. So some of the songs are like that, you know?
Livewire: Are you in relationship right now?
Stef: Not anymore! (laughs)
Livewire: I should've gathered from your lyrics. Are you a happy person?
Stef: Oh yeah. I feel really good right now. My passion is music. That keeps me rolling.
Livewire: I see that you'll soon be filming your first video for your song "Loving."
Stef: Yeah, we've actually finished storyboarding it, which is the hardest part, I guess. We're going to start shooting in New York the third week of March.
Livewire: Do you know who's directing it?
Stef: Yeah, we have a guy named Robert Calderone. He's actually a photographer. He did our [album cover] shoot earlier. He's all psyched about it and has some pretty crazy ideas, so we like him (laughs).
Livewire: Can you divulge any of those crazy ideas?
Stef: Well, he's trying to go with the non-typical MTV look and not be very literal as far as the lyrics go. He's trying to be more cinematic but not be over the top.
Livewire: Artsy without fartsy.
Stef: Right, (laughs) exactly! He's going to make it interesting to look at and tie it into the song as best as possible.
Livewire: Do you think your chances of breaking big hinges on the success of this video?
Stef: That's a good question. It really depends. There are videos where I've heard the song [first] and then seen the video, and I'm like, 'ugh, I don't like the song anymore,' or visa versa. We're really trying to make this video as happ...as appealing as possible. So for the people who haven't heard us, they may actually like us more - rather than the opposite way around. We have a lot of trust in Robert. I'm sure he'll do a great job.
Livewire: I see from your liner notes that you're somewhat of a web mistress, or wizard as the case may be. Did you design your site?
Stef: Well, I say it's like a 'front page, one-stop shop' right now because I haven't put up the actual site, and everybody keeps getting on me about that. I'm so lazy about getting it up. But, yeah, I do the website for us. That's what I do right now. I'm a freelance web programmer. I'm really into Flash stuff and multimedia. Although, I think that designers right now have to be subtle with it. You have to use the technology to really inspire the things that you want to, but without going over the top. It's really more than just bells and whistles. You've got to work it the way it should be worked.
Livewire: I also read that you're the only tattooed person in the band.
Stef: Am I? (laughs)
Livewire: But I don't see anything on your album cover or press picture. Are you discreetly inked?
Stef: (Laughs) I like that - discreetly inked. Yeah, I actually have it on my back. I don't have anything on my arms, so I guess that's why you don't see anything in the pictures. The design is a symbol. It has to do with the name Solar Vixen - a name which was given to me. I kind of encompass that type of attitude. Someone else designed it.
Livewire: Well, it's nice that you chose something that is a reflection of yourself, rather than just going in and pointing to the 'Keep On Trucking' guy.
Stef: "It's a rose!"(laughs)
Livewire: And Fashion Consultant? Does that mean that you dress the rest of the band?
Stef: That was Mike [Wolpe]. He put all those funny little things in the liner notes. He thinks that I've got a crazy style of my own. I just go by the beat of my own drummer with that. Of course I've always got my own opinion of the guys. (laughs) I try to lead them down the right road.
Livewire: Are there any secrets about your band that we shouldn't know, but you'd like to share with us anyway?
Stef: (Sly giggle) Secrets? Oh, I don't know. Sorry, but you caught me at the wrong time. I like everybody right now.
Livewire: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Stef: We're going to see what happens this next month. There'll be a lot of stuff coming up with the CD release and then playing some showcase shows. We've got a little listening post in the Times Square Virgin Records store, so we'll see if that causes any kind of buzz.
Livewire: We appreciate your time, Stef, and hopefully you'll get a chance to swing through Chicago soon.
Stef: I've never been to Chicago, so, yeah, we'll definitely have to make it out there.