Backstage at the Utah Arts Festival 2022: Utah bands — Mothers of Mayhem, The Painted Roses, Southernmost Gravy — set to perform

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Three Utah bands, each with a unique story representing different age groups, backgrounds and interests are part of the deep bench of local music talent, which will appear at this year’s Utah Arts Festival. They include a hard rock band of four Ogden Valley mothers, an electronic dance music rock band conceived from a lunch period chat at a Lindon prep academy and a rock and western folk group which is comprised of graduates from Utah State University and inflects its sound with psychedelia.

MOTHERS OF MAYHEM: June 24, 5 p.m., Park Stage 

When the four members of the Mothers of Mayhem step foot on stage, bassist Victoria Green says that one of her favorite moments is looking out at the crowd, and seeing the eyes of those who are convinced that they know exactly what the band is going to sound like when they start playing. “And when Jessica [Groom, the lead singer] starts yelling and we’re playing hard and heavy metal, we can see their reactions because it is not what they expected. I love watching their faces. I always pick out the grumpiest looking person and soon enough they are smiling, tapping their feet and bobbing their head. It’s my all-favorite thing to see in winning over the crowds.”

In many respects, this Utah band would make a great television series. Four women who enjoy being mothers to their children – 19 in the total count among the four families – and the support of their husbands have found their niche in the rock music which would delight any seriously dedicated headbanger. The episodes would almost write themselves.  

Mothers of Mayhem.

Hailing from Ogden Valley in northern Utah, Mothers of Mayhem will take the Utah Arts Festival’s Park Stage on June 24 at 5 p.m. 

It is clear from The Utah Review’s interview with the four mothers, who really are quite different from each other in many respects, nevertheless have made their band a popular success by following one rule: all decisions are by unanimous vote. 

Lead guitarist Jami Taylor says that it was a slow and messy creative process at first. “Each of us had our own styles and preferences of what we like to play and listen to in rock covers,” she says. “It was my husband who suggested that we find our niche with old school hard rock because of the juxtaposition of having four mothers play this type of music would be a powerful stage appeal.” Eventually, the band members would use their individual preferences in terms of covers as a platform to write original songs to go along with their favorite hard rock covers.

Every band member has a different musical background. Taylor started guitar lessons when she was five and would eventually earn a bachelor of music degree in guitar performance at Utah State University. The mother of two sons, she has solo acoustic guitar gigs, runs a private teaching studio and is editor of ModernGuitarApproach.com. Jessica Groom started vocals and piano as a child and combined a minor in music with her interior design degree at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. She is the mother of seven children. Drummer Nikki Ashston, who earned a bachelor’s degree in piano performance, has five kids. Victoria Green says her kids were delighted by her switching to metal rock from the sounds of the LDS Church’s famous Tabernacle Choir. 

Green says that all of them believe in unanimous decisions about everything they do creatively, including shows and venues, “We believe it brings out a better product with four voices fully being heard as we smooth out our weaknesses and pull out the strengths each of us has.” Groom adds that once a recording engineer was “blown away” by the fact we could function as four equal voices when normally they wonder who is the main contact for making decisions in the studio.

As for their song writing process, Groom says their favorite way is to bounce ideas off each other until we end up “laughing hysterically.” This led, for example, as Taylor explains, to their popular rendition of the classic Beatles song Eleanor Rigby.

For a band that sounds and looks tight as possible, more than a few observers might be surprised by how four women who already have such busy lives as mothers find time to rehearse and develop their creative platform. All four of them make clear that their family priorities come first and they set aside one evening each week to rehearse and prepare for gigs. 

Green says that when she became a mother, “my little babies” received all of the attention but when the band started coming together, she admits that she was “really nervous” for a while, wondering if she was ever ignoring something that was important to her kids. But, in more than a few instances, apparently watching their mothers, the kids have found their own courage and confidence and, as Green explains, have blossomed in many ways. “When the band came out with T-shirts, my oldest teen soon wore it to school and even displayed the band’s sticker in his window,” she adds. 

Groom says she sees in her kids the same sort of blossoming confidence that Green has seen in her children. “When I was growing up, I had the fantasy dream of being in a band and now to see it materialize is touching. I notice this has transferred and translated to our kids in their lives when it comes to confidence. My kids now see me in a different light and it has opened up a dialogue between us to talk about so many things about growing up.”

Ashton says that it is common for a woman from the audience to come to the stage after a performance, who says how inspired she is to see us perform. “It genuinely surprises me about the impact and influence on people to be inspired to do something they love doing even if they had not considered it before.” Taylor adds, “I am surprised and delighted at my own growth and to realize that the idea of having the band does not have to be an age barrier, especially when some women worry about their identities disappearing in their forties. We feel very much accepted by people who love to see us on stage and to recognize that being a mother who happens to play in a rock band is as normal as anything can be.”

The Painted Roses.

THE PAINTED ROSES: June 25, Amphitheater Stage, 8:15 p.m.

Talk about Aggie Pride from Utah State University! In four short years, despite frequent changes in the vocalists lineup, The Painted Roses, comprising members who have degrees from Utah’s northernmost university, is on a roll. Coming off of a well received debut album Stone Cold Killer in 2021, the band has found its groove with the current members, including Cole Stocker (vocals, guitar), Alex Schneider (guitar), Nora Barlow (vocals), Shane Wegner (drums), Allie Harris (vocals, acoustic guitar), and Niall Thorley (vocals, bass).

Stocker, in an interview with The Utah Review, says that the band has definitely emerged from the pandemic with a clear sense of how to cultivate their musicianship and a burst of new song material. “Not doing road trips gave us the space, time and comfort to develop better relationships and communicate with each other,” he says.

