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What's the Mater?

Peeling back the layers of RIT band Pia Mater


Bassist Ryan Tierney explains that "the pia mater is a Saran Wrap-type layer that encases the central nervous system, following all the grooves of the brain." The quintet known as Pia Mater says their music will get all up in and throughout the grooves of your brain.

Just "come see our live show," says Tierney, 22, who came up with the band's name. He, along with Luke Sienk, 21, on guitar and background vocals, Tom Montagliano, 25, on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, and the two --- yeah, two --- drummers, Bob McCook and Matt Blauvelt, both 21, form this funk/soul/dub/reggae/jazzy jam band of current and former RIT students.

I had the opportunity to chat with the Mater guys at a recent practice session. Their rehearsal space in the heart of the St. Paul Quarter is spacious enough for the band's two drum kits to breathe easily. The ceiling is high, allowing their musical journeys plenty of hang time in the airy room, decorated with a couple 420-friendly posters, foam "sound-proofing," and a slew of empty beverage containers. The six of us chatted in the makeshift guest area while the band took a break between songs to figure out what kind of music it is that they play exactly.

"We are just this kind of gigantic clusterfuck of musical backgrounds thrown into one," says Blauvelt of Pia Mater's genre. "Luke has the whole jamband thing going; Tom has the reggae/Sublime thing; Bob's all metal; I like jazz a lot. But, without Ryan" --- who is more into funk --- "we wouldn't sound the way we do." Thanks, Ryan, because the sound projected whenever these dudes get into their music will certainly funk you the funk up. "I guess the common denominator would be rock and funk, with sprinklings of all this other stuff," adds Sienk. "We do whatever."

Pia Mater has been doing "whatever" since the two drummers met as freshmen dorm-dwellers in 2003. They were playing on the drum kit that McCook brought up from his home in New Jersey when they got busted. "Ryan was an RSA, which is like a student-campus-safety type thing," says Blauvelt. "He said, 'You guys are making too much noise.' But, actually, he was just a bassist that wanted to play." From there, Tierney hooked back up with Sienk, who he used to play with in another band back in Buffalo. Montagliano was the last to join the band, giving voice to the outfit for the last year and a half.

The group has been pretty steady with shows of late, with a few gigs at their RIT home base, and at Richmonds and Damian's; in the future they hope to play Milestones and a Groove Fest or two. "Things have just been falling in our lap for the past couple of shows we've been doing," says unofficial booking agent Sienk. And these live shows have garnered quite the following.

"We like to think of our live shows as a giant party," says drummer McCook. "And we like to interact with the crowd. So, we have an interpretive dancer." That would be Patrick Dobson, who the band describes as their human, musical accessory.

"Originally it started because we didn't have a singer," says Sienk. "We needed something to help hold the attention of the crowd while we were playing." Though Montagliano has taken over the vocal duties, they kept Dobson around. He spends equal time on the stage and in the crowd, singing along with the band, and, along with a bag of props, improv-ing acts to keep show-goers visually entertained.

The actual musicians on stage usually have the audio side of things covered. But, don't forget to bring your earplugs: it's loud, Sienk says of the band's two drummers. "Though you don't notice it unless you pay attention, to see, like, the poly rhythms and the syncopation that's going on."

"It's a challenge, it's fun to try to figure out who plays what part," says McCook. For the percussive pair, which is more heard than seen, it has been a learning experience. "We've been overlaying fills, trying new things," he adds, "and our music is constantly evolving. It's definitely made us better musicians."

For more information on Pia Mater and to hear a few songs, check out the band's website,