Marathons & Unicorns may not be Denton’s newest band, but they very well may be its youngest. Midlake keyboardist Eric Nichelson fronts the band on guitar, synth and vocals, and while he's 40 years old himself, he's joined by his two sons, Owen and Tate, who are just 12 and 4 respectively. Yet this weekend they're prepping to play their second 35 Denton show together.
“As soon as my oldest could sit up, he was behind a drum set and we were playing,” Nichelson says. Both boys started playing music when they were 1 year old, and they both play the drums in Marathons & Unicorns. From the time they were little, Nichelson would get behind a drum set with a child in lap, and let them hear and feel the music. He did this with many different instruments. Eventually, the kids started banging around on the drums themselves.
“When my youngest started to play with us about three years ago, I knew we had a special thing and just kept playing whenever I could with them,” Nichelson says. Getting a 4-year-old, in particular, to play drums could be a recipe for disaster, but Nichelson lets them improvise. “He’s not a machine by any means, he just has the feel of it,” he says of the younger son, Tate. “He’s just now getting the bass drum down.”
The boys have a blast getting to play music and spend time with father. “It definitely makes family time more interesting," says Owen, who says that when he's not playing music he likes to spend time doing his schoolwork [yeah right], playing baseball and hanging with his friends. "We are always joking around and making each other laugh," he adds.
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While Owen and Nichelson have been playing music together for 11 years now, they only decided to formalize the band last year. Owen came up with the name; Nichelson says he didn’t want to think too hard about that sort of thing and told them to hurry up and pick something last year before applying for 35 Denton. Marathons & Unicorns came out. “I'm into running long distances, and his sister likes unicorns,” Nichelson says.
Nichelson never expected the band to get into 35 Denton last year; they'd never even played a show before. “Last year was a bit of a surprise; I didn’t really expect to get in,” Nichelson admits. Last year they played in the basement of J&J's Pizza, and they'll be back to play a pair of shows this year at Dan's Silverleaf, as well as a VIP party at Mockingbird Sound.
Clearly the folks at 35 Denton like Marathons & Unicorns, which shouldn't necessarily be a surprise given the festival's history of booking young bands. “The inclusion of young musicians has always been important to 35 Denton,” says Dallas Guill, a member of the 35 Denton booking team. “Previous years have included acts from local School of Rock branches. After all, they're the ones that will be inheriting the music scene we're all working so hard to cultivate.”
Following their debut show last March, Marathons & Unicorns went on to play a show in Tyler the next month and then later that summer at Circle Bar in New Orleans for Nichelson’s 40th birthday. “We are definitely not trying to play out all the time, [we want to] keep it special and unique when we do.”
As could be expected with such young band members, Nichelson hasn't attempted to record any music with Marathons & Unicorns. "We are definitely a live band at this point," he says. Still, the trio has been known to record Christmas albums and songs for holidays and other special occasions for their family members. Nichelson reports they will be creating another Christmas album this year, although he says that will not be for public sharing.
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This year's Christmas album (just like last year's) will be recorded at Denton Music Workshop, Nichelson’s personal recording studio. Denton Music Workshop opened in the fall of 2014 and is mainly used for music lessons and rehearsing. Located conveniently right off the downtown square, Denton Music Workshop is a unique option for music education. Owen and Tate take music lessons at the shop from different folks around town.
“As every band knows, rehearsing and having that space to do it is critical to getting your thing together, so DMW has been a good thing,” Nichelson says.
Nichelson has done plenty throughout his years a musician, including touring the world with Midlake, but he says playing 35 Denton last year with his sons “definitely was one of my top musical experiences.” So he's plenty happy to get the opportunity to do it again this year. “There's really nothing cooler and more enjoyable than playing music with your children,” Nichelson says. “They had a blast playing as well, so that has kept us motivated to keep doing it.”
MARATHONS & UNICORNS perform at 35 Denton at 11 a.m. at Mockingbird Sound, 4229 Mesa Drive, Denton; and 1 p.m. at Dan's Silverleaf, 103 N. Industrial St., Denton.