They've still got a ways to go before they make it big, but the Milk Carton Mug-Shots are starting to make their mark on the music scene.
COMPOSED OF three students from Chantilly High — Mary Billone, Kristi Geist and Jenn Weirich — the band performed last week at the Vans Warped Tour in Virginia Beach.
A festival of touring bands and extreme sports, it featured all kinds of music, including punk rock, hip hop, alternative and metal core, plus performers such as Thursday, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Rise Against and Saves the Day.
"It was pretty cool," said Billone. "There were over 80 acts. It's a big thing, and they tour all over. A lot of people try to get into this tour. Our drummer, Kristi, didn't tell us and entered us into a contest to be in it, so it was a surprise."
The group plays garage music with a grunge feel and, said Billone, 17, of Cabell's Mill, "We've been compared to Garbage and Local H. We're all good friends. Kristi and Jenn, who plays bass guitar, had an acoustic thing going on and decided they wanted someone else. I play guitar and sing so they asked me to join them."
In May 2005, the trio entered a Battle of the Bands at their school, but didn't do too well. However, it turned out to be a good thing. "Since that was a disaster, we realized we had to work and improve," said Billone.
Their name comes from a song lyric by one of their favorite bands, Billy Talent. "It's from "Standing in the Rain," explained Geist, 16. "In the chorus, they say, 'Milk carton mugshots.' They're from Canada, and we got to talk to them at the Vans tour and they were nice guys. They were flattered when we told them we took our name from their song."
Weirich, 16, of Greenbriar, said when she and Geist formed Milk Carton Mug-Shots, she decided to play bass guitar so they could have the sounds of three, different instruments. And, she said, "My brother played bass in a band, so he gave me some pointers."
"I FEEL I can really thrive with the bass and put my own oomph into the band," continued Weirich. "I really like bass because it's a funky instrument — you can really get into it."
Billone says they try to practice two or three times a week, "but it's hard over the summer, with jobs and vacations." So even though she'll be a Chantilly senior this year, and her band mates, juniors, they figure they'll probably get to practice more regularly once school begins again. Said Geist: "During the school year, we just pick one day a week and practice three hours after school."
They also have some cool gigs already under their belt. On July 29, they performed at Club East Coast in Woodbridge. "Before that, we played at Nation in [Washington,] D.C., in early March, before it was closed down," said Billone. "That was one of our best shows. The crowd had a great response to our music."
Geist, of Cabell's Mill, actually began her musical foray by playing flute in fifth grade. By seventh grade, though, she wanted to try something new, so she asked for a drum set for her birthday and got it.
"It gets out aggression better [than a flute]," she said. "And it's up to you to keep the beat for the music, so everyone depends on you. And you don't have to read music — you just have to know rhythm, so it's easier." Her favorite drum solo is the one in Iron Butterfly's "In a Gadda Da Vida."
As for Weirich, in middle school she was into the band, the Ataris. Now she's especially influenced by Matt Freedman, the bassist in Rancid. "His bass lines are very complicated and intricate, and I try to make mine that way, too," she said. "It makes the sound fuller, instead of playing the root note of the guitar. I've taught myself; it's really fun to play around with it."
PREVIOUSLY, she played piano for several years so, said Weirich, "It's helped me piece things together. Mary and I come up with what we're going to play, and then Kristi will add the drumbeat. And if we like it, we'll keep it."
"All three of us write songs together," said Geist. "Somebody will come up with a basic riff, because we all play guitar, and then we'll put together the rest. And sometimes, we write the lyrics beforehand."
Last Wednesday, Aug. 9, the Milk Carton Mug-Shots took their act to the Vans Warped Tour at the Verizon Wireless Ampitheater in Virginia Beach. "People came and went, checking out each band," said Billone. "It was very energizing being up there and watching people you don't know listen to your music."
"It was an absolute amazing experience," said Weirich. "I have to give Vans a lot of credit for treating the bands on the side stages, like us, the same as the bands on the main stage. We were starstruck by one of our favorite bands, the Casualties, when we saw them at lunch, and we were treated as equals."
"A tremendous amount of people heard us," she continued. "It was just, 'Wow, I'm up here playing for all these people, doing what I love to do.' It was a great feeling and a great adrenaline rush."
Calling it a "really great experience," Geist said, "It was only our fifth show, so the fact that we got to play in Vans Warped Tour was really big for us. It was the first show that I just let loose and had fun with it; I was less stiff. That way, when you mess up, you can just go with it."
Next, said Billone, they plan to write some new songs and work on their fan merchandise. "We have sticker buttons and live CDs from our Nation show with five of our songs on it," she said. "And once we have more songs finished, we're going to look into ways to get more gigs — maybe locally at Jammin' Java in Vienna." Billone will also participate in theater at Chantilly High and, she added, "I'm also looking into film and maybe making a music video."
Geist, too, would eventually "love to do something in the music industry [after graduation]. That would be amazing because music is a really big part of my life."
Weirich, however, is mulling over a career in oceanography and marine biology. "But I see myself always playing my music — because it's a passion, and I'll always have that," she said. "But if I make it big, that would be great, too."