Getting to know Mals Totem, the winners of 2013's Best New England Emerging Artist Readers' Poll

Despite relocating to New York City, Boston will always be home for these guys

By: Jake Reed

February 08, 2014

This year, Mals Totem’s eponymous debut EP put them on the map. Need proof? Well, the band won The Deli New England’s Best Emerging Artists Readers’ Poll for 2013, which was – you guessed it – voted on by you, our readers. Despite (for the most part) relocating to Brooklyn, the band’s still got strong ties to New England. Vocalist Dave Vives is completing a degree at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and the band promises to continue playing shows in the city beginning with a gig at the Middle East Upstairs on April 3, alongside Bent Knee. We spoke to Asher Kurtz and Mike Lostica, the band’s respective lead and rhythm guitarists, to learn a little bit more about the band.


DELI: How does it feel to have won our 2013 Readers’ Poll?

Mike: It feels awesome. It feels really good. At the core of it, it’s just a reminder that our fans have our back and that the people that have gotten into us are sticking with us, and that we’re also still growing. Our community of supporters is still expanding.


DELI: You’ve got a unique sound that’s hard to put into words. That being said, how would you go about putting it into words?

Asher: Aggressive and melodic. Especially lately we’ve been focusing on writing melodies and coming up with more material through that instead of riff-based things, and I think that as any great classical composer would approach their work, you try to think of reach individual voice as a melody. The way that those melodies come together creates harmony. Our music is aggressive because of the rock element. It’s heavy, but there’s a strong sense of melody which is catchy at times – poppy even, and accessible – but it also sounds intellectual at times as well.

Mike: I think that our music is just about intensity, in a lot of ways. I feel that we constantly seek to enthrall our listeners, but personally ourselves [as well]. I think we have a very challenging writing process. We are constantly scrutinizing our work. The way that we approach our music is with passion and hard work and desiring the best thing that we [could] possibly [hear]. I say it without arrogance, but as a statement of our work ethic. [The goal is that] the music that we write is some of the best music we’ve heard in our lives.


DELI: What was the process of recording the Mals Totem EP like?

Mike: It was hellish. It was probably one of the most physically and mentally excruciating times of my entire life, but that said it was still emotionally rewarding. The reason why I say it was so difficult is that we were recording at a studio that our producer had interned at [so we were able to record for free], contingent on the studio not being booked. So we would start sessions at midnight and record as late as 11 in the morning, and then have work the next day from four to midnight, and then do it all over again. It was hard. That EP is literally the sound of sleep depravation.

Asher: As every artist slaves over their work … we put in a lot of time and effort and thought about things. We did months of guitar tone planning before going in just to be efficient. We wanted to make sure it was exactly what we wanted.


DELI: You guys met at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. How did the band get started?

Asher: I remember Mike is the one that started the project. We were on the same floor in the dorms my freshman year, his sophomore year, and he slipped me a sheet of manuscript with a few parts written out and said, “Hey, I’m starting a rock band. You should learn these.” I’ve been in rock bands before … [and] I’ve written a lot of classical music and stuff, but I’ve never gotten a sheet of manuscript that had notes on it for a rock band. I learned it and then we started a project called Noize Tank. After going through a few member changes on bass and drums and vocals, toward the end of Noize Tank we got more serious than we were and changed the name, then went in a whole new direction.

Mike: We changed our name about a year ago. Asher and I have been playing for a while – it’s been four years total since Noize Tank’s inception. I studied abroad for a semester immediately before approaching the members that would form Noize Tank, and I was kind of tired of just partying all the time. I came to that school to make a rock band and that’s what I did. I finished my studies before anyone else in the group did and I stayed in the city to be with them – and now we moved together too and that’s a huge step as well.


DELI: How is living together as a band so far?

Mike: It’s not for everyone, but we’re lucky that it works out. We’re all friends and we’re all pretty good roommates too. We write music together twice a week, and then we have a Google hangout every week as well [since our bassist Ronnie Lanzilotta lives on Long Island and our singer is still at Berklee].


DELI: What can we expect from your upcoming show at the Middle East Upstairs?

Mike: Death and destruction. I have no idea, man. There was a house party [that we recently played in Boston] and there was some dude crowd surfing to our first song. I don’t want to get my hopes up for that kind of stuff ... but I hope it happens. We would encourage anyone that’s that enthusiastic enough to go for it.


DELI: What’s next for Mals Totem? Any projects in the works?

Mike: A few different things. We just got a rough cut of a music video that we shot – our first fully produced music video. I think we’re looking to have it released by early summer, around may. That’s going to be huge for us. We’ve been writing a lot of music. We’re looking to record another record but its still in the writing phase.


DELI: Any plans for touring?

Mike: Geography’s been tough for us, with our singer still living in Boston and finishing school, but we’re looking to have a pretty heavy booking schedule starting in May and June. 

Asher: That’s the only area we haven’t targeted as much since we moved. We started writing more and we’ve been really grinding on our album promotion because we don’t have managers. We’ve been doing everything ourselves – making sure people know our name online – and so now its just a matter of getting a scene established in New York. And then spreading it out through the Northeast.


DELI: What has been your favorite or most memorable performance so far?

Mike: It was a house show. It was a party our friends Skinny Pigeons, who were releasing their debut EP called Flu. There was only a five dollar cover and people came through and did their drinking and partying and had a good time. A lot of people there were already familiar with our music. They even knew the songs and people were singing along.

Asher: That’s the best feeling in the world.

Mike: It’s something that sex and drugs can’t do for you. It’s a reminder that it’s worth it. It’s one of those important reminders everyone needs.

Asher: We got an encore, and usually when we do an encore we play our version of the Pixies’ “Where is my Mind,” [but] they were all shouting the [name of] the one original we didn’t play. To me that was a big [heck] yeah moment.


DELI: Any last thoughts?

Mike: Everyone in the world is beautiful. Stay that way. Thank you to our fans, family and friends.

Asher: Thanks to [Berklee grad and Fall Risk bassist] Chance Wells.


Mals Totem came in first place in 2013’s Readers’ Poll, one of the determining factors of The Deli New England’s Best Emerging Artist Year-End Poll. You can view the full results of the poll here.