No Kidding 

Local band Llama take early run at major-label success

Local band Llama take early run at major-label success

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine hopped into my car and was greeted with the stereo blaring Close to the Silence, local band Llama’s newly released debut album. After a few minutes of listening, she asked me what CD it was. When I informed her that it was Llama, formerly The Dahlia Llamas, she said, “Oh my God! I saw them at Guido’s!”

My freshman year, I was a regular at Guido’s Pizzeria, vying for a seat so I could see The Dahlia Llamas perform up close. I was amazed at their prodigious talent; the band members were all between the ages of 16 and 17, and had already gained a reputation on the local scene. But now, with a few more years and an MCA record deal under their belts, Llama have grown up—not only in age, but in their musical style.

The three core members of the band, Ben Morton (vocals and acoustic guitar), Ben Brown (electric guitar), and Neil Mason (drums), recently met with me at a local coffeeshop, all three looking laid-back in T-shirts and sandals. Their friendly, mellow manner seems to fit perfectly with their brand of melodic Southern rock. Though the group are classified as a jam-band live, Close to the Silence is full of polished, tightly constructed anthems. Over grilled cheese and coffee, we talked about their early break in the music business.

After being discovered by current producers Matt Rollings and Kenny Greenberg at Guido’s, the group recorded a number of demo songs, which they submitted to MCA. They were signed soon after and began the laborious process of recording their debut album. Although relatively young at the time, the members of the then-Dahlia Llamas took their new record deal in stride. “All these people who were these music experts apparently thought we were a lot better than we thought we were,” says Brown, with a laugh.

Once in the studio, bassist Adam Binder and keyboardist Ian Fitchuk joined the band, while founding member Matthew Stuart departed. Eventually their moniker was shortened to Llama, to avoid confusion with other similarly named acts. Unlike older recording artists, they had to balance their artistic pursuits with the academic responsibilities of high school. With one member at Hillsboro and one at Hume-Fogg, the band took two years to complete the album. They were spending hours in the studio after classes, and recording became their highly successful after-school job.

The group knew that by signing with a label at such a young age, they’d accomplished a rare feat—but they were careful not to lose their focus. “It’s a big danger when you get a record deal,” says Morton. “You get really excited and proud because it’s an accomplishment, but at the same time you can’t let that keep you from continuing forward [with your music] as you were before, because that’s the whole reason you got signed.”

Unfortunately, being a teenager in the music biz can have its downside. Many of the clubs at which the band performs are over-21 clubs, a fact that limits the opportunities for their fan base to see them play live. “[At a recent show downtown] we had some of our friends who weren’t 21 standing across the fence outside,” Brown recalls. “We’re not even 21 and most of our friends aren’t either. So we dedicated our last song to them, to all the kids that couldn’t get in.”

“It’s a catch-22 that’s built into the entire entertainment industry,” says Morton. “They’re in the beer business and we’re making music.”

Despite these age-related setbacks, Llama has begun to develop a loyal following as they tour cities across the U.S. “We’ve toured quite a bit since February 8,” Morton says. “We went to Chicago, St. Louis, Texas, the Carolinas, Florida a couple of times, Boston, New York—all the big ones.” They’ve opened this year for Bluegrass Underground and frat-house favorites O.A.R.

As for advice to all the eager young hopefuls yearning to hit it big, Brown offers the following: “Practice at least twice a week. Be consistent. You always want things to happen faster than they do. We’ve built up to everything we have done so far.” Given their hard work, patience, and talent, Llama could be primed for a long, successful career.


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