Written By Laura Curry
Experiment 34’s sound combines psychedelic rhythms, funky grooves, intense rap hooks and fiery guitar solos that have the power to expel negative energies from listeners. Their live shows leave fans feeling as though they have watched a dynamic, high impact theatrical performance complete with multiple acts of emotionally charged dialogue.
After their set for Happy Mondays at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park on Monday night, Experiment 34 stepped out into the chilly seaside air to talk about their inspirations, theatrical stage presence and their EP, Charismanic.
The four-piece band consists of Matthew Makin on vocals, Kevin Nenichka on guitars, Johnny Zabe (Jake Szabo) on bass and Jack LaMonica on drums, and they have been “experimenting and 34-ing” with their current lineup since April 2015.
While half of the band is from Trenton, the others are from New Brunswick with most practices tending to happen in Hub City. They have plenty of experience playing in both of these cities as well as down the shore—specifically in Asbury Park, because they love its music scene.
Last week, Experiment 34 experienced their proudest accomplishment when they played at The Crusade in Howell for a showcase contest. They won the opportunity to play Rock N’ Derby in Schaghticoke (Albany, NY) on May 20 to 22 with bands such as Coheed and Cambria, Shinedown and A Day to Remember.
Experiment 34 has tag-lined “Psychofunk,” as the defining genre of their sound. Listeners may find that their music reminds them of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Incubus or even Black Label Society due to Nenichka’s guitar parts. Each member brings his own elements to the band from Nenichka’s metal influences to Makin’s hip-hop, funk and spoken-word poetry elements as well as punk rock.
Makin explained, “I like to think of us as a Venn diagram. We have our similarities that gel us, and then it’s our differences that make us a creative force…That’s what really makes us different. But then there’s that cohesive glue that keeps us together.”
In regard to their band name, Makin joked that the first 33 experiments didn’t work. In other words, they spent a lot of time figuring out a band name until one of them suggested Experiment 34 and it stuck.
“I mean really, it’s just a name. We let our music speak for itself,” Zabe said. Fans can attend one of their shows to see this in action and figure out the meaning behind each song.
The theatrical element of Experiment 34’s music can be attributed to Makin, as he started out acting and writing plays and poetry, which turned into songs. He still likes to think of their music as theater, and each song is a scene that they create for the audience. For example, Nenichka “throws a baseball” with his guitar and Makin hits it during their song “Check Up.”
Zabe explained, “We like to give a visual with the sound that’s not only us playing. It’s something that you can decipher in your head.”
Makin added, “Each song has a little theme, and a scene—something for you to take home with you.”
Additionally, they all agree that their performances have gotten more theatrical since they started.
Makin said, “I used to just roll around on the floor a lot and call it drama.”
Zabe pitched in to say, “He’s (Makin) always brought a theatrical element to our shows. He’s very Jim Morrison on stage. He’s very active and he gets in the crowd’s head to put them into the state of whatever song we’re playing. Over time, bands get tighter, and we can play together very easily now. With that, the stage performance gets better and more cohesive.”
“We can all feel each other on stage and it’s a nice energy that we got going—it’s very positive,” Zabe said.
“All it takes is some eye contact,” Nenichka joked.
Nenichka’s energy is a driving force for everyone else during performances and it encourages them to kick up their intensity a couple notches. “When he (Nenichka) screams into his guitar—I just have to scream after that,” Makin said.
For Experiment 34, each member draws inspiration from an array of outlets.
Zabe said, “It’s an extreme of an emotion that gets my creative juices flowing. If I’m insanely sad or insanely happy, that’s what gets me motivated to express myself so I can get my feelings out through my music.”
Piggybacking off of this, Makin stressed that the name of the game is expression. He said, “It’s an outlet for me; I can’t not do this. If I didn’t have this outlet, who knows what I’d be doing with myself right now. This is the positive spin on the negative that’s going on in my head. It’s a way to express all of that and get it out there so I don’t blow up.”
LaMonica added his own perspective by saying, “I don’t mean to one-up everybody, but here’s why I write music: I get my inspiration from them…the will to play with the band is kind-of just the will to stay with them as brothers. The music comes almost second to me…whatever they come out with, I play a beat that sounds good with it and I’m content—because I’m playing with them.”
Their EP Charismanic, which was released on March 23, reflects these inspirations. The three songs were recorded at Lakehouse Recording Studios in Asbury Park, which they say has a welcoming, homey environment.
The EP includes songs that are very special to each one of them. Zabe said that they wanted to start out with a bang, so they picked these three powerful songs to get people interested in their music and wanting more.
Track one, “Check Up,” is a funky, psychedelic track that gets heavier as it progresses and hits you with a Machine Gun-style rap hook at the end.
The EP reflects the interplay between madness and innocence, which is clearly evident in track two, “Three Days in the Chamber.” Nenichka and Makin said that with this song, you’re asleep, you’re innocent, but it’s a nightmare that you just can’t wake up from.
To explain why they kept the EP at just three tracks, Zabe said, “We figured we wanted quality over quantity, so we took our time with those three songs and they came out perfect.”
Experiment 34’s music is multi-faceted, as they explained by using Jekyll and Hide references and pancake similes.
Zabe said, “We have a two-face thing going on—we’ll play a song that’s funky and makes you want to jump around and dance, and then other songs make you want to throw something.”
Nenichka describes them as a pancake—“we’re cooking on this side, and then we’re all soft on the other side, but then you flip us over *smack* and we’re hard.”
“Okay, we can be a pancake…who’s the syrup?” Makin asks.
“I’ll be the syrup,” replies Zabe, “Because I like to spread myself all over everything.”
Along with their goofy, lighthearted banter comes a more serious side that explores consequential issues such as domestic abuse, which listeners can hear in track three of Charismanic, “144 Evergreen Place.” While this song has a pop progression, other elements like the vocals and the unexpected ending catch listeners off-guard.
Makin said that the situation involves a domestic disturbance and the screaming at the end of the song is the actual verbal dispute turning physical, which urges the neighbor to call 911 for help.
Makin said, “I’m sure that people have been through this and they never talk about it…this is a realistic situation, and it should be brought into the light a little more and stopped. Don’t sweep it under the rug, call for help.”
When asked what they want the audience to take away from their music and performances, Zabe said that he wants people to “realize that we’re putting passion into it; we’re not just writing music to write music.”
Makin added, “I don’t care if you quite understand what it is that I’m trying to express, as long as we’re making you feel something. If you feel something, then the mission is accomplished.”
For Nenichka, he simply wants people to feel inspired to create music.
Experiment 34 plans to make themselves at home at Lakehouse again soon to record two more three-song EP’s. After all of this hard work, they will compile these songs along with those of Charismanic into a nine-track LP.
As a sneak preview, the upcoming recordings will mix in more hip-hop elements, and the next EP will include “Joey Crumb,” “Willie Mays” and either “Mud” or “Purple Wine.” The goal is to have the LP out by the time they perform at SXSW for the first time next March.
They also decided to keep the title Charismanic for their full-length album because it describes their alluring presence. Charismanic is an “original” word, thanks to Nenichka. Even though it is made-up, it defines the sound of the album.
As far as goals go, they want to finish the Charismanic LP, play more shows, tour around and make their way out of the Jersey area, which will involve taking their new trailer out for a spin.
Overall, Makin said that personally, he wants them to use their music as an outlet to spread positivity into the world.