- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Band lineups can be like the weather — subject to frequent change. Not that that’s always a bad thing.

Take the Virginia band Waking State, for example, which lost its male singer a year ago only to find harmony with a female singer.

“They apparently had been dead set against hiring a female,” says singer Morrigan Condo, 26, whose unusual last name was given to her Italian forebears at Ellis Island — and whose first name, after a Celtic goddess of war and demons, isn’t that ordinary either.

Maybe it even helped her get the gig. Other singers weren’t able to make the auditions, and group members wondered if she had kept competitors away through some magical powers.

“They were convinced I was a witch. Everyone else they tried to get in to sing couldn’t make it,” Miss Condo says.

She didn’t have to worry. The former solo artist found that her vocal stylings fit nicely with the hard rock created by guitarist Eric Anderson, bassist Danny Alban and drummer Brent Robbins.

A month and a half later, the band played its first show and by this spring, they were already in the studio, recording the album “Hang On,” which should be released in February.

The band performs tomorrow night at T.T. Reynolds in Fairfax.

Mr. Alban and Mr. Robbins had played together in bands for years, and they recruited Mr. Anderson when he moved to the Washington area to take a job. Miss Condo had experience on the local scene as well but was finding that life as a solo artist was tough.

“I wasn’t making any money at it,” she explains. “And I’m a very slow songwriter when I just work by myself.”

As part of her tryout with the group, Miss Condo took some copies of the band’s songs sans vocals and recorded her voice over them. She was immediately impressed by the strength of the trio’s songs.

“The music wasn’t just chords and loud guitars. It had a lot of depth. As a singer-songwriter, I think of myself as a poet, and I need a good vehicle to work with,” she says.

Songwriting is an almost constant process in Waking State. Mr. Anderson creates most of the band’s catchy hooks and chords, Miss Condo writes many of the lyrics, and Mr. Robbins and Mr. Alban often chip in with ideas or songs of their own.

They went into the studio with 16 songs and trimmed it down to a more manageable 11. “You never know what’s going to work once you get in there,” Miss Condo says.

The quartet likes to joke that its sound is informed by the high-stress nature of Washington itself. “All the road rage and the stress has made us a very dark band,” Miss Condo jokes.

The band has begun touring outside the area, with a few shows in Michigan, but mostly stays in the Virginia-D.C.-Maryland circuit. Miss Condo is also the band’s manager and books gigs while the other three members juggle work and performing.

Fans are not legion, but more people come up to them after each gig, Miss Condo says.

“It’s amazing how far we’ve come,” she says. “When people come up to us, they’re just really excited.”

Waking State hopes to get a full-time manager soon to allow Miss Condo to focus on the music, with the goal of getting their songs out to as many people as possible.

As for change, Miss Condo says things could not have worked out better for her and the band.

“The guys were really surprised and pleased by the amount of energy that I put into shows,” she says. “We’re like siblings, very close. They tease me a lot, and we just get along great. We click on a personal level and musically.”

• • •

Change has been a major theme throughout the Fairfax band Ebo’s life, too, starting with its name.

The band started out as Mushmouth, but because of the similarity to Smashmouth’s name and several other Musmouths roaming the country, it switched to Ebo in 1998. The band went through a series of guitarists before finally settling on the current lineup of lead singer and guitarist Dave Connelly, bassist Bryan Smith, guitarist Billy Andrews and drummer Chris “Mik” Mikula.

The group signed to Maverick Records in 2001 and recorded an album in early 2002, only to have the album put on hold as the label underwent some changes while the music industry struggled after September 11.

All of that change has only made Ebo stronger, though, as they’ve continued to play in the area, build up a fan base and record new music, the members say.

“On this latest effort, we’re playing the music for music’s sake rather than just trying to get a song on the radio,” Mr. Smith says by phone.

The band plays an all-acoustic show Saturday at Iota Club & Cafe in Arlington, but don’t judge the group solely on what you hear there. Though the band’s members enjoy stripping down their sound, it’s really with guitars plugged in and at maximum volume that the group shines — as evidenced by free song files available on Ebo’s Web site, www.ebomusic.com.

“We’re really an electric band. We have a really energetic live show,” Mr. Smith says. “I’m always running around the stage.”

“But we always enjoy playing Iota,” Mr. Mikula says. “It should be a really good show, actually.”

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