The rumble can be heard echoing from just beyond our northern border. It started several years ago. It was slow to begin with; a steady buzz at best. But in recent months, the sound has grown in volume. It’s developed body and mass. It’s reverberated through dive bars and shaken the walls of houses. It’s moved through forests and recently touched American soil.
Hard rock aficionados from Vermont have been all too aware of it for some time now. It’s an unstoppable force that is rising in intensity, ready to explode from its quaint surroundings in suburban Ontario.
The sound has a distinct rhythm, and its most recent eruption came in the form of a five song, debut EP, released in October 2012. The source of the rumble is a band called Project Mars. And the reverberating waves of its heavily distorted progressive rock sound, finds its roots in the humble streets of Ottawa, Canada.
Originally founded in 2005, Project Mars has undergone transformations and tribulations. They’ve faced adversity and given back to their community. They’ve mastered their craft, and are poised to strike. With years of experience and an extraordinary sense of conviction, this Canadian hard rock band has a sound that grips you from the opening riff.
For a band that is still in its relative infancy, the members of Project Mars have been through a lot together. Since its formation, Project Mars has seen its way through the tumult of two separate game changing incidences. The impact of which would be felt in the band’s lineup, its music, and most significantly, its mission.
The first occurred back when the band was still playing as a trio with Jason Connely as Project Mars’ original guitarist and Jordan Elliot on bass. They had been picking up a head of steam when progress stopped abruptly. In a recent interview with Screamer Magazine, drummer Mars Juarez explained saying, “Our first bass player that was one of the forming members for Project Mars. He, at some point, decided that he wanted to be in the army.”
Touched by the patriotism of their fellow band member, Connely and Juarez supported the decision, even though they knew the position would be hard to fill. Juarez recalled Elliot’s last day with the band saying, “It was a movie moment where he handed off our [current] guitarist his guitar and his amp and he said ‘here you go, I’m giving this to you, put it to good use because I’m not gonna need it for a while.”
Since this departure, Project Mars has felt a sincere connection with the members of the Canadian military. The presence of their founding member and old friend is still with them as they continue to watch their band grow. Juarez explained that, “we kept him in our hearts and in our minds when we wrote the title track for our debut EP, which is called Don’t Hold Back.”
The theme for this EP indeed displays a sense of admiration and respect for the armed forces. The title track was written specifically to honor the commitment of Jason Elliot. But what sticks out most is the album art depicting fresh graves of soldiers lost in the field. It’s a gruesome reminder of the commitment of so many service people that we often take for granted. Juarez explained that the goal behind the EP’s title track was to ensure that the song, “taps into the fundamentals of being in the army.”
Shortly after the departure of Jason Elliot from the Project Mars lineup, the remaining members took the band on a short hiatus in 2009. It only took a year, though, for Connely and Juarez to start getting itchy about playing music again. In 2010, they took on another guitarist, Ron Henry, and set about getting serious with their musical ambitions.
Reformed and rejuvenated, Project Mars set about recording with a renewed sense of vigor. But it was not long before the band found itself a midst the taxing adversity of unforeseen circumstances. Once again, Project Mars had found itself afflicted by some sort of battle. The only difference this time, was that the battlefield was not in some far off desert or jungle, but rather in the treatment facilities of a local hospital.
Juarez elaborated on the topic, “last December,” he said, “somebody close to the band, even closer to myself, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It took me a little while to break the news to the guys, but pretty much as soon as I did, the guys…without my knowledge… went and got a hold of the MS Society of Canada and said ‘what can we do?”
What ensued from the band’s collective efforts was a charity fundraising event that coincided with the release of the Don’t Hold Back EP. To raise awareness for their newly adopted cause, the band turned their standard listening party and release show into a fundraising benefit that raised over $1,000 for multiple sclerosis research.
The event was not without its fair share of spectacle. As Juarez recalls, “we actually tapped a thousand dollars when we were on stage…when we first got on.”
The success of that first benefit show was a much-needed boost of confidence that the band needed in order to keep pressing on. From that night forward, the efforts of Project Mars went beyond that of becoming a successful rock band. They had become a band with a mission.
Armed with the impact of the sound they had spent over six years crafting, Project Mars set out to spread their message and their influence with every show that they put on. The effort is palpable in their live performances, as Project Mars is known for consistently putting on a solid show. Time has attributed them with a technical mastery that is evident in their sound. In addition, the emotional resolve that has resulted from their triumph over adversity adds an element of raw passion to their overall showmanship.
The result of this blend of passion and professionalism is a distinct set of hard rock that is as fun as it is serious. Juarez elaborates on the dualism on their performance by reassuring the audience that, “we’re there to have a good time.”
Yet at the root of everything, Juarez still can’t ignore the idea that Project Mars is above all, serious about its music. He simplifies this sense of pride and integrity by going on to conclude that, “we really stand by what we do.”
Aside from the scars that remain from all they have been through, the driving force behind Project Mars is undoubtedly the music. This is a band that takes a great deal of pride in its musical integrity. Juarez stated that with each track the band produces, they want to give off the impression that “a rock band can be more than just bashing out tracks.”
Juarez insists that the thrust of creativity in his group does not come from any particular member, but rather the collective efforts of the entire band. There is no ringleader, and because of this, every member gets to throw his spin on the musical equation. It’s a method that has proven successful, even though it requires a definite sense of organization and direction. As Mars puts it, “All four members have the input and sometimes it can be a little grueling but at the end of the day everybody understands that it’s for the best of the track…it’s four guys basically hammering it out until we think that we can’t get it any better.”
In addition to making quality music, however, Project Mars is always aware that they must consider the all-important live performance when composing songs they want to rock on stage. Project Mars’ shows are fed by audience participation. In their experience, the band has learned that feat of making an engaging show begins all the back in the recording studio. “We try to involve the crowd as much as we can and we keep that in mind when we’re writing our new songs. It’s an important part of putting on a great show.”
Juarez has had his head in the song-writing game a lot lately. Fresh off the release of their debut EP, the band is already looking down the line at what is coming next. They’ve been touring the surrounding cities of Ottawa to promote the songs they already have. Meanwhile they have been looking to put together the makings of a follow-up release. Mars described the band’s current direction saying, “we’re looking towards the future and we’re currently in a writing period so we’re excited about writing some new material in order to possibly have a release early next year.”
For now, at least, Project Mars has been on and off the road and frequently on stage. With the momentum of the Don’t Hold Back EP, the band is in a prime position to capitalize. A slew of all new songs, just in time to hook their already growing fan base, is just what Project Mars needs in order to get themselves going. It won’t be long before they start breaking borders and wind up playing more shows down here in The States. But until they pick up the necessary head of steam, the rest of us will have to just look north and wait.