10/22/2013 MO BETTA' POP

Mo' betta pop


The hearts and influences of its members are visible on its collective sleeve. Clearly a pop vehicle, MoChester jams effortlessly outside the safety of pop's sugar walls with apparent, and perhaps some not-so-apparent, roots. There's reggae, there's jazz, even some darker leanings toward the blues. But the band's gentle song-based aesthetic gives it a unique edge in a scene that doesn't necessarily acknowledge or embrace unique.

MoChester is pop, but more than pop, too. Singer-guitarist Brandon Sheffer calls it "Pop with a reggae twist," he says. "It started out less reggae, more pop... a little jazzy at times, maybe a little more acoustic driven." Flash-forward to today and you've got a MoChester with its 3-year-old line-up — Sheffer, his brother John Sheffer on guitar and keyboards, drummer Alex Melville, and Ben Overmyer on bass — a rock band of substance and subtlety, of tangibility and mystery.

The Sheffer boys had been playing music together since their early teens, growing up in Webster.

"John and I started MoChester when I was 13 or 14," Brandon says. "It started out singer/songwriter. I just played acoustic guitar for years." It wasn't until 2005, while recording some demos, that the man went electric.

Melville and Overmyer played together in Livid, which morphed into Small Time Criminals, which used to share the bill every now and then with MoChester. The collision of these two sets of talent ramped up the MoChester sound, cranking up the intensity up a bit. John blames Melville.

"I think when Alex joined us," he says, "he put a heavier modern-rock element, kind of an edge, to it."

With the release of this year's "Lost and Found" — the band's follow-up to its 2011 debut "Stop and Go" — MoChester proves it is growing more into its music and how it approaches the added spice of genres outside mainstream pop and rock. For example, MoChester's members love reggae. They use it as a bridge, a detour, a dance-floor lure. But when does the influence become no longer a dash or twist, but the dominant strain? Brandon takes a stab.

"I think if the whole song has upstrokes, it's a reggae song," he says. But generally, based on the band's output to date, reggae is just one of the many grooves and slants the band takes. It's a juxtaposition that drives home the myriad surrounding sounds.

"Like when the chorus is a little more rock-driven before it busts back into a reggae verse," says John. And Brandon points out his left-of-pop-center leanings as well.

"I use jazz chords a bit as opposed to the standard bar chord," he says. "Something with a little flavor — G7 instead of G M — something a little prettier. I think a misconception is that we're overall pop, that we're looking for a sound that appeals to everyone. I think our goal in songwriting is to please ourselves first, and if other people enjoy it, that's a bonus."

John says, "There have been times in practice where we've written a song that we're excited about. And we want to save it for a big show or something, and the minute we get to the first show after writing it, it's like, 'We gotta play it.'"

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