By Zach Sparks
They may not be rich or famous but members of the hard rock band VEER are gaining notoriety in the Maryland music scene.
They released their 12-track debut album “Apocalyptic, Baby” during a sold-out show at the Metropolitan Kitchen and Lounge in Annapolis in December. They won Best Rock Artist at the Maryland Music Awards two weeks later. And along the way, they’ve opened for national acts like Puddle of Mudd, Sponge, Fuel, Eve to Adam and 40 Below Summer.
All of this success has come in just two years. Bassist Christian Mathis, drummer Jon Malfi, vocalist and guitar player Ronald Malfi, and guitarist Ryan Fowler played their first set as VEER during the second annual Tattoos, Scars and Custom Guitars festival at Fish Head Cantina in Halethorpe in August 2016.
“If you ask our wives, it wasn’t the right time [to start a band],” joked Jon, who lives near his brother Ronald in Cape St. Claire. “We were out of the scene for 10 to 15 years. With Tattoos, Scars and Custom Guitars, we wanted to pull something together.”
Ronald Malfi and Fowler had previously played in the band Nellie Blide while Jon was a member of Public Eye. The musicians then veered off in different directions. Ronald published more than 15 books, mostly in the horror genre. Jon started Freestate Custom Guitars. Both married and had kids. Fowler joined Kelly Bell Band, the Baltimore-based blues outfit. When they reunited, Mathis was the final piece to forming VEER, an alternative hard rock band with pop sensibilities.
“I was always into heavy music, heavy groove,” Jon said. “My music taste was melodic choruses and hooky riffs. Ron is song oriented. He likes different key changes and chord progressions. I like the heavy stuff and he likes the lighter stuff. We have a good dichotomy together.”
Along with Jon, Mathis provides a steady groove. Fowler augments the band’s sound with catchy lead guitar and soaring solos. In an era where many rock bands have found mainstream success by trading in their guitars for synthesizers, VEER has proven that there is still an audience for melodic hard rock.
“We just play what feels natural to us,” Jon said. “Ryan’s solos aren’t exaggerated. They’re not in there because he’s showing off but because they fit the song.”
While any band member can bring ideas to the group, Ronald writes the lyrics. With the band’s upbeat tempo, the casual listener may not realize the dark depths of his words.
“They’re not storytelling songs, about a girl who does a thing, but they’re nuanced to an issue,” Ronald said. “Some of the lyrics are about the failures of life, how people had drug addiction. You can just enjoy the song or you can decode the lyrics to hear what’s being said.”
The song about addiction is “Come Clean,” which VEER played during the Maryland Music Awards at Rams Head Live! on December 15. Sponsored by the Sheffield Institute for the Recording Arts, the Maryland Music Awards benefitted the Nicole Van Horn Foundation, which raises money to help terminally sick children.
VEER won Best Rock Artist and was also nominated for Best Breakout Artist, which ultimately went to country singer-songwriter Jackson Dean. The final votes for each category were tallied by a panel of judges with backgrounds in radio and music.
Competing for the title of Best Rock Artist against VEER were the bands Wise Eyes, The Rhythm Surf Monkeys, Relentless Souls, Thrillkiller and Vertigo Red.
“I was shocked we won,” Ronald said. “The fact that we have been a band for such a short time and that people involved in the Maryland scene are so rich and creative, it is staggering to me.”
The group is garnering recognition domestically and abroad. Singles “Come Clean,” “Make You” and “Power Drive” have all reached the No. 1 spot on Australian indie charts.
Next, the musicians will perform on day one of the Frozen Harbor Music Festival in Baltimore on February 22. The time and date will be announced on the “Frozen Harbor Music Festival” Facebook page.
Frank Lewis, managing partner of One Koast Entertainment, recruited VEER for the festival after seeing watching the band play “Come Clean” at the Maryland Music Awards.
“I can best describe VEER as ‘making stew,’” Lewis said. “The band’s makeup of four different members from other bands creates a sonic sound that takes me back to glory days of my generation aka the late ‘90s.”
VEER also parlayed its success into another big-ticket concert, this time opening for Trapt at Fish Head Cantina on March 7 at 7:00pm. More details about that concert and “Apocalyptic, Baby” are available at www.veerband.net.
While it hasn’t made them rich or famous, the attention has generated plenty of excitement for a group of guys that had given up on music stardom.
“It’s like being a rock star to the degree I’m allowed to be,” Jon said. “One day I’m at the Maryland Music Awards and the next day I’m changing diapers and painting the bathroom.”