STLPR's Tiny Desk top pick Mt. Thelonious wants to be worthy of the music

Mar 11, 2016

Mt. Thelonious band members want to respect the music they play.

“It’s about honoring the music by playing it. Not just playing it and being frivolous and trying to show off, but trying to be worthy of the song that you’re actually playing,” said Ian Lubar, the band’s guitarist and vocalist.

Mt. Thelonious formed a few years ago while all three members of the band were attending Webster University. Lubar is joined by Alyssa Avery, who sings and plays violin, and Mark Wallace who plays double bass. The group aims to draw on a long tradition of music while innovating through improvisation. They quickly set to recording an EP, mainly so they’d have something to sell for promotion at live performances. The band initially played covers and fresh arrangements of traditional songs. To update this music they drew on their interest in improvisational music, attempting to channel jazz legend Thelonious Monk for whom the band is named. 

After playing throughout St. Louis the group set off on their first national tour, which was filled with both pitfalls and successes. The band took a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach and booked shows around the country. In El Paso, Texas the group arrived at the venue to find out their hosts had forgotten about the show.  Without promotion, the performance was canceled. Rather than be discouraged, the band turned the experience into a deeper appreciation of their listeners.

“Playing for 20 attentive listeners is obviously a very powerful thing, and it’s more powerful having experienced four or five national tours now,” said Wallace.

Lubar wrote the song “Time,” which they submitted as their Tiny Desk entry, on one of those initial tours. The musicians were staying outside Asheville, North Carolina and were arranging the Elvis song “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” The arrangements and practice were inspiring and launched Lubar into a flurry of song-writing.

“Having that experience and the sound that we created with that song, I was like ‘I want to start writing songs with this energy, and this feel, and this aesthetic,'” said Lubar.

Since that time the group has released another EP and their full-length album titled “A Little More Time.”

The group attributes a lot of their success to the St. Louis music scene and the teachers they’ve had throughout their time in the city.

As the group expands their sound they remain motivated by the question “What does this song need?”

“That in particular, for the three of us, is the biggest uniting thing - serving the music and playing very ego-less music,” said Avery.

This month the group will take their ego-less music on the road. They’re launching another national tour that will include Texas, Massachusetts and Colorado. 

Read more about other STL top Tiny Desk Concert bands.