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The National Rifle: Tighter Than Ever Before.

November 21, 2012

Text by Sumreen Z. Chaudry. Images by G.W. Miller III.

With a name like The National Rifle, you might expect to hear some violent, loud music, perhaps with references to the NRA. But instead, the South Philly-based band’s sound is inviting, fun and stimulating.

Guitarist and lead singer Hugh Moretta, who works by day as a barista, definitely comes off as the strong, silent observer type, brooding behind his full head of dark hair. But in the band’s music, he is so vulnerable and open, immediately eliciting a sense of deep connection.

“I will always be a music person,” Moretta says. “This is all I care about. Whether it becomes my career or something on the side, it will always be a part of my life.”

The bandmates work well together to create an air of comfort and familiarity in their songs, which range from indie rock to dance-pop.

After keyboard player Lynna Stancato, bass player Jeremiah Sweeney, drummer Buddy Mazzenga and Morretta formed the band in 2006, the bandmates practiced multiple times per week at their rehearsal space in Upper Darby. But then jobs and other obstacles got in the way. For more than two years, their practices didn’t begin until after 11 at night. They found that they were not being very productive and more importantly, they weren’t having fun.

They decided to only practice together every Sunday night, with each member practicing on their own several times during the week.

“It sounds crazy but we actually are playing tighter then we have ever before,” Moretta says.

That new process and newfound joy is evident in their upcoming album, Almost Endless, which will drop in January. Produced by Brian McTear and Jon Low, the album features pounding drums with tight guitar riffs and layers of sound. Their first single, “Coke Beat,” is an upbeat, danceable track reminiscent of 80s electro-pop songs made by the likes of New Order.

It is apparent that The National Rifle bandmates are bonded not just by their sheer love of making music, but their style allows each person to let go and be who they inherently are meant to be.

“Joining the band was the first time I felt like I was doing something that was my own,” says Stancato, who works at a patient advocacy call center. “I realized one day that I lived in a box and did what I thought I was supposed to do in life but didn’t really know myself.  I just wanted to march to the beat of my own drum, I guess, and will continue to do that.”

Sweeney spends his days going to school to become a personal trainer and also works as a server at an Italian restaurant.

“I was born to entertain people,” he says. “I love being in the spotlight.  I love the big stage and I just want this to be my life.”

Rounding out the band is the soft-spoken Mazzenga, who at times is so quiet that one could forget he’s still in the room. But as soon as he picks up his drumsticks, he transforms into an energetic, confident, totally-in-control guy, forcefully banging away on the drums. Mazzenga started out playing the guitar when he was 13.

“I got bored with it,” he says. “I then started playing the drums and realized it was much more fun than the guitar. The drummer may not get all the glory but I am pretty much the backbone of the band.”

Over the past six years, The National Rifle has been on 16 tours, with the four band members, their instruments and equipment living out of a van and crashing on friends’ floors. They last toured in April, and then spent the spring and summer recording the new album.

The evolution of the band’s sound is clearly recognizable. It has gone from being a bunch of kids jamming and having fun to a mature, calculated sound that warrants revisiting, maybe even with headphones so that you can appreciate all the subtle nuances in the music.

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