20 years ago, Johnny Mathias, Teddy Mathias, Pete Mathias and Casey Gibson learned coordination and teamwork from skittering around Lake Michigan on a Mini Mite ice hockey team in Chicago, IL.
Today, the three brothers Mathias and their boyhood buddy Gibson comprise a different sort of team: the band Filligar, a balanced quadratic equation of guitar (Johnny), bass (Teddy), keys (Casey) and drums (Pete) that rocks in the most classic fashion. Though they may have eschewed their sticks and pucks for mics and amps, the learning never stops.
The boys of Filligar arranged their first jam session “hacking through a Nirvana cover” as high-schoolers in an Illinois basement. The 1991 release of Nevermind had a huge impact on the four aspiring musicians, as did the sounds of the ’60s and ’70s preserved in their parents’ album collections—Zeppelin, the Stones, ZZ Top, Bruce Springsteen, the Talking Heads and Bonnie Raitt, to name a few.
Ten years later, the band’s popular live performance thrives on a synthesis of classic rock sounds in upbeat, modern arrangements. Filligar’s strategy? “Write music with performance in mind,” the members told CMJ recently. Hear Gibson pump the electric organ in a full-on Doors/Floyd bender during “Yanni Walker,” the dance-along opener to the band’s 2006 debut, Succession, I Guess. Let Johnny Mathias welcome you to The Nerve‘s “Resurrection Song” with a distorted splatter of chunky blues reverb that flutters and stomps aside the best Rubber Factory-era Dan Auerbach. Listen to the climactic “New And Old”—the yearning lyrics and clean keys, the shredding, Slash-flavored finale, the freakin’ harmonica—and try not to think of the past. There’s a reason Filligar shared stages with the Black Keys, B.B. King and Tom Petty between headlining gigs this summer.
These tour travels led the band members to a great realization: “Chick-fil-A actually does exist in the North, and now in California too.” They also gave the band the time to work on the decor of Ruby, aka “The Red Rocket.” The oxblood-tinted Dodge Sprinter has become a rolling museum of Filligar’s life on the road, the interior festooned with playbills, posters, photographs, prime loot from local record shops and other sundry artifacts of the band’s evolving tour travails (the most recent addition being a dent in the back door “from taking out a mailbox”). In the next few weeks, Filligar will conclude its current tour with dates in Chicago, Nashville and San Francisco, including a free show at the Stockton Street Apple Store. That’s a long way to go to hit some chords. But according to the band, it’s a small price to pay:
“A life lesson: If there’s an activity you do that makes you lose track of time, pursue it and make a career out of it. For us, that’s music.”
Filligar is now working on its as-yet-untitled fifth LP in Chicago’s Electrical Audio studio and intends to release it in the next few months. Until it drops, and the boys have another excuse to crank up Ruby’s odometer, check out the new hip-twisting track “Dead Wrong.”
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