In space, no one can hear your lyrics. It’s all about the melody, the chords, the groove. At least that’s how Walter Meego’s lead singer/songwriter Justin Sconza sees it, and—excluding the weirdos in Daft Punk—he seems to hold the current preeminent opinion on all things space-pop, having just released an album called “Voyager” (like the “Star Trek” series), which includes a song called “Tomorrowland” (as in the futuristic wonderland at Disney theme parks) and features enough synth lines and sweeping phaser effects for an alien-themed dance party. Not to mention the lead-off song “Forever” is featured in a Heineken commercial, which is clearly vying for that all-important spaceman demographic with all those robot-waitress promos.
But even as Walter Meego—the moniker for former Chicagoans Sconza and producer Colin Yarck—produced a clear-as-day theme in “Voyager” (Sconza says the message that manifests itself is “leaving something behind, and the sadness from it”), Sconza is the type that places so much emphasis on the sheer musicality of his songwriting that the lyrics inevitably become the final piece, and ultimately an afterthought. This is not meant as some sort of slap in the face to the emotional prowess of his art, it’s just that the man digs music theory and the inherent enjoyment from a wonderful melody so much that the English language just can’t quite keep up.
“For me it’s more important that the melody is cool and that the chords are cool,” he says. “I like that stuff way more than lyrics, but I guess lyrics are cool too because they need to be there for a completed song… I guess the only thing you could say is that it’s too simple. But then it’s like, I don’t know, I guess I could throw in a couple of three-syllable words to appease people who think it’s too simple.”
Here’s a sampling of the lyrics from “Forever”: “You know I’d wait forever/If I had time to/But I don’t have forever/To wait for you/So when I say I want/Us to be together/Just say you want me too/And I’ll be yours forever.” So sure, not the deepest stuff in the world, but it’s really damn catchy; the song bounces and grooves with Yarck’s beats and synths and Sconza’s nonchalant delivery (described in a press release as sounding like a “helium-sucking John Lennon”) doesn’t get in the way of a tight melody.
“I make up songs on guitar and piano, and Colin comes up with some stuff, and then we just come to the table with these ideas, these songs that could function in any format,” Sconza says of his songwriting process. “They could just be stripped down to acoustic guitar and piano and still be the same song. We just take those simple songs and figure out what we want to do with them.”
That melody-first attitude, along with the band’s current “voyage”—a two-month U.S. and Canada tour—lead Sconza to new territory for melodic inspiration: searching the immense vaults of classical music.
“I’ve been on a classical-music quest,” he says, who adds that he’s also listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan and post-sixties psychedelia. “I’m just trying to listen to as much as possible. Especially in the car, when you’re on tour and driving around so much, and you listen to music you normally wouldn’t have the patience to and then maybe there’s something—a little nugget twenty minutes into it.”
Perhaps the most uncertain voyage ahead for Sconza and Yarck: popularity. Along with “Forever” providing the soundtrack for the aforementioned Heineken commercial (a deal where, unfortunately, no free beer was included), the duo recently saw two of their songs, “Forever” and “In My Dreams,” featured during episodes of the popular ABC sitcom “Ugly Betty.”
“It’s pretty cool. I’ve never even seen [the commercial] on TV, I’ve seen it on YouTube,” Sconza says. “All my friends are texting me about it, they’ve seen it. And that’s pretty cool; you kinda connect with people via this commercial all over the country.”
There’s one other bit of information that may have added to the “letting go” aspect present throughout the whole of Voyager; the band no longer calls Chicago home, making the move to Los Angeles earlier this year for no specific reason other than to just try something new. The transition from the Chicago music scene to the L.A. music scene seems to have gone smoothly for the band, but there’s still some fitting-in to do.
“For one, L.A. is a lot bigger, so there’s more. And that doesn’t mean more good stuff necessarily, just more stuff. There’s still an indie underground scene in L.A. like there is in Chicago,” Sconza says, then pausing. “There’s also a lot of Slash wannabes.”
Walter Meego plays September 11 at Subterranean, 2011 West North, (773)278-6600, at 9:30pm. $12.
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