Born IV Blues: Making music together

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Photos by Jenn Smith — Berkshire Eagle
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WILLIAMSTOWN — When 14-year-old Diego Mongue was asked this summer if he had a band that could represent the region in the Youth Showcases coming up this January as part of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, he said yes.

Explaining his rationale, he said, "When else is there going to be a chance like this?"

What he didn't say to the Capital Region Blues Society folks who invited him was that he just had to put that band together.

Fast forward a few months, and not only does he have a band, Born IV Blues, but they've since recorded and recently released an eight-track album of cover songs, "Born IV Blues: The Next Generation," and have been steadily working on composing some original tunes. They've also garnered close to 200 followers on their Facebook page, which includes music videos, photos and sound clips from their ReverbNation webpage.

Some of their new album work has even been featured on radio stations in the Netherlands and the U.K.

Born IV Blues includes Mongue on the drums; Julia Ostellino-Moran, also 14, of Pittsfield, leading with vocals and adding violin to some songs; guitarist Austin Peck, 15, of Clarksburg, and Josiah Joyce, also 15, of Pittsfield, on bass.

They also happen to be following in the footsteps of some other big local blues performers — blues vocalist and songwriter, Ed Moran, Julia's father, and Diego's mother, Gina Coleman, frontwoman for Misty Blues. Misty Blues this summer won a Capital Region Blues Society competition to travel and take part in the same Memphis festival in the adult competition class.

Though the Born IV Blues members all know Mongue in some capacity, the other three members are still getting to know one another, and what each person can contribute.

"I chose my people on what I know about them," Mongue said.

Mongue and Ostellino-Moran know each other from their parents' shows.

"Blues isn't really my genre, but when you're offered to be in a band at 14 years old, you go for it," Ostellino-Moran said. She's a classically trained vocalist and violinist who grew up with the Berkshire Lyric choirs.

Joyce and Mongue know each other from Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School, but Joyce is also new to the genre of blues, in addition to the bass guitar, which he first picked up in January.

"You know the band Twenty One Pilots? That's more my thing, synth rock, punk rock, but I try to intertwine that into what we're doing," Joyce said.

As for Peck, he and Diego only met the day before their first day of practice, though they go to the same teacher for lessons.

"I thought it would be a good opportunity to play with other people," said Peck, who's influenced by rock, heavy metal and punk chord progressions, and has been playing guitar for nearly three years.

As for Mongue himself, a multi-instrumentalist, he says, "I don't have a favorite genre. I've always kept an open mind. But, I'd say Frank Zappa really opened up to me how you can span every genre."

The latter free-form rocker has a clear influence on the Born IV Blues album, which includes the teens' version of "Directly From My Heart to You," by Little Richard, later avidly covered by Zappa.

The young blues group aims to pick up a song a week, practicing for a couple of hours together on Sundays, in a loft at Mongue's family's house.

Their repertoire includes the 1920s standard, "44 Blues," Gary Clark Jr.'s "Next Door Neighbor Blues," and T-Bone Walker's 1947 classic, "Stormy Monday," among others. But the lyrics feel reinterpreted when represented by a young woman's voice, backed by an edgier blues-rock group.

And that's why Mongue says, "I'm excited."

Born IV Blues will continue practicing throughout the winter and playing more live gigs, which have previously included their debut at the Windsor Grown Festival and The Tavern at The A in Pittsfield.

Their next show will be on Saturday, Oct. 14, at 7:30 p.m., at St. John's Episcopal Church in Williamstown, with Misty Blues.

But as students, they also have to balance the blues with school and sports practices, and side gigs, like mowing lawns.

They're learning how to budget for their trip and market their CDs, which were recorded and donated by local audio engineer, Frank Kennedy.

They're also learning how to budget their time during weekly rehearsals, during which sometimes they get distracted by music talk, or eating burritos.

But at the end of the day, they said, their results are worth the work.

"It's only been three months, but I think we keep getting better and better," Ostellino-Moran said.

Mongue said he's tempering their success so far, with some advice from his mom: "Don't let it go to your head."

He being in Memphis with other adult and youth music groups will be humbling. He's already been staking out the competition via YouTube videos and said, "There are going to be 9-year-olds there blowing us out of the water."

But, as they say, it ain't over 'til it's over, so they're working on mixing up rhythms and adding ghost notes and new twists.

"I just hope we get tighter as a band," said Peck.

Needless to say, in an industry where new blues music is waning a bit, Born IV Blues brings something fresh to the stage.

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