Pictured are the members of The Makena Hartlin Band ...
January 30, 2013
Timing can be everything. It sure was for Dave Skala and Makena Hartlin.
The two grew up in New Lenox. They graduated two years apart from Lincoln-Way Central. They both were in Central's music program — guitar studio for Skala and choir for Hartlin. Skala was even in a band with Hartlin's neighbor.
Yet, they'd never met until March of last year.
That's when Skala, having recently opened a recording studio in Orland Park — McWoah's Productions — began looking for "that one artist" to build his brand around. At the same time, Hartlin was looking for someone to produce her country songs, which she'd been writing for a few years after teaching herself how to play guitar.
"It was just perfect timing," Hartlin said.
It might be even more than that.
After working with Hartlin for a couple months, Skala (drums) recruited former instructors J.D. King (guitar, musical director), Andy Ross (steel guitar, mandolin) and Bill Richardson (bass, banjo and executive producer) from Axes Music in Mokena, and friend Dan Valente (guitar) to support Hartlin on her debut album. The group clicked almost immediately.
"We all gelled," Skala said. "That's when I knew we might be onto something."
Soon after, The Makena Hartlin Band was born.
"We've been slingshotting upwards ever since," Skala said.
Fast success [hed]
It's been four months since the band's birth, which is four months longer than many bands survive. That's not the remarkable part, though.
While most bands tell stories of toiling in anonymity for years before their big break, The Makena Hartlin Band has already opened for such acts as Jo Dee Messina, Steel Magnolia and Mark Wills. They'll also be opening for Tracy Lawrence, John Michael Montgomery and Joe Diffie on Feb. 23 at the Congress Theater (see sidebar).
Three months in, Frank Mastalerz of Masterwag International offered to sign them to a recording deal after finding them on YouTube and seeing them open for Messina at the Congress Theater. The band even already has a single on the radio — "Mad Love Song," which can be heard on 106.5 FM — and is setting up touring dates for the year.
"It's definitely been incredible," Skala said.
"Just hearing the song on the radio that first time was like hearing your goals," Hartlin said. "That's when I think we realized it's actually happening."
So far, the hardest part of it all has been picking out which songs should go on the debut album that should be released later this year, as Hartlin said she had somewhere in excess of 130 songs to choose from.
"Yeah, that was quite the task to whittle them down to just a few," Skala said.
Urban country [hed]
Chicago is known for plenty of music genres. Country is not one of them.
Still, it's the one that has spoken to Hartlin since "she was singing in the crib."
"I've always had a strong connection to country music," Hartlin said. "It's just what hits home the most."
As for Skala and the rest of the band members, they're following Hartlin's lead.
"I'm into every genre of music," Skala said. "I've been in blues, metal, punk and jazz bands, but I never felt any of those projects would make it. When I met her, I knew it was something different. She writes great music and has a great voice. I've always liked country, so I figured, why not."
That ego-less attitude of the band is something both Hartlin and Skala say can be heard in their music — think "a female Zac Brown Band" — as they enjoy playing together. It's that enjoyment that the two hope takes them all to country's peak.
"It's a career goal of mine to play at the Grand Ole Opry," Hartlin said. "It's a timeless place where some many people I've idolized have played. It would be an incredible honor for us to play that stage one day."
Anyone interested in seeing The Makena Hartlin Band open for Tracy Lawrence, John Michael Montgomery and Joe Diffie on Feb. 23 at the Congress Theater can purchase tickets at www.congresschicago.com. Enter the promo code MHB0223 to get a discount on those tickets.
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