Soaring on the back of insistent drums, Mahalo conjures the golden age of emo with shimmering melodies, and powerfully over-driven guitars. Formed in 2019 by Macon natives Eli Carter, Leonard Oxley, Joseph “Driggs” Driggers, Sam Seekins, and Alex Lewis, Mahalo will be celebrating the release of their digital EP with a live performance at JBA on January 28th. “One Semester”, a new track that I have listened to on repeat since before our interview, is raucous and jaunty from the opening warm, reverb-soaked riff. There’s a dynamic of constantly changing meter and righteously ragged harmonies demanding the car windows be let down while screaming along to the almost cathartic lyrics. Don’t miss Mahalo with special guests All I Hear Is Birds and Insomnia at JBA on Friday, January 28th!
MM: What’s the plan for the release? Will it be strictly online, or do you plan to have physical copies?
Eli: We’re going to keep it online! Everybody listens to music on Spotify now, and we’ve watched other bands and don’t want to end up with boxes of left-over CDs in the next room. So we’re going all online and saving the money for other types of merch like t-shirts.
How long has Mahalo been together?
Eli: I think like 3 or 4 years? Leonard might know the answer to that one better.
Leonard: We’ve been together since July of 2019, I think, so let’s go with three years.
How did the band form, and I have to know– where did the name Mahalo come from?
Eli: The movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall!
Leonard: Right after I graduated college, I decided I wanted to be in a band, so I met some folks and turns out that I met Eli through some people that I used to play with. During that time, Eli and I started playing together because he was a guitarist and vocalist, and I was a drummer. We started playing and some things started happening and one night while we were playing, we decided to call what we were doing a band. Within five days of us being a real band, we were asked to play a show. The next step was finding the rest of the members we needed. But we also realized we needed a name and literally just on the fly, Eli brought up Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and we have just been rolling with Mahalo ever since!
Well, if you started in 2019, how far were you guys able to make it before 2020 halted everything?
Eli: We had a couple of shows that had to be canceled, but we also progressed a lot. We went through two or three bass players, but we finally found a setup that works. At the beginning of the pandemic was when we had most of our struggles, but it has long since straightened back out, we’ve found.
Leonard: During the pandemic when it first started, we decided to stake a step back. We realized that we didn’t know the severity of the whole situation or what was going to happen, so we chose to pull ourselves from the music scene, rather than putting ourselves out there and not getting booked. It was really a personal/band decision to not be out there as much. That was pretty much 2020, though as far as right now, we are back out there playing shows and looking forward to our EP release.
Speaking of, let’s talk about the EP. Where was it recorded?
Eli: We recorded it up in Atlanta with a guy named Damon Moon from Standard Electric Recorders. He’s a super cool dude. We had a bit of trouble finding the right engineer at first, but we recorded the four songs that will be released as the EP with Standard Electric.
What is the process like for y’all when it comes to composing songs? And was it the same for the songs on the EP?
Eli: It’s kind of different every time. Sometimes Driggs will come in with a riff he’s been working on, or I’ll come in with something I’ve been working with. And then we just usually get together and piece it all together.
Driggs: One of us, like Eli said, will show up with a beat or a riff and all the rest of us just chime in with different things that we think would sound cool or fit. Sometimes one of us, mostly Eli, will write a full song and bring it to the band completed, but most recently we’ve all been chipping in with the songwriting.
Being based in or at least from Macon, where does Mahalo usually play?
Driggs: Yeah, it’s actually kind of easy when it comes to booking gigs here in Macon since we’re all in with the downtown scene. And we do of course take a certain amount of influence from the jam bands like the Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead.
Eli: Macon has a diverse music scene and we’ve been able to find our own niche here, but we’ve actually been playing a lot of shows in and around Atlanta recently. We fit in with the Macon crowd, but honestly, they might like us a little bit more up in Atlanta. We’ve been playing at Smith’s Olde Bar and Center Stage. We’ve even played the Masquerade.
Do you guys have any specific influences that have impacted your music? I was personally picking up some early Taking Back Sunday vibes.
Eli: Yeah, we’ve heard that before, several times actually! I need to listen more to them because I haven’t that much. Specifically, songs like “One Semester” were inspired by old pop-punk stuff like All Time Low, but that was back when we were creating that. Now, we’re a little bit more influenced by stuff like Joyce Manor, maybe a little bit of Manchester Orchestra. Those are the fun ones. Also, I really have been digging MIGHTY. They’re from Atlanta.
Leonard: We try to have high energy in our music, and if you’ve ever seen Eli, he’s been known to do front flips on stage, he’s done the worm…
Eli: Well, not the worm…
Leonard: Well, there’s no telling what’s going to come out of him!
Eli: So it’s always an adventure! The band doesn’t even know!
Leonard: I have a lot of punk influences also, so I tend to go that route.
Eli: Yeah, we do have a little bit of a punk essence, I guess our demeanor is kind of punk. In fact, once at Smith’s Old Bar, I knocked my jaw out of place and had to get Driggs to punch it back into place for me. I still have a bump.
MM: Well, I’d say that’s punk! You’ve got me excited to see Mahalo in action. Folks can see you at JBA on January 28th for your EP release. What does the future look like for Mahalo?
Eli: Like we were talking, it’s taken a while to get the lineup, but now that we’ve got a good solid core, the future is looking bright!
Sam: We’re just a bunch of fun-loving guys and we just want folks to come out to our shows and enjoy themselves. We don’t really have any major goals… I mean, we obviously want and plan to go somewhere with our music, but in the time being, it’s really just about having fun!