Melissa Menago attended her first Warped Tour during the summer of 2012. Unlike the majority of first-time festival-goers, she didn't have to elbow and claw for a good view. She was performing on the Ernie Ball Stage after all.
The other members of June Divided got the surreal experience of meeting and playing alongside bands they admired—drummer Keith Gill was thrilled to come across then Yellowcard percussionist Longineu "L.P." Parson, and bassist Lenny Sasso got to meet Senses Fail frontman Buddy Nielsen—but Menago was in "a whole new world."
The vocalist could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed with her newfound relevance in the rock music world. June Divided caught a break when its single "Bullet" got airtime on MTV, and victory in a battle-of-the-bands competition landed the group a spot on Warped Tour. The band rushed to push through its first full-length, Backbone, prior to jumping on for the traveling festival. The work seems to have paid off, as June Divided continues to gather industry attention. The group was selected as one of the Top 3 Artist on The Verge performers for the 2014 New Music Seminar, a feat that required catching the ears of NMS committee members and edging out hundreds of other nominees.
"My initial thoughts were that this is good poppy rock, but then they kicked in with a lot of energy and took it to the next level," said Peter Schwinge, the general manager of the NMS who caught June Divided live at a club show. "They're not just another three-chord rock band, there's some real intricate and subtle stuff going on...and Melissa's attitude on stage says she's there to kick some ass. I instantly dug them."
The "intricate and subtle stuff" referenced by Schwinge derives at least partially from the skill sets and chemistry of its writers. Menago for one is a classically trained pianist, but perhaps more importantly, she and guitarist Chris Kissel have been honing their songwriting chops together for years. The pair attended Drexel University in hometown Philadelphia to study music technology and the pair composed music for films together (for school and hobby). The refrain for the title track on Backbone sums up both Menago's approach to vocals and confirms Schwinge's analysis. The performer frequently draws comparison to Paramore's Hayley Williams.
Catchy hooks and strong personality are almost assumed for NMS Artists On The Verge contestants however. June Divided may have one advantage that the rest can't claim: business acumen. Many bands that have been rushed into the spotlight feature Pete Rose-style player/managers, but Sasso might be the only one actually certified for the latter title.
The bassist, another alum of the Drexel music program, got word of the group while working at Red Light Management. He checked out the band's first EP The Other Side of You and liked what he heard. Sasso jumped in as manager, handling the band's affairs for a year before its original bassist dropped out. The manager offered his services and played his first gig with the band at SXSW.
Sasso laments that the management and artist sides of his brain force him to temper overly ambitious ideas, but all members of June Divided agree that the group's musical identity needs to keep evolving.
"I love Warped Tour and it's such a great thing for bands to get launched," Sasso explains tenderly, as if addressing a recent ex. "We want Warped Tour to not be a climax for our career. We want to go beyond that."
"We wanted to go on Warped Tour with a full record. It was very rushed," she says. "We learned a lot making Backbone but we still didn't really have time to be creative...now we're catching up. Now we're being creative and it's been taking us forever."
There's no timetable yet for a new release—not always the best sign for industry executives that attend events such as the New Music Seminar. The dedication to developing a superior product usually trumps temporal demands however. As Menago's bandmates probably would have told her of Warped Tour, getting the best spot in front of the stage takes work: patience, seizing every opportunity to slide forward, and occasionally crowd surfing. She may never attend the festival as a fan but she realizes that the music industry works in much the same way. June Divided has put in the work and it may soon have one of the best seats in the house.
June Divided will perform at 9 p.m. at Drom in New York City on June 9 as part of the New Music Seminars Artists on The Verge Series.