This is Kurt and Marty
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Kurt Balchan and Marty Mearizo both grew up in Rutherford and graduated from Rutherford High School, Class of 1994. When they were young, they both discovered how much they enjoyed playing guitar and singing. While attending RHS, they learned they could combine their talents and create a successful duo, Kurt and Marty Acoustic. Later, they joined efforts with other friends (also many RHS alumni) to form a second band, The Kurt and Marty Band.
TIR: When did you learn to play guitar?
Kurt Balchan: I can’t remember the first time I actually picked up a guitar, but I was always around an instrument. My grandfather was a great jazz drummer and he owned a music store on Park Ave in East Rutherford. It was one of my favorite places to spend time. However, I can remember an “aha” moment when I was around 10 or 11. I was sitting in front of the TV with a guitar and copying what they were playing on MTV. Shortly after, I decided to take it a little more seriously and I asked my parents to send me for lessons. A great guitar instructor, Don Manzo lived around the corner from our house. He started giving me lessons, and that’s where my learning began. Of course, any musician will tell you that the learning process never ends. There is always something new to learn. Through the years I’ve gotten better by trying different styles of playing and by sitting in or sitting down with different musicians like my Uncle Jeff Gellis (a very accomplished bassist).
Marty Mearizo: Well, coming from a musical family, my parents had me take piano and guitar lessons early on. I never really took to it as I wanted to play the drums! That didn’t really work out either (laughs). I would say it was about 7th-8th grade when a few friends needed a bass player and I figured I could swing that, so I did. A few years later I started to pick up the guitar again and just went from there. I never went back for lessons, which I regret, but I just taught myself. I learned by ear and by playing in bands and learning from other musicians.
TIR: When did you discover that you enjoyed playing guitar and singing?
KB: I’ve always enjoyed singing and playing, but I wasn’t very good at it for a long time. I think I just lacked the confidence in my ability to sing. It wasn’t until I was away at college in West Virginia that I started to focus more on the vocal part of performing. At that time I was introduced to players that put much more emphasis on singing and its importance. We would also sit in “Blue Grass” circles where there was no holding back. I finally lost my apprehension… almost (laughs).
MM: I always enjoyed playing and singing, but it wasn’t until I started playing with bands that I really began to enjoy it.
TIR: When did you form your band? Whose idea was it?
KB: Marty and I have been playing in and out of bands together since we were freshman at RHS around 1990. We started our acoustic duo ensemble about five years ago, but it was a long time in the making. We found it much easier to get gigs with that format. It's also a fun way to pick up some extra money.
MM: We started the acoustic stuff up a few years ago when we were both just sitting around doing nothing. I called up Kurt and said, "Want to get something going just us two? We can hit some local bars and play some cover songs and get ourselves back out there." He agreed and it took some time, but we got to a point where we were comfortable with what we had and then we took the next step. We sat down and started writing songs again, which let us get our creative efforts back out there.
TIR: Does anyone else play in your band?
KB: When we have an opportunity to play with a full band we add bass and drums and call ourselves The K&M Band. We started out with bassist and RHS grad, Pete McCullough. Pete has since gone on tour with his band “Streetlight Manifesto,” so we brought on our good friend Rich Krasco. Richie’s wife Amanda is also a RHS grad so we kept the bloodline going. Our constant on drums is the very talented Alzie Sisco. Alzie is one of our oldest friends (another '94 RHS grad) and has been playing with us since the beginning.
TIR: What types of music do you perform?
KB: Kurt & Marty Acoustic plays a variety of covers. Our set list crosses decades and genres from classic rock to country. We do try to play what we like while keeping the music relevant. We feel that if you can play what you like well and with feeling, people will respond positively. The K&M Band is an original band. I would classify our style as blues-based rock. Our songs are very strong and we have gotten some great feedback. You can check out some of our stuff on Reverb Nation (https://www.reverbnation.com/thekmband).
TIR: Where have you performed?
KB: Separately, we have played in different venues around the country, but mostly clubs around NYC and NJ, as well as large outdoor music festivals. The K&M Band is just getting off the ground. We’ve had some great gigs recently at some local Rock clubs like Debonair Music Hall in Teaneck and we’re looking forward to playing in Asbury Park this summer. Kurt and Marty Acoustic plays regularly at The Park Tavern and often at different bars in Hoboken, like House of Que. We recently Played at Stone and Rail in Glen Rock, owned by our Rutherford friend Brian Crowe. We also play quite a few private parties, benefits and fundraisers (most recently the Healing Hearts and Little League Pig Roast fundraisers in Rutherford).
TIR: Where are your favorite places to perform?
KB: It’s difficult to pick a favorite place to play because each venue has its own character. If the people at that particular establishment are having fun along with us, then that is our favorite place to play. It’s really more about the people in the place than the place itself.
MM: As long as the crowd is into it , I don’t care where we play. Easy load in and out and ample parking always helps too (smiles).
TIR: Who are your musical influences?
KB: My main influences come mostly from progressive rock/blues guitarists. I was always a big Gary Moore fan and most recently Joe Bonamassa. But as a slide guitarist, The Allman Brothers Band was always one of my favorites. I think they’ve been a major influence on our entire band for that matter. There are honestly too many musicians that have inspired me to mention. Influences come from so many different places and you always have to be open to new ones.
MM: I have a wide range of influences, especially when I’m writing. It all depends on the moods I’m in. For the most part, just rock and roll works for me. Guns N Roses, The Black Crowes, Oasis, Blind Melon and Toad the Wet Sprocket were some of my biggest influences when it comes to writing music. I listen and I am open to all styles and can always learn from them. I just have to open up and listen. There are tons of ideas and different structures out there that can get tapped into and influence me.
TIR: What songs do you enjoying playing the most?
KB: The songs I enjoy playing most are our originals. Marty and I know right where the harmonies should be. It’s slightly less challenging than covering someone else’s music, but has a lot more risk. If a song bombs, it’s a little more personal.
MM: I enjoy whatever the crowd gets behind. If you have a good night where they are engaged in what we are doing, we have been known to pull out songs that we have never even performed before. There are nights where I feel like we can pull off anything with the right crowd. There are some songs where we just nail it on the harmonies and I just can’t wait to hit those notes. For example, there is a part in "Wonderwal"l that when we are on it, you just know it. We surprise ourselves at times (laughs).
TIR: Have either of you written any songs?
KB: Marty and I have written a bunch of songs separately and collaboratively There are songs we haven’t even brought to the band yet and we are still creating new music.
TIR: What do you enjoy most about playing gigs?
KB: My favorite part of playing gigs is the response we get from other musicians or the honest feedback from the lone dude sitting at the bar and paying close attention. It really gives you a sense of accomplishment.
MM: Just getting out there and playing music that the people can enjoy. Like Kurt said it is awesome when that one guy in the corner comes up to you at the end of the night and says he stayed around all night to listen to us. That’s one of the best things you can hear from someone, especially on a night where you feel like you are playing to the bar stools. One time a guy came up to us and said "Don’t ever stop doing what you are doing, you guys make people happy..That’s pretty cool."
TIR: Where can we see you perform next?
KB: So, our summer calendar isn’t filled up yet, but you can catch The K&M Band at The New Park Tavern on June 7. Check out Kurt and Marty or The K&M Band on Facebook for our updated event list.