‘No Pikers’ allowed in this band

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First Posted: 4/29/2014

Steve Flannery loves the ideal of not having your hand out, simply being a taker without offering anything in return.

That sentiment is basically the inspiration behind his band Zayre Mountain’s debut disc, “No Pikers,” which will have its release party on Friday, May 2 at Ole Tyme Charley’s in Plains.

The album’s title, as well as the band’s name, implies a sense of tradition, home, and defiant spirit. Zayre Mountain is an homage to the band’s upbringing in the East End of Wilkes-Barre, once the home to a Zayre department store, and the area’s party spot of choice for generations – the actual Zayre Mountain roughly located where the present-day Mohegan Sun Arena and adjoining shopping plaza are now situated. “No Pikers” was a phrase spray-painted across a huge rock that was a landmark near the entrance to the mountain.

“A piker is someone who just lives small, has nothing to offer, and never takes a chance,” explains Flannery. “With that rock, it was like, beyond this point, don’t come looking to just be a taker. I always wanted to come to the table with more than, ‘What do I get out of this?’”

Zayre Mountain, formed in January of 2013, consists of brothers B.J. and Brandon Cook on lead guitar and bass, respectively, vocalist Flannery, with Joe Fitz on drums.

“The Cook Brothers had always worked and jammed together in one way or another,” says Flannery, “and BJ and I had been putting together some duo tunes, so it was a natural progression to fold the two projects together. I had played with Joe Fitz in the band Original Sin, so you had Zayre Mountain taking its first breath. I can’t remember if it cried or not.”

Flannery admits that the band didn’t set out with a specific sound in mind, but he does recall an immediate vibe in working together.

“We’ve known each other since we were kids, and having gone through many of the same ups and downs in our lives, that closeness quickly shined through in our early practices,” he says.

Flannery believes that too many expectations relate to a creative handcuff and tend to stifle a would-be emergence of sound.

“Our individual as well collective tastes bleed into our style, obviously, but we allow it to be fluid and move around freely instead sticking it in a box,” he says. “What is really any good that comes in a box anyway? Pizza, cereal, wine – don’t judge me.”

The band members all thrive on what Flannery describes as “straight-up rock ‘n’ roll.” His own personal influences run the gamut, from his father’s large collection of classical music to the blues of Robert Johnson. BJ Cook has a metal-slanted ear, listing Iron Maiden and Jethro Tull as favorites, while brother Brandon is geared toward the reggae of Bob Marley and the funky offshoot of Sublime. Joe Fitz gained his hard-hitting rep tagging The Ramones and Flogging Molly.

Throw these sounds in a blender and you have the essence of Zayre Mountain, which Flannery describes as being organic and authentic without being pretentious. Flannery and Brandon Cook wrote a majority of the material for what would become “No Pikers,” recorded at JL Studios in Olyphant.

“A personal tragedy for the Cook brothers and the whole band had us put the album on hold for a few months,” says Flannery about the album’s initial progress. “That also allowed us to come back in, add another song, and really listen to the all the songs with fresh ears, so the album as it is now is exactly how we want it. Joe Loftus said to us on the last day in the studio, ‘You took your time and did it right.’”

Flannery can’t say enough about the guidance of Joe and Jay Preston of JL Studios, both of whom actually guested on “No Pikers:” Joe with keys on a few tracks and Jay providing trombone.

“They were an immense help and pleasure to work with,” Flannery says. “Neither tried to produce the album or force us in some direction, but both were there with guidance or an opinion when we needed it. They hopped right into the mix when asked. Their skill and professionalism are beyond reproach.” Additionally, Flannery’s cousin Katie Kelly of Katie Kelly and the Charming Beards (who will also perform at the May 2 CD release party) lends backing vocals to the record.

Flannery is incredibly optimistic when pondering Zayre Mountain’s place among the local original music scene here in Northeast Pennsylvania.

“There are really kickass musicians in this area,” he begins. “I was just talking the other day about a documentary I’d love to make on the music scene around here. So much talent goes unnoticed many times on a larger scale because the venues are limited where music is the main attraction. Many bands, including us, play bars and joints where people are just trying to have a good time and chill with their friends or whatever and just want you to provide a background soundtrack to the night. That’s cool, but it’s great when you get in front of an audience that really wants to hear it, really wants to go if you’re willing to take them, and it’s great to try to take them there.”

Flannery is intent on capturing an audience’s attention, one person at a time. He wants everyone to know that his band will do nothing short of “bringing it.”

“We’re gonna give it to you, day in day out, every show,” he says. “We’ve brought that same vibe to the album. We gave these songs love and nurturing, including some tough love when a song needed it, and now they’re ready to be heard.

“We’ve got a lot more where that came from.”