Make sure you head to the Wobbly Barn this Friday night for an awesome new band, Men of Horses. It’s one night only, but they’ll be back there March 10-11. They are so good that you’ll want to see them all three nights.
Expect something different, said drummer/singer Eric Pensa. “We’re not going to play the same type of songs that all the other bands that come up play. We’re familiar with a lot of those Jersey bands and the whole point of this band was to play different songs. We have bartenders, managers and even bouncers say to us that they’re glad we don’t play all the same songs most bands play. We based this whole band around not doing that. But then again, we also play good songs that people know and want to hear. There are only a handful of songs, little niches you can find, that’s our thing. We play those songs that everyone knows whether they’re old, classic, new, 90s, 80s, whatever. People will know the songs and we’ll get them fired up. They’ll be songs the band the night before didn’t play or the night after. That’s kind of our goal and mission.”
Pensa and singer/acoustic guitar player Ron Jervis have been playing together since 2011. Unfortunately, their bass player passed away from colon cancer this past November. It was a devastating blow to the band and almost broke them up, but they continue to play in his honor. Pensa said, “He was an amazing bass player and bass players are hard to find. We ended up getting lucky because a kid I went to high school with had been touring with a band and decided he didn’t want to live in a van anymore and this happened right at the same time. He’s really good.” That kid is Eric Fornelious and they’re joined by Pensa’s brother, Cory, on guitar, keys and vocals. All the guys are in their early 30s.
Pensa met Jervis at a local bar in the town where they grew up. Jervis was always playing solo acoustic, and one night, Pensa asked if he and his friend could get up and jam with him. He was cool with it and the place went crazy and wanted them back. The three of them ended up playing six shows together there. Eventually, they realized that they had a band, grabbed a bass player and have been playing shows ever since. When they first started out, they were a little jammy, but grabbed some members that were more alternative rock and now they are heavier.
The band plays all kinds of different genres. They’ll do a hip-hop-rap song like “Must Be The Money” by Nelly; then they’ll go into a classic rock song like The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” but they’ll do a heavy rock version. Then they might go into something new from The Weeknd. Pensa said, “It’s kind of all over the place but we won’t really go through the same genre. If we’re going to do an older song, we’ll change the sound of it to make it kind of new-age so people like it. We’re definitely not the type of band that is playing the songs that we’re covering that sounds exactly like the CD. We ‘horsify’ it, is what we call it, since we’re Men of Horses. It’s the ‘horsification’ of a song.”
I’ve seen this band a couple of times in New Jersey and they’re one of my favorites. What I like best is they’re playing the song, not messing with samplers and sequences. They remind me of a great Philly band back in the day called Steamroller Picnic who used to play their first set acoustic and then would rock out. Pensa said, “That’s another thing we didn’t want to do. A lot of these bands, you go see them play and they’re not playing—they’re playing the backing track. Most people don’t even know that. We feel that’s cheating. It’s like producing a CD with a million different vocals and auto-tune. Then you go see the band play and they suck live because they’re not playing to those tracks because they physically don’t have all those parts. We are strictly straight musicianship. If we can’t play it ourselves, it doesn’t get played.”
Pensa and his brother grew up seeing their dad, Frank, play in bands. He had a recording studio in their house and his band practiced there. Pensa recalled, “When we were little, we would go down in the basement and there would be drums, PAs, guitars, amps—the whole thing. Me and my brother would just dab around with whatever was there. We each can play a little bit of everything. My main thing is the drums, him the guitar, and my dad played bass. We used to play as a trio. I was five when I started. Basically as soon as I could sit at a drum set and physically be able to move my arms, and my feet almost touched the pedals—that’s pretty much when I started playing.” Neither Pensa nor his brother have ever taken lessons, but both teach lessons now. Pensa’s lessons when he was little were just watching, taking visual notes. That’s how he learned. “Being around it so much and absorbing all that good stuff made me think to myself, ‘I can do that.’” Pensa’s dad was in a few bands in the mid 80s, Tupelo Road and Out of the Blue.
Pensa has a few musical influence drummers like Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and Carter Beauford (Dave Matthews Band). His favorite drummer of all time is Darren King from Mutemath. Pensa mentioned he listens to pretty much everything. He likes the heavy rock band Bring Me The Horizon and then right to John Mayer. “If there’s not a band playing, I don’t really get into it. If a guy is playing through a drum machine, I lose interest. I’m a drummer, I wanna see someone play drums. Anything metal to the rock with a drummer, I’m pretty much into it,” Pensa said.
Men of Horses is a straight cover band but Pensa and his brother play in an original alternative rock band called Nine Circles. They’ve been compared to a mix between Fuel, Fall Out Boy and Jimmy Eat World, if you smashed them all together. They write music and have been putting out albums since 2000. They always had access to the studio since their dad had it at the house and never had to pay for studio time or anything that goes with it. Pensa said they’ve been hoarding their last album, but will try and get it out this year. They’ve been playing so many cover shows, they have not had the time to do it.
I asked Pensa what he loved best about playing with Men of Horses and he mentioned how they weren’t even supposed to be a band. It wasn’t like they said “Hey, let’s start a band.” It just kind of happened because of the people’s reactions, and they loved it. Pensa said, “It makes us want to do it because we know people are having such a good time. We get them excited enough that they get in a car to drive and come see us. Overall, the crowd’s reaction to what we do does it for us. When our bass player died last fall, there’s no way we wanted to go on, but we didn’t want to let down our fans. We can’t stop playing. The magic, so to speak, when we play—the crowd gives it all back to us. It’s awesome. It totally drives the whole situation.”
Photo courtesy of Dave Hoffenberg
MEN OF HORSES