By Jan Mercker

The hard-rocking Loudoun-based trio Graffiti Soundstage was just hitting its stride when COVID shook the worldwide music scene. But while the young musicians have shifted gears, they haven’t stopped. They’ve spent the past year building their own sound that pays homage to their classic rock heroes. 

And while the pandemic has slowed things down, it also has opened a few doors. Graffiti Soundstage was in the spotlight at a community showcase last month at Leesburg’s Tally Ho Theater. That venue, known for hosting big-name touring acts, has changed things up since reopening last summer after Virginia’s Phase 1 shutdown. With national acts rescheduling for later this year and beyond, there’s more room for up-and-coming local talent at smaller, socially distanced shows.

For these three Ashburn and Sterling guys, who grew up with Rush and Led Zeppelin on their parents’ CD players and “Guitar Hero” on the Xbox, 2020 has been a year to create and record. The band released a four-track EP last summer and a new single “Black Leather Country” in December. 

With confident vocals from founder and lead singer Aidan Bashore and tight musicianship from guitarist Evan DeNicola and drummer Tommy Kowalski, the trio knows what it takes to craft a solid hard rock/heavy pop song. 

“What we want to do is just put as much stuff out there as we can, build a portfolio,” Bashore said.

Since Virginia relaxed rules for gatherings last summer, regional shows have slowly started to pick up. The band has plans for a solid performance schedule in 2021, even if that looks dramatically different from the pre-pandemic scene. The band members, who graduated from three different eastern Loudoun high schools, are now working and attending community college, while putting their work with the band front and center. Bashore said their goal is to make it to Nashville within the next two years. 

Bashore initially started Graffiti Soundstage with a classmate at Briar Woods High School. When the band’s original guitarist and drummer moved on, he found DeNicola, a Broad Run High School grad, through social media. Impressed by DeNicola’s take on a cover by the British rock band Cream, Bashore reached out to DeNicola about getting together to do some writing. 

“The weekend passed and he just texted me out of nowhere and said, “Do you just want to start a band instead?” Bashore said. 

The new bandmates brought on Kowalksi, a Potomac Falls High School grad, on drums, initially performing as a four-piece. But when they lost their bass player to college in New York, the current members didn’t want to mess with their musical chemistry by trying to replace him. So Bashore stepped up and took on the role of bassist in addition to that of lead singer. 

Graffiti Soundstage  by Ladd Photography

“The dynamic between us three is so good, we wouldn’t want to bring anybody else into the mix,” Bashore said.

The trio connected musically over a shared love of the sound that came from childhoods steeped in classic rock and contemporary influences like the Black Keys. DeNicola’s dad played in a band, so rock was part of the family vibe growing up. Like many young Loudoun rockers, Kowalski got his start at one of the county’s performance-oriented music schools—Studio Rock in Sterling. And for Bashore, it was a classic GenZ video game that really got things going.

“The thing that spearheaded it, if I’m being completely honest, was “Guitar Hero.” I played that religiously,” Bashore said. 

For the past two years, the band has been using classic rock inspiration to create original work. Bashore and DeNicola share most of the songwriting credits but underscore that it’s a collaborative effort that usually happens organically.

“Usually, if we’re all into the song, it just kind of comes naturally, and we all know what to do,” Bashore said.

In recent months, the group has had limited but meaningful opportunities to play live, including two Tally Ho showcases. And spring is looking up for live shows. In April, the band is slated to play The Renegade in Arlington, a restaurant and performance space that opened in 2019 with a focus on spotlighting young and up-and-coming musicians. 

But instead of packed rooms, the young musicians are getting used to assigned seating and socially distanced shows.

“It’s just something that we’re going to have to get used to for a while,” DeNicola said. “Seeing Tally Ho with seats everywhere isn’t something you usually see. But obviously we’re just happy to be able to play shows at all.”

To check out the latest tunes from Graffiti Soundstage, go to graffitisoundstage.com or 

facebook.com/graffitisoundstage.