For all the complaining from the business side of things, music itself is doing quite well these days. ReverbNation, iTunes, Bandcamp and other sites are brimming with talent in search of an audience. Mr. Squid is one such band, a Hollis-based quartet that began as three high school friends playing together in a basement and grew to the point where its primary songwriter, Philip "Phileep" Gerekos, decided to trade school for a music career.
“The way I see it, if I was to go to college or work a steady job, maybe I could go back and be a musician at some point, but while you’re young it’s the only time to do it. After college, there’s debt to pay and you have to get into that work rhythm. If it doesn’t work out I’ll cut my losses and go work in the restaurant. But now, there’s nothing on our plate and we’re just giving it a shot. The other guys are on the exact same page, so it’s working out very nicely.”
The 19-year-old guitarist says the band formed organically around his solo appearances at the Pasta Loft. Gerekos is a regular at the Milford restaurant’s open-mike nights performing his original material — as Phileep, he’s released an album on iTunes. Eventually, he invited Joe and John Roukas to flesh out his sound and recruited drummer Ben Chappell.
Gerekos has been friends with the Roukas brothers since high school, and in summer 2010 the three began holding regular jam sessions in his basement.
“We’d play whatever we were feeling, then listen back to it,” says Gerekos. “After a few months of that we realized we were on to something besides just jams, so we started writing songs together.”
Their influences vary from heavy rock — Tool, Led Zeppelin and Nirvana — to the indie folk of songwriter Bright Eyes. The latter is a particular favorite; Gerekos and Chappell were in a band called Bright Lights during high school.
“And we’re big on Jack White, pretty much anything he’s involved in,” Gerekos says, naming White Stripes, Raconteurs and Dead Weather. “We’re drawn to music that’s edgy and raw but folk-y at the same time.”
They use a Theremin in some of their songs, the vibrating instrument heard in the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and a staple of Led Zeppelin’s live shows.
“John is humungous on Led Zeppelin,” Gerekos says of the band’s guitarist. “Jimmy Page is his biggest idol.”
Though they’re big fans of classic rock, the band has no desire to play covers, and they’ve turned down lucrative offers to knock out “Whole Lotta Love” for bar crowds. “We’re just not into it,” says Gerekos. “We’d rather put together an hour of solid original material and show people what we can do instead of having them say, ‘oh they sort of sound like one of those bands.’”
So far he has his parents’ blessing and support in his endeavor. He enrolled in college to be an audio engineer, but left after orientation.
“I told my dad I didn’t want be working with musicians all the time, I just want to be a musician,” Gerekos says. “He’s supportive of it, but he comes from a strong work ethic and he wants to see progress, a steady income. You know, all that dad stuff.”
Phil’s parents own Chrysanthi’s Italian restaurant in Brookline. Interestingly, the Roukas brothers also come from a restaurant family, that of the Hollis Country Kitchen. Having three of four members working in dining establishments creates a unique challenge. “Gigs need to be scheduled during non-peak times,” Gerekos says. “The weekends are normally the toughest times for us to get off from work.”
The problem might be solved closer to home, but neither Chrysanthi’s nor the Country Kitchen offer music. “I’ve been nagging my dad about it, but we don’t have the room apparently,” Gerekos says.
Mr. Squid has a good following near their hometown at places like Pasta Loft and Chapangas (“We’ve become a regular thing there,” Gerekos says). In Manchester, they’ve performed at the all-original music Jam Factory. The venue choices provide a way for them to try original material out, essential for a band aspiring to do something that’s never been done before, but not just for the sake of being different.
“Our biggest worry is writing songs we love,” Gerekos says. “But will people love them elsewhere or is it just us being weird?”