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Makari headlines AURA Fest pre-show at El Rocko

Orlando-based ambient rock band leads strong lineup in advance of February main event

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ORLANDO'S Makari is one of four bands set to swing through El Rocko Lounge on Jan. 18 for the official AURA Fest pre-show. The band, which formed in 2012 almost by chance, has been steadily gaining a fan base and touring hard, and comes to town with a diverse catalog of emotive and intense rock songs.

The AURA Fest pre-show, headlined by Makari, will give fans a chance to purchase tickets and merch for the festival, which happens Feb. 16 at Ships of the Sea Museum Gardens. Ahead of the gig, which also features Softspoken, Any Otherwise, and Coast Visions, we spoke to guitarist Eric Stewart and drummer Kevin Beljan about how they came together and their musical motivation.

Tell me about how this band started and what led you to doing it full-time.

ES: Myself, Kevin, and our guitarist Matt have all known each other since high school. We played in jazz band together, and kind of always jammed and had projects together. Then we went off to college and did our own thing, but got an opportunity to go on tour to fill in with another band. It was our first ever touring experience, and we were all super stoked to do it.

After that tour, we came home and kept writing music together, and that’s how Makari formed.

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So in some ways it was kind of accidental?

ES: In a sense, yeah. We got that one opportunity to go on tour with our friend's band, and so we were like, "Hey, we might as well try and do it full time." So we recorded our first EP in 2012 and it seemed like people dug it, so we kept doing our thing.

Did you sort of sense at some point that something was working and you wanted to continue on? When did that moment hapen?

ES: We actually ended up writing a few songs right before the tour to play, because it was such a DIY thing that the band didn't have enough songs for a full set. So we wrote songs, like, two weeks before the tour. They weren't recorded or released.

In terms of your writing process, is it an all-inclusive type of thing where everyone contributes?

ES: For sure. For example, I'll have a riff idea and try to work it into the structure of a song. I'll take it to Kevin and Matt and have them put their ideas into it. It always would turn out really cool. The three of us have been playing music together since we were 15 years old, so we've always been able to write together really well.

What were some of the bands you were listening to that you had in common?

ES: I would say nowadays we all have very different tastes in music, which is a good thing. But when we started we all liked bands like Circa Survive. That's what inspired guitar ideas or drum ideas, but we'd try to do our own thing with it at the same time.

Having been doing this for so long now, do you prefer touring over being in the studio? Where do you feel most comfortable and what's your favorite part of the different processes?

KB: If I had to say, touring is probably the most fun. But they're kind of different and they do different things.

When you’re on the road, you’re playing for either people you’ve seen before or new people who haven’t seen you before. For me, whenever we go out there and talk to people who tell us that our music is a positive thing in their life - that reaffirms what we’re doing and tells me that it has value beyond the $10 they pay for the CD or a shirt. That part of it is the best.

Was there a moment where you realized that the band was taking on a life of its own?

KB: I don't know that there was really a defining moment. We had some interest from record labels before we signed to inVogue [Records]. We'd all been playing music before we went to college, and people would always say "You really should just go to school and get a job." But I felt like [music] made a lot more sense and felt a lot more real than whatever nine-to-five job I could get afterwords.

ES: When we got a different vocalist and Andy [Cizek] joined the band, we felt like it was the best stuff we’d ever done. At least for me, that was kind of a turning point where I felt like the band was going to go to the next level.

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