They say variety is the spice of life, and Northern Virginia-based rockicana outfit Melodime is testing that theory—in more ways than one. “We just got back from our third annual summer music camp this past August in Haiti, it was awesome,” explains vocalist Brad Rhodes of the band’s non-profit Now I Play Along Too, which provides musical instruments and education to underserved children in the States and abroad. “Every time we go down, we get reinvigorated with ideas of how to make the program more sustainable. We try to bring down different artists and musicians who can meet the kids and share their songs with the kids and slowly build this Now I Play Along Too family of people who are going to continue to go down there with us. When we started this thing in 2014. we went down to Haiti with as many instruments as we could carry with no idea what it was going to be like or what the need exactly or what it was going to be years down the road,” he continues.
“I feel like we finally have a handle on what we’re doing; we have a music school we work with down in Port-au-Prince, so they have teachers that are going over there throughout the school year to continuously teach the kids. They’re receiving instruction year-round not just when we’re going down there to hang out with them. There’s a little bit more freedom that allows us to try to lead with love and not feel the stresses and pressures of being like, okay, they have to learn all these things as they’re already doing it and most of them love the instrument that they’re playing,” he says. “It’s been an amazing thing.”
Melodime is also trying some new things with their music—they recently released Roll-1, the first of a series of three EPs the release of the final installment culminating in a full-length album. “We decided to rethink the way we’ve done things in the past,” explains Rhodes. “A lot of it has to do with the way that people are consuming music nowadays with streaming. It’s actually been a little bit since we since we put out a full project; you put so much time and so much energy and effort into a full-length record and once you put it out, there’s so much information to consume. There’s so much going on nowadays that a lot of times the longevity of that record is a lot shorter than what you anticipated,” he says. “Given that we still love full records, we’re trying to have the best of both worlds by slowly releasing these tracks. We still have a full record as the final product, but we’re just teasing things out over the course of a few months rather than throwing it all out the same time.”
Other groups have done similar release strategies, which each collection of songs being related thematically, or being similar in sound; Melodime recorded a majority of the songs in Nashville, and Rhodes says the songs all generally have the same feel and inhabit the same sonic world which will come together as one complete story. “We tend to just write about whatever we’re going through in different seasons we might be in our lives,” he says. “With this record, in particular, there was a lot of time in between the last full release we did; we really wanted to do this one right and we changed a lot about the way that we went about the recording process.”
The word meticulous comes to mind…the band partnered with producer Marshall Altman (Matt Nathanson, Mark Broussard), who Rhodes credits with helping the band focus their sound. ”He definitely gets down and dirty in the details and that’s something that we hadn’t done very much. It was kind of brutal in the way that we would go through each song and look at every single lyric, every line and he’d say, ‘Well, what does that mean? What was your thought process?’” Rhodes recalls. “It really made me go deep, if there was a throwaway line, then that line would certainly get thrown away, and we’d think of something that fit better. It was very detailed. Pre-production in some ways turned into what felt like a therapy session at times for me,” he laughs. “Our producer was like, ‘let’s think about how you want to paint yourself as the singer of these songs and the content that’s coming from you guys. You have a tendency to go to this dark place sometimes–which is good–you definitely wear your heart on your sleeve and I think that’s what a lot of Melodime fans latch onto because they find themselves going through the same experiences. Instead of going to that place as often–you also are a happy person and you want to kind of lead with that. Let’s think more about songs that people are going to want to drive around and roll the windows down and jam out to and celebrate life and friendship to rather than songs that make you want to jump off a bridge,'” he adds with a laugh.
“In the long run, I’m very glad we did it, but during pre-production, I was like, ‘oh man, this sucks, but I know the reward is going to be a lot better.’ A common criticism that we would get from people in the music industry is they don’t know quite how to label what Melodime is, what our genre is,” he reveals. “We had about 120 songs we needed to whittle down to somewhere around ten. Working with Marshall to pick that right group of songs, I think we have a much more focused sound instead of being all over the map.”