DECATUR — For many musicians, the difference between performing their own songs or those of others is central to the artistic experience. Commercial music major Brian Hilderbrand graduated from Millikin University in May, and spent much of his time at the college performing in a variety of student bands.
But it wasn’t until he finally started his own original group, The Martian Mellows, that rock music became a passion project instead of a gig.
“I’d been going to the open mike nights at Donnie’s and seeing people perform their own songs, which was inspiring,” Hilderbrand said. “At the same time I was writing a lot, just getting things written down as an outlet for my inner thoughts. I wrote a lot about relationships and personal experience and the things I’ve seen that typically go unsaid. But I didn’t really know I was writing songs for a band.”
What Hilderbrand had was the beginnings of a rock band, one that is now expanding the scope of its touring and gigging. In recent months the band has played throughout Central Illinois, and recently made its first trip to perform in Chicago, following in the footsteps of other local Millikin bands such as Dari and Good Safari. They’ll perform a free show Saturday night at the Decatur location of Donnie’s Homespun Pizza.
“Performing my own music for the first time was quite the memorable experience,” the guitarist said. “At first, I was trying to make it fit into the sort of garage rock revival thing that The Raconteurs do, but after a while I stopped trying to make it fit anything. We’re still finding what makes us unique, but having a person come up after the show and say they enjoyed our originals is really validating.”
The band is currently in the process of recording its debut EP, to be released in the near future. It’s a long way from that point to tour buses and record labels, but Hilderbrand still entertains the possibility.
“That’s why you do it, for a chance to play all over the country,” he said. “If we have a good product to sell; who’s to say we couldn’t make it?”
Bassist Austin Myers is the group’s youngest member, still a junior at Millikin. He plays upright bass and jazz in the course of his studies but said The Martian Mellows was a welcome diversion and chance to play some “normal music” for crowds of people who simply want to be entertained. With the band’s gigging schedule expanding, he’s balancing an exciting new musical world with his commitments to school. That means some very late nights.
“It’s kind of hard to explain my weekends to my friends,” he said. “We went up to Chicago to play on Friday night last weekend and then I was back here playing in the jazz band Saturday morning. But I feel like if we can get a gig and pay for gas and maybe a meal, then we’ve got to do it.”