Music News

Teen Idol?

Dave Melillo is the kind of heartthrob tween girls swoon over and young guys either envy or admire. Melillo's handsome, young, bright, and articulate. But he knows that adolescent-themed music is like adolescence itself — just a phase. And at 17, Melillo's at the age where youthful passions intersect with real-world experience; it's the perfect mix for his brand of narrative-driven music.

"I'm a huge fan of storytelling songs," he tells New Times. "I don't think enough musicians are doing that today. I try to create characters people can relate to and tell a story. I've always been a big fan of catchy songs. I believe that, if your music is pop, that doesn't mean that it has to sound like Britney Spears or 'NSync; you can still have sensible and very deep and accessible pop music."

It seems Melillo's not the only one who thinks so. The Central Florida-based singer/songwriter earned a spot on Alternative Press magazine's "Twenty-One and Under List of 100 Bands to Watch in 2006" in anticipation of his four-song debut EP, Talk Is Cheap. Melillo scored the music for MTVu's 2005 Woodie Awards. And this March, he won over even more new fans when he played SXSW in Austin, Texas. Two months later, MTVu premiered Melillo's video for "Knights on the Island Counter." That's pretty good for a guy who's not even old enough to vote.

"I wanted to keep it really eclectic to a certain degree," Melillo says of the four songs on Talk Is Cheap. "There's nothing out of the ordinary, nothing revolutionary as far as the music goes, but each song has its own sound and life to it. There's kind of a mixture of genres, because I try to do acoustic and rock stuff."

Produced by James Wisner (Dashboard Confessional, Further Seems Forever, New Found Glory), the EP features typical teenage songs about chasing girls and boozing too much, but its final track about the death of a friend's mother shows signs of Melillo's promise as a serious songwriter. And, as Melillo notes, his choice of Wisner was the right one.

"James is awesome," Melillo says. "What I went to James for was to get the underlying thread that pulls all these songs together. I had all these great songs, but I needed someone to come bring a tone to it and make it all coherent. I didn't just want random songs."

Melillo's approach to songwriting is anything but random — something that can be traced back to his musical upbringing. Born in East Hanover, New Jersey, Melillo's entrance into music wasn't the average tale of boy hears Beatles, boy learns guitar. He took classical voice lessons as a kid and participated in musicals at the Papermill Playhouse in Millburn. His musical tastes ranged from Meat Loaf and Billy Joel to Dashboard Confessional, Something Corporate, and New Found Glory.

"My whole life, singing has been my forte," Melillo says. "I did musicals from when I was a really little, little kid. I've been classically trained as a singer for years and years. Around 11 or 12, I realized I can make this music as well. I don't just have to sing other people's music."

And that's something a 12-year-old Melillo kept in mind when his family relocated to Celebration, Florida, a town just outside Orlando — AKA the boy band capital. But rather than seek out a career as a prefab pop singer, Melillo tested his songwriting skills in the local indie scene as a member of the pop-punk band Trexx and the Taking Back Sunday-inspired rock group Arcada. Though he's moved on from those days musically, Melillo's still involved with some old band members.

"A lot of the musicians from those bands are in the band that I have now with me on the road," Melillo says. "That's worked out for the best."

During his admittedly troubled, confused teen years, Melillo continued to write songs, e-mailing many of them to Richard and Stephanie Reines, founders/owners of Drive-Thru Records in Los Angeles. Melillo auditioned for them in December 2004 and signed with the label in April 2005.

"I was listening to all the bands on Drive-Thru Records like the Starting Line, New Found Glory, Finch, Something Corporate," Melillo says. "All the bands that they have on that label were successful at a very young age, so I knew I didn't have to wait to be successful."

He recorded a version of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" for a Drive-Thru compilation CD, Listen to Bob Dylan. Last year, he also turned his attention to Fleetwood Mac and his home state's favorite son, Bruce Springsteen, as preparation for writing some deeper, more poetic songs for his forthcoming full-length CD in 2007. In a word, this guy's busy.

"I'm out on tour all the time now, and I don't feel like I have a home anymore," Melillo says. "A lot of the new stuff that I've been writing is trying to find where that home is and who signifies that home."

But for now, his home is the road, where musicians get some of their best tales. And this is one storyteller who's got his work cut out for him.

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Robert Hicks