Drummer Justin Young knew his band One Red X was coming to an end. After many years with many different groups, he could have left music behind, but instead, he decided to make the best of this opportunity and give it one more try.
With admittedly picky taste in music, he wanted a sound similar to Evanescence and began searching for local musicians who could help him create unique atmospheric rock.
“I really enjoyed that kind of symphonic female vocal sound, so I just started spanning the world looking for that. That’s when I got into a lot of the more symphonic rock bands from Sweden, and Dutch bands like In Temptation, Epica, things like that, and that’s really what drove me to want to create that type of sound because finally there was something I really, really was passionate about,” Young recalled.
“When the X was falling apart, I’m like, ‘This is my time to really try to put that together.’ So I started learning from what I did with them and what I wanted better with this crew. I was kind of particular with what I was looking for.”
He thought finding musicians to pull this off would be difficult, but once he started jamming with his friends, keyboardist Melissa Burnham and vocalist Mikki St.Pierre, he knew he had something.
Three months later, guitarist Jeff Mushell joined the fold, and after a few recent lineup changes, guitarist John Lazz and bassist Zac Wilson completed the group, changing their name from Element to the more meaningful Last of Nine.
“As far as putting forth a strong effort to really do what I wanted to do, it was just like the last of my nine lives of trying to do something with music before I really just settle down and become dad and a supporting father,” Young explained.
“It takes time away from the family. Each of us have other lives and Mikki has 95 jobs, so that’s why this is probably going to be my last hurrah of actually doing this.”
This isn’t some last-ditch effort, however. The band works hard to craft its “symphonic nu-metal with a twist,” blending all the members’ different tastes and expertise. With the exception of Wilson, who couldn’t make it Saturday evening, the band arrived at The Weekender offices laughing and busting each other, their chemistry as clear as their enthusiasm for what they’ve created together.
“What we all do really works. I have a very specific style that I use, and it just seems like every time that we write something new, it all just works. It’s amazing how well we all mesh together as far as our sounds and our melodies and what we’re all looking for. It definitely all came together big time,” Burnham remarked.
“It’s just getting better and better and better. We’ll come into practice and Jeff will just start something on the guitar or Lazz and then we’ll all just come in and we’re like, ‘Wow, we just wrote a song, I guess, right?’”
“It was fun right from the start. Everybody was so cool and the attitudes and how much fun we were having just playing together. It just made me want to stick around. I was like, ‘This is great. This is what I was looking for,’” Lazz added.
Firing on all cylinders, the band has 16 songs finished and many more in the works, releasing a three-song demo recorded and produced by Tom Godin at Side B Studios in Dorrence with hardly any editing needed.
“(St.Pierre is) like pitch perfect. She’s one of the only vocalists in the area that sounds live like she sounds on the recordings,” Young noted.
“Everything is always just right on with everybody in the band… Everybody complements everybody so well in this band, and I couldn’t be happier with where we’re at.”
St.Pierre, who continually writes lyrics and poems, is much more humble and self-deprecating about her talents.
“I was alto and tenor in chorus, so I’ve always fallen into the lower register. If I sing by myself around other people, they joke that I sound like Cher because I do have such a low vocal range,” she said, though Young is always challenging her to go higher.
Her inspiration? What else?
“My horrible relationships,” she admitted with a laugh. “I’ve made some bad choices in life and I’m straightening it now, but… it helps me to write because it gets it off my mind. I put it down on a piece of paper and I don’t have to think about it anymore. It helps kind of clear up the issues that are going on in my own head, so you know what? I’m OK with it. I’m sure everyone goes through the same problems. I don’t write it to specifically me. When I write, it’s more broad spectrum and generalization.”
Like her lyrics, the songs are accessible yet stand apart not only from other music produced in Northeast Pennsylvania, but also nationwide.
“If Evanescence and Halestorm had a kid, that’s kind of what we would be,” Mushell joked. “We’re rock on one song and metal on one song. It just goes back and forth.”
Performing live since April 2013, they’ve been well-received in venues such as the New Penny in Scranton, where they’ll return for their second headlining gig on Saturday, March 22 and play through both old and brand new material.
“They’re going to see just exactly what we sound like and what we can do. Hopefully it’ll make them want to come out again because some of the music is really good,” Young said.
“We don’t set the unrealistic goal of becoming this huge, large national recording act because we’re all a little older than teenagers, if you will, so we have our day jobs but we really just write original music and play original music because we love it. We want to bring this type of music to everybody that’s around here because it’s not around here,” he continued.
“If opportunities arrive, we’re not going to say no to it, but it’s not a push, push, push, try to be the best. We have our head in the right spot, which just helps us write and create fantastic music that we hope people will enjoy.”
As the laughing and smiles continue throughout the interview, Burnham noted the most important part of what keeps Last of Nine together.
“We just have a lot of fun. When we go play a show, sure, of course we want to be on point. We want to do the best that we can possibly do, but we’re goofballs and sometimes you goof up. We’re not putting pressure on ourselves or each other to be perfect,” she said.
“We just have a really good time doing it.”
For a brief moment, though, Lazz points out that despite their laidback attitude, the group could always become more than just an enjoyable distraction.
“This band, especially the music in this band, has real potential to take off and drag the rest of us with it.”