The band brings a large palette of musical influences and inspirations. Stocker says songs will arise from bits of wordplay and phrase turns. Some of these might reflect themes of heartbreak and love that would have been evident in the popular music and press of the 1950s, including pet names for love interests that were widely use during that time. Some of the band’s newer songs make the bridge from the fears of existential isolation during the pandemic to positive affirmations about confronting and coming to grips with one’s own fears and anxieties. 

From the band’s latest album, one track was Temptation, a contemporary parallel to a couple of Bob Dylan’s songs on theme of temptation such as It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) and Every Grain of Sand. The opening lyrics in The Painted Roses song are, “She’s a lion on the hunt for blood/I’m in the dark with no place to go but up/She’s a fire burning through my trees/I’m a deadbeat hunk of wood lying at her feet.” It is intended to reflect the frequent spans of anxieties a songwriter might face when attempting to set a new set of lyrics. To outsiders it might take a few moments to sort out the song’s epiphany but to Utah-rooted listeners, the song’s theme resonates about finding the resolve to step out of the corner and not let the prevailing conservative or ‘don’t rock the boat’ culture tempt one to stay put.

Thus, legendary songwriters such as the late John Prine, a veritable master of word play and phrase turns, as well as Bob Dylan and The Beatles are relevant for how the band approaches the songwriting objectives. The interior harmonic and melodic structures reflect the band’s respect for classics such as Neil Young and Crosby Stills and Nash and more recent bands such as Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Jason Isbell. 

Stocker is proud that Utah has produced such a long, diverse bench of indie rock musicians and talent. To wit: the local music offering at this year’s Utah Arts Festival, a juried event with the state’s most comprehensive multidisciplinary offering of arts and creative productions, reflects Stocker’s sentiments precisely.

Southernmost Gravy.

SOUTHERNMOST GRAVY: June 26, Park Stage, 3:45 p.m.

About a month before the pandemic shut everything down in March 2020, Ben Adams, then 14 and a student at the Maeser Preparatory Academy in Lindon, Utah, was joking with a friend during lunch about how, as he recalls it, “it would be fun and cool” to start a band. “At the beginning, it seemed like a joke,” Adams says in an interview with The Utah Review.

After school at home, Adams used a random word generator to come up with the band’s name, which became Southernmost Gravy. Two years later, Adams, now 16, and the band’s four other musicians, ranging in age from 16 to 22, are a legitimate band which has packed fans into Kilby Court and is now set to play on the Park Stage at this year’s Utah Arts Festival. 

The five-member band comes from as many destinations along the Wasatch Front, including Draper, Farmington, Orem and Provo. Adams handles synth, keyboard and production duties for the band and is joined by Tate Storey (guitar), Jonny Masters (guitar), Tyson Shepherd (bass) and Mikey Lacopucci (drums).

The pandemic gave Adams and his bandmates plenty of space to develop and coordinate their sound based on influences including EDM and rock. One early influence was Marshmello, 30, a native Philadelphian electronic music DJ and producer who is well known for his groove-oriented, synth sounds and bass-heavy electronic dance music. Marhsmello’s digital reach is phenomenal. He has more than 55.4 million subscribers on his YouTube channel and his releases have gone either platinum or multi-platinum in eight countries. Other influences include The Band Camino, Don’t Hurt My Turtle Plz, Muninn, and Leokc. Adams also is an avid fan of the production work featured on some of the earlier releases of The Beach Boys, proving once again how classic rock has cultivated a timeless appeal for the 21st century generations.

Southernmost Gravy’s initial foray was through digital platforms, a necessity during the time of physical and social distancing guidelines. The band gained notice through some online festivals. They earned second place honors at The Battle of the Bands at Brigham Young University. Their Kilby Court appearance in 2021 was enthusiastically received. The band played at the Utah State Fair last summer and after their UAF appearance, Southernmost Gravy have appearances at Soundwell and Kilby Court. Not bad for a band so casually conceived during a school lunch hour just 26 months ago.

Adams says that what was a movie screening room at his parents’ home has now been covered into a recording and rehearsal space. As for production skills, Adams, who took piano lessons for five years, says that he despised watching the tutorials on how to use the production software and decided to learn the skills on his own. The band has two albums: Starting Up and What Am I Thinking. All in all, the rapid development is impressive for a band whose first performances were for the tiniest audiences, composed exclusively of their parents. 

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Les Roka
I am a native of Toledo, Ohio, having received my Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication from Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism in 2002. In addition to teaching at Utah State University and the University of Utah, I have worked extensively in public relations for a variety of organizations including a major metropolitan university, college of osteopathic medicine, and community college. When it comes to intellectual curiosity, I venture into as many areas as possible, whether it’s about music criticism, the history of journalism, the practice of public relations in a Web 2.0 world and the soon-to-arrive Web 3.0 landscape, or how public debates are formed about many issues especially in the political arena. As a Salt Lake City resident, I currently write and edit a blog called The Selective Echo that provides an entertaining, informative, and provocative look at Salt Lake City and its cosmopolitan best. I also have been the U.S. editorial advisor for an online publication Art Design Publicity based in The Netherlands. And, I use social media tools such as Twitter for blogging, networking with journalists and experts, and staying current on the latest trends in culture and news. I also have been a regular monthly contributor to a Utah business magazine, and I have recently conducted a variety of editing projects involving authors and researchers throughout the country and the world, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Lebanon, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan. I’m also a classically trained musician who spent more than 15 years in a string quartet, being involved in more than 400 performances.

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