By Mark Guarino
When it comes to South Side pride, Nickolas Blazina makes the grade.
Lifelong Sox fan? Check.
Lives in Bridgeport? Check.
Father refuses to take the EL north of Roosevelt Road? Check.
But as the lead songwriter and vocalist of up-and-comers State and Madison, Blazina, 24, is well aware that the only way for his band to connect with larger audiences is to journey past the Midway, to parts unknown that may not necessarily bleed black and white.
“Either you make the decision that you’re going to work at Citgo and fill up your gas tank for free or do something more difficult and get out of your comfort zone and make it pay off,” he said. “I don’t want to wind up (at age) 45 or 50 and think, ‘what the (expletive) could I have done my whole life?’”
State and Madison’s near future appears secure, given that in just two years the band is drawing close to 300 people to shows at clubs like Subterranean and Beat Kitchen, plus have been building audiences in nearby St. Louis and Champaign, Ill. While these may represent typical baby steps for any band hungry for recognition, State and Madison seems positioned for the long haul, having the next few years mapped out regarding touring, releasing music and reaching new fans.
“I’d rather just slug it out and build something from nothing rather than have something handed to us,” said Blazina. “It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.”
Blazina and bassist Anthony Martino started playing music while at Oak Lawn High School, they were later joined by guitarist Mark Tatara and drummer Jonah Kort. The band’s sound has evolved since those days; on “Consider This A Confession,” a recent five-song EP, the band has risen above its roots in art-metal and punk to deliver a rousing confection of pop hooks and guitar rock anthems.
Like the music, there is little that’s subtle about how the band conducts business. Blazina postponed finishing his bachelors of music at UIC to concentrate on the band (“I choose youth and being in a band at this point, you can always go back to school”). At the same time, the band is considering releasing new music this year the old-fashioned way: singles, not complete albums. “We’re going to bring it back to what bands like the Beatles did,” said Blazina. “We’re not going to waste our time.”
Despite modern rock influences such as the Cave-In and Silverchair, Blazina said he wants his songwriting to one day be taken seriously no matter the genre. Which is why he he’s putting his music theory training to work every morning during home songwriting sessions that have already given the band more songs it has time to record.
That sense of discipline was emphasized in a major way the day Sting walked into Blazina’s undergraduate music class. (The gentlemanly pop star was headlining the UIC Pavilion that night.) When Sting confessed “a blank piece of paper scares me,” Blazina knew he was on the right path. “The best musicians are the ones who always realize they could do better,” he said.