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June Divided: Of Connections and Craigslist.

June 5, 2011

Image by G.W. Miller III. Text by Lauren Gordon.

Keith Gill vividly remembers the day he met two of his future fellow bandmates. He was half-fearing for his life.

“I called my friend who is a cop and was like, ‘I am meeting these guys about their band. You have to come with me. I don’t want to end up dead,’” he recalls with a chuckle.

In all fairness, it is a reasonable worry when you opt to meet anyone on Craigslist.

Gill, 23, a skilled drummer from Northeast Philly, was sick of only playing with musicians interested in hardcore. In an attempt to find a band whose music he’d actually listen to, Gill sent out a hopeful message into  the vast reaches of the Internet in April 2009.

Then he waited.

A few months later, Chris Kissel and Melissa Menago were presented with the all-too-familiar “Now what?” scenario after graduating from Drexel University. Though they had earned degrees in the music industry program from a prestigious university, the pair of musicians were at a loss for what was supposed to happen next.

“When you go through the job hunt it just gets boring and discouraging,” says Menago, 24, the band’s front-woman vocalist/guitarist extraordinaire. “Chris and I started writing together that summer just for fun.”

Her dream was to write and sell her own songs, or hang out behind a soundboard in a studio. She never considered being on the front lines of entertainment.

But something started clicking.

So they began rehearsing the new songs with a few friends. When their drummer friend went on tour that December with another band, Kissel and Menago put an ad on Craigslist.

Gill reached out to them. He was the only person to whom Kissel and Menago responded – on New Year’s Day, 2010. That’s essentially when the pop rock sensation June Divided was born.

“I’ve played music my whole life,” says Menago, who grew up in Delaware. “I seriously started studying music and classical piano around 11, started writing songs around 12 and picked up the guitar when I was 13.”

She points her thumb across the table toward her bandmates and says, “I would have killed to have these guys to write with. When I was younger, the girls weren’t really into music the same way I was.”

The guys – Kissel, Gill and bassist Rich Mancinelli – let out a collective, half- patronizing, half-sincere, “Awww.”

Menago shoots them a murderous glare with such affection that the condemnation behind it holds no weight.

Despite the harmless teasing, each bandmate, at their core, is thankful to have each other. It is this specific quartet that made June Divided’s energetic sound so signature. They’ve been compared to Jimmy Eat World’s instrumentals with the vocal powerhouse of Paramore. Their lyrics are relatable enough that band members have been approached by thirteen year olds – who Menago says she could talk to forever – and people older than their parents.

Gill, who was born in Dublin, was immersed in traditional Irish music by his parents. He began his musical career playing the Irish flute. He continued playing music as he grew up in the Northeast, attending Father Judge High School.

Their early performances always had a foundation of Gill’s friends and family.

“We all aren’t from around here originally,” explains Menago. “We came here because of Drexel. So having the support of Keith’s friends and family is what really helped.”

Kissel began focusing on music after his sports dreams ended.

“I had been playing guitar for a few years, when I tore my ACL playing freshmen football,” says Kissel, who hails from Harrison City, a three-stop light town near Pittsburgh. “Then, I tried to come back for basketball season and tore my ACL, MCL and cartilage. I basically didn’t have anything inside my knee left. That forced me to sit on the couch for a while. That was when I really started playing guitar.”

“I also got into music due to a sports injury,” begins Mancinelli, 24, from South Jersey. “I got cut from the basketball team freshman year and ended up with a lot of free time.”

“That’s not an injury Rich!” Kissel teasingly interrupts. “You got cut. There’s kind of a difference!”

For his part, Mancinelli jokingly insists he’s not really in the band. The former vocalist/ keyboardist/ guitarist of Taking Sides and a Drexel classmate, Mancinelli became the bassist in September 2010 after the original bassist, Dane Kline, left to pursue his PhD.

Mancinelli picked up Kline’s complicated bass groove in time for the band to begin recording their first EP.

They worked with yet another Drexel colleague, Alec Henninger, 24, a producer at Soundmine Studios in the Poconos. After months of practicing, playing, mixing and mastering, their six-song EP dropped in February 2011.

And that’s when the whirlwind began.

They landed a spot playing their single, “Bullet,” live on Radio 104.5. That song wound up getting airtime on WXPN. Suddenly, the Philly band was Texas-bound on a road trip to play the South by Southwest music festival.

While driving through the desolate Southern states, the group grew bored and silent. Then, manager Lenny Sasso, yet another Drexel classmate, received a phone call. The van erupted with Sasso’s screaming. All of the sudden, everyone’s phones started ringing in unison. Everyone was calling to tell them that June Divided was getting airtime on 93.3 WMMR during “Jackson’s Local Shots.”

Gill hurriedly launched his WMMR app on his iPhone, so they all could fully enjoy the moment.

“We pulled over and were so excited, hugging each other,” Kissel recalls. “It was pretty surreal.”

The hungry band tapped into more Drexel connections – Dylan Steinberg, Bruce Pinchbeck and Dante Molino – to help conceive and direct their first music video. Menago and Kissel helped Steinberg and Pinchbeck when they were film students by composing scores for their shorts.

Mancinelli wrinkles his nose as the conversation turns to the video. He had to wear eye-liner.

Menago ruefully adds how nervous she was to be on camera.

“You mean ‘Miss Natural’ over here?” Gill exclaims. “Please, they were convinced you took acting classes.”

She ends the complimentary tête-à-tête with, “Well, they did use our eyes most throughout the video.”

Gill leans toward Menago and the two meet for an enthusiastic high-five.

The band’s focus now is pushing the EP so that people can appreciate their talents. It’s all-consuming work – they are scheduled to perform numerous concerts in the coming months.

“See, no matter where we are or what we do, it always comes back to the band,” Kissel boasts and glances to his left for confirmation from Gill.

“It is amazing,” Gill adds. “We’ve only really been together working seriously at this for less then a year.”

In that time, they’ve forged a bond, taken advantage of connections and established themselves on the local music scene. In May, they were nominated for MTV’s freshman of the week, and that garnered them national attention.

Their journey is far from over. Their next goal is to get back into the studio to record their first full length album, one that promises to reflect the professional attitude and mind-blowing sound they’ve created.

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