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Arts & Culture

Stars Beginning To Align For The Native Roar

With a manager, late summer studio plans with a high profile producer and songwriter, and all the members of the group finally in one city once again (drummer Nate Keeney just graduated from Texas Tech University and returned to San Antonio), things are starting to happen for The Native Roar.

As the San Antonio-based group plays in the TPR studio, singer  Ethan Medola’s full-throated voice carries over the amplified sound of the band, with socially conscious songs like “Visionaries” and “Battles and Wars.” But it wasn’t until a few years ago that he raised his voice, and only after a bit of prodding.

“I come from playing bass,” Medola explains. It’s an instrument that’s often relegated to a supporting role in a band. Friends kept trying to persuade him to sing lead, but Medola was happy to let someone else. “I wouldn’t sing until [my friends] started singing first,” he remembers. “I’m like ‘nah, y’all can sing first and sound like fools, and then I’ll start singing!’ But [then] I got a bunch of positive feedback.”

After an early start in music as a young teen with his friend, Nathan Keeney, who remains in the band, Medola decided to commit to music at an early age. The two friends had always played baseball together, but at age 18, Medola threw his arm out and no longer had an outlet for his energy. It happens that his uncle had bestowed on him several instruments… and then Medola’s father died. “There was some stuff I needed to let out. Baseball was taken away from me, and I just kind of stuck to music after that.”

Medola says he still draws on his family history for inspiration, but also looks outward to a world in conflict. “I would love for people to be more honest and loving, and I want people to open their eyes and see what’s in front of them.” Lamenting this year’s contentious electoral cycle, he adds, “I would like to see people come together. That sounds like a cliché to say, but it’s true! Who wouldn’t want that?”

Speaking of coming together, The Native Roar’s other members joined the band through connections in the San Antonio music scene. Guitarist Mitch Moser met Medola at a church gig, bassist Ray Ramirez was spotted at a studio Moser used to work at, and keyboardist Matt Segovia?

There’s a pause to remember, and as I suggest “he just wandered in the door one day,” the whole group bursts out in laughter. In reality, Medola brought him in through a mutual friend.

The good humor of the group belies a serious drive, one that involves professional management and a deliberate decision to hold back on releasing singles until they’ve been perfected in the studio. A quick check of iTunes yields only one song, “Place by the Sea.” That’ll change in due course. Moser says having a manager has allowed the band the freedom to be creative. “At the end of the day,” Moser adds, “there are things we’re not capable of doing and there are things we would like to be able to focus on,” such as recording a new EP, due by the end of the summer. The Native Roar was recently introduced to Matt Odmark, guitarist with the Christian rock band Jars of Clay. Odmark will help produce some of The Native Roar’s upcoming studio sessions. Odmark reached out to them, which I learned is not uncommon for the group, even by fans from far-flung places.

“We got an email from someone in Germany a couple of months ago,” Moser enthuses. “They saw us through a Snapchat that someone took at South By Southwest, and emailed us.”

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Credit Nathan Cone / TPR
Mitch Moser, Nate Keeney, Ethan Medola

“It felt good to see that,” Medola says.

The Native Roar has a kind of timeless rock sound that reflects the band’s diverse influences: Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton from Nathan Keeney, blues and Bob Marley from Ethan Medola, classic soul from Ray Ramirez. Moser is pumped to see Radiohead at the ACL Festival in the fall.

Even as super fans of those other musicians, The Native Roar is committed to original material, played live. “I think Austin beats [San Antonio] as far as original bands. They’ve got more out there, and they’ve got more venues that accommodate that. In San Antonio, people would like to pay to see a song they already know,” says Medola, referring to the many downtown bars that play host to cover bands. “The whole downtown revival helps,” adds Moser.

Medola continues, “It’s cool to have [cover bands], but I think it’s one of the most amazing things in the world to find a band you never heard in your life do something you’ve never heard, and you love it.”

You can discover The Native Roar through videos of them performing in our studios below, and live in person on Thursday, June 30 at The Amp Room on North St. Mary’s Street. You can follow the band on Facebook here.