Inside The Demos’ Latest Spirited, Vintage-Sounding EP

Jay Milton of Rochester-based group The Demos.

Rochester-based power-pop group The Demos played a spirited headlining set on Monday at the Mercury Lounge to promote their new EP “If You Only Knew.” The rock group filled the premier Lower East Side venue with Strokes-esque guitar riffs and genre-defying synth effects, playing to a diverse crowd of animated fans.

Toting a sleek black Rickenbacker six-string and a vintage rock ‘n’ roll air, frontman and guitarist Jay Milton took to the stage, accompanied by keyboardist Caela Moore, bassist and vocalist Cal Saunders and guitarist Jeremiah O’Reilly. Jumping right into “Veronica,” a track off their 2011 LP “Lovely” with a charging kick drum beat and pleasant harmonies, the band proved that their live performances bring a striking sense of vitality and new life to their tracks.

The show combined the soft hum of vintage amps, playing as a backing track throughout the set, with little banter in between songs for a simple but effective cool-toned light setup. This atmosphere emphasized the primary focus of The Demos’ show: to play feel-good music, and to play it well.  

“We put out the first single while we were on tour with a band called Joywave, and by the next show we played, some people already knew the words, which was very cool and surreal,” Milton said to WSN. “I think that it’s something we’re really proud of as a band and it’s been fun to play the songs live and see people react to them.”

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Having grown up playing in bands together in upstate New York, The Demos forged a close relationship with the frontman of the Rochester-based band Joywave, Daniel Armbruster. That connection extended into the production of their new EP.  

“The whole thing was really really low pressure, it was like friends hanging out, but in a studio instead of at a campfire,” Milton said.I’ve always been a huge fan of his songwriting, so it’s really easy to take criticism and direction from someone you respect in that regard.”

Emulating the spirit of the group’s musical influences, rather than simply imitating a particular sound, has always been forefront to The Demos.

“We’re not the type of band that sits down and decides that we’re going to use another band’s song as a template and remake it as our own song,” Saunders said. “We use inspiration from our favorite artists as a kick in the pants more than anything else. Not following in those bands’ footsteps but rather seeking out what they sought is really what it’s all about for us.”

As they rocked their way through the night’s set, The Demos’ cool confidence on stage and effortless execution of songs — both new and old — made for an energized live performance.

By the time “Nervous,” a fan favorite, began playing, the audience couldn’t keep themselves from dancing to the infectious pop-rock instrumentals and singing along to the catchy lyrics. The lighting intensified as the chorus took speed, culminating in the song’s impassioned refrain: “If you want her, you shouldn’t tell her to leave.”

“For me it’s all part of the surprise,” Saunders said. “It’s different every night. Sometimes I’ll look out into the crowd and it really depends on what they’re doing. Other times, I’m in my head a little more. You have that high point in every show, that one that really hits the mood of the night just at the right time. It depends on the feel of the night for me.”

“Our songs lyrically can be pretty simple and the reasoning behind that is we try to keep things as universal as possible,” Milton said. “You can listen to a song of ours, hopefully, and take something of your own from it. That’s how our music gets a life. That to me is worth way more than the story and the creation of a song”

“If You Only Knew” is available on all streaming services.

Email Penina Warren at [email protected].

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