Merlot Returns to Cleveland, Band in Tow

ttention fans of music and mustaches: you may want to pay attention to Gentlemen Hall, a new band whose name comes from an old mustache grooming parlor in Kansas, which, according to lead singer and ’02 Shaker graduate Gavin Merlot, is “back again in the form of rock and roll.”

The first thing to note about Gentlemen Hall is their interesting sound. All six members play different instruments. They say the variety “keeps the sound fun and keeps our attention (we are all ADD).”

As they have made their way in the music world they have been compared to the Flaming Lips and David Bowie. For those who aren’t familiar with ‘80s musicians, they are also similar to Foster the People, MGMT and Passion Pit. Merlot, however, thinks analogies are hard to make. “It’s been tough for people to make comparisons because we kind of sit on our own,” he said.

The distinctive sextet features two Cleveland members, Merlot and Rory Given (bass); the remaining four, Jacob Michael (vocals and guitar), Bradford Alderman (vocal synthesizers), Phil Boucher (drums), and Seth Hachen (flute) met Merlot and Given at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Though it’s difficult to imagine a band that includes a flute player making it into the mainstream, they are now gaining the attention of everyone from MTV to regular music fans across the country.

To explain their recent success, the band has said, “it’s hard to pin one thing. Today it really takes 100 ‘breaks’ to make an artist. We were lucky enough to land a spot on the Billboard Music Awards. That definitely helped. But it really comes down to hard work. Touring, touring, touring.” They have kept true to that mantra and have just started touring again, playing the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights on April 11.

Potential listeners may get their first clue Gentlemen Hall’s uniqueness from their name, but at their Grog Shop show their individuality truly shone. Playing an almost nonstop 45-minute set, the band bounced around to basic guitar riffs accompanied by flute melodies, commanding vocals and complex synths in the background. It was hard not to smile at the band’s excitement, but a truly special moment happened as they played their new single, “All Our Love.”

Partway through the song the audience started waving their arms in time to the sweeping chorus. The band members who could gathered in the front, slung their arms over one another’s shoulders, and sang along while grinning widely. There was a feeling of unity within the audience and such a strong connection to the band that it was hard to imagine it would be possible with other musicians.

Later that night, as they mingled with the audience, the subject of their fans kept returning to conversation. After garnering compliments for his flute playing, Hachen said, “The reason we do this is for our fans. We’re traveling to make relationships with people.” Merlot added, “A lot of the best stuff happens off stage. We get to explore the world and meet fun new party people every night! Being in a band is a crazy journey that none of us could’ve predicted. It’s a blast.”

It’s a blast for us listeners, too.

A version of this article appeared in print on 24 April 2012, on page 11 of The Shakerite.

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