Mile Marker Zero
From: New Haven, CT, United States
Last Known Status: Active
From the moment they formed in 2003, New Haven, Connecticut quintet Mile Marker Zero have taken a slightly off-kilter, multi-tiered approach towards rock music that bordered on duality. Their songs are epic and ambitious, filled with unconventional arrangements and challenging rhythms yet they also flow with powerful melodies and memorable choruses. Even their name is a dichotomy.
“If you take a physical object, like the Mile Marker Zero down in Key West, it’s either the beginning of a journey or the end of a journey,” says vocalist Dave Alley. “We really believe in bringing things full circle, and the music features a lot of elements that simultaneously express two sides of a thought or idea.”
Such sonic chemistry usually doesn’t come without training. Every member of Mile Marker Zero has a solid background in music theory and classical performance, which he vigorously applies to songs such as “A Thousand Nights,” which combines the atmospherics of Pink Floyd with the dramatic tension of A Perfect Circle, and “The Reaping Tide” a faster, more turbulent track that sounds like a hybrid of Metallica and Dream Theater. Alley, Tim Rykoski (bass) and Mark Focarile (keyboards) have honed their chops together for years before they met guitarist John Tuohy, where they were all attending Western Connecticut University’s school of music. Interestingly their fields of study didn’t directly correlate to their roles in Mile Marker Zero. Tuohy earned his degree in jazz guitar and Alley actually majored in percussion.
“My degree is in classical percussion,” he says. “I used to play drums and sing for the group, but we wanted a singer who could be a little more dramatic, so I took up the lead singer role and my brother Doug (drums) who’s a phenomenal drum set player decided to join us.”
When Alley became the front man, he started writing songs with Focarile. Soon they were releasing songs online and selling them at shows. Mile Marker Zero’s debut, Zero, came out in the winter of 2004, followed by two EPs, including The Haunted EP, which was released in August 2006. The release earned the band airplay on WPLR and WMRQ, and Mile Marker Zero were subsequently voted CTMusic.com’s band of the month.
As more listeners heard the band’s songs, word rapidly spread. Music fans who had grown weary of predictable arrangements and watered down melodies were attracted to Mile Marker Zero’s sense of adventure. Combining well-crafted songs with technical proficiency, and raw energy with sonic intensity, the band creates gritty hard rock that bristles with progressive rock influences.
“We’ve always wanted to write music that was a real experience for the listener,” says Alley. “We grew up listening to early progressive rock so we liked epic songwriting, but we were also into mid-90s rock which was much more direct. So we really wanted to be kind of grandiose and over the top, but we wanted to be strongly melodic and didn‘t want to be over people‘s heads.”
As great as Mile Marker Zero sounds on album, they shine brightest in concert. The band are equally powerful and captivating whether playing in small clubs or a large stage, and through dedicated touring from Connecticut to Florida and back, they have won over crowds at outdoor festivals and support shows with artists including Queensryche’s Geoff Tate and Porcupine Tree. A major turning point in Mile Marker Zero’s career, in fact, came when “We opened for Spock’s Beard when they came to Hartford last year,” says Alley. “We also opened for Porcupine Tree on the side stage of their last tour, and as far as visibility goes, that’s where things started picking up and through those shows, we met our manager and were able to record our album at Applehead Studios.”
“Working at Applehead Studio where great albums from Coheed and Cambria, and Straylight Run were produced was a really big move for us,” Tuohy says. “I don’t think any of us in a billion years would have thought that me sending some tracks to a guy like that and him then emailing back within six hours saying, ‘You guys should come up and we should talk’ would have happened”
Even though Mile Marker Zero landed a prestigious producer with little effort, their eponymous release hardly wrote itself. “We’re very particular and a little bit anal about how things flow,” Tuohy says. “We work very hard on making every part fit and we exhaust the possibilities on any given song, so it usually takes a long time to write things and get them perfect. And we polish everything until everybody in the group is happy with everything.”
Lyrically, Alley dug deeper into his soul than ever to create songs for Mile Marker Zero. The album resounds with songs of strife and strain, expressing universal themes of yearning and even regret without losing the band’s upbeat spirit. “My girlfriend moved very far away from me,” he says. “And there’s a lot of that kind of love lost digging in the sea. That was really rough on me personally, and a lot of my personal battles with the distance in my relationships were pretty heavy, but the lyrics are very stream of consciousness.”
“I think the concepts and emotions we bring out are very esoteric, so people can understand the feelings without necessarily knowing exactly what the songs are about,” Tuohy says. “For instance, the song ‘Laceration’ is a song I wrote about a friend who got in a terrible motorcycle accident, but it’s more about the process of helping him and all the sorts of emotions I felt at the time. When he listened to the song he had no idea it’s even about him because we obscured it enough where it’s very applicable to people’s lives because we don’t want to tell our specific stories, we want to say things people can have their own personal connection to.”
With Mile Marker Zero the band has done just that, crafting songs that capture the spirit of its prior material while pushing even deeper sonically and lyrically. The creative riffs, addictive melodies and unconventional arrangements of songs like “Crimson Red”, “A Kiss to Fix” and “Peril Aerial” are just the tip of the iceberg, creating both a stunning snapshot of the present and a hint of what’s to come. Mile Marker Zero may be the beginning, but it’s definitely not the end of the epic journey to come.