It’s on a warm Wednesday evening in early July when my colleague Kim and I are introduced to the entire band. Standing in the center of the small venue, other openers milling about, is where we first strike up conversation.
The guys of Pros & iCons are polite in their introductions, asking us how we are doing and where we travelled from. My colleague and I are told that two members are finishing getting ready and we talk about possible places to conduct the interview.
When everyone is ready, we proceed outside into the muggy summer air. Behind the venue sits a small bar to the left, a few benches to the right, and four tall stools. My colleague and I sent up the stools against a white privacy fence where the guys will be able to sit in the shade, out of the blistering setting sun.
My first question for the group was about how they all got involved with music. Their stories are as far from similar as could be, but it gives the group a special quirk.
Nicholas ‘Nick’ Yurisak, 21, plays guitar and describes going to Catholic school his whole life. “I never knew Rock ‘N’ Roll existed until I was about eight years old,” he shares. “I had a neighbor move next to me and show me punk music.” Nick goes on to say that this moment changed his life forever. “I asked for a guitar for Christmas one year. And about four years later, I finally picked it up and fell in love with music ever since.”
The second guitarist of the group, 25-year-old Lenny Morales, thinks for a moment on when he first got into music. “When I was about 17, one day my friend was like, ‘I’m learning this song on guitar – it needs a second guitarist. You want to try and learn guitar?’” With a laugh, he relays that his answer was ‘Sure’, and that’s what led him to where he is today.
“When I was growing up, I lived next to my grandparents and they had a record player. They’d play it all day long,” says lead singer Joseph ‘Joe’ Mastando. At twenty-four, he reminisces to that time when he was a young child. “Growing up, I was always interested in hearing music and hearing good singers. I listened to a lot of soul, a lot of Motown.” He says it was around the age of six or seven that he realized he could sing. However, it wasn’t an easy road to performing for him. “I had really bad stage fright!” he confesses. “When I was a sophomore in college, I performed for the first time, and since then, it’s been history,” Joe says with a wide smile.
Last but not least is Tyler O’Leary, 21, who I am quick to find out is the biggest joker of the group. When asked to introduce himself, he announces that he plays the bagpipes, causing an immediate laugh from Joe beside him.
“Very talented,” Joe says in response.
“Thank you,” is Tyler’s quick reply. His real position in the band falls in the category of bassist. “I have a family history of music,” he says of how he got into it. “My whole family played music and uh, it kind of just stuck to me. And then when Rock Band and Guitar Hero came out, that’s really when – I learned how to play drums on there,” he says, which inspired him to learn how to play real drums. “Then [I] learned how to play bass, and just kept going from there and that’s how I really got started.”
When asked how the band was formed, Nick and Joe do not hesitant to sample their humor.
“We all met in an elevator,” Nick jokes.
“There was Solange Knowles and Jay-Z on it. It was a very intense elevator ride,” Joe adds, alluding to infamous encounter between the two artists back in May 2014.
Lenny supplies the story of their foundation after the group share a quick laugh.
“I met him,” he begins, pointing beside him to Nick, “at his college and then we started writing. He said he knew a singer and that’s where we found Joe.” The writing sessions had extended to include Joe at that time. “We wanted to do some live shows together after that because it came together really nicely, the three of us, and we needed another member, and I actually met this kid,” Lenny says, pointing over at Tyler this time.
“Best choice,” Tyler comments, causing another laugh from Joe.
“At a random party, a random college party,” Lenny says without missing a beat. “And here we are today.”
“They actually approached me, it was very weird,” Joe says, a twinge of amusement in his voice as he recalls, “I didn’t know Nick very well, and he walked up to me, he knew I sang – I put out YouTube videos online – and he said, ‘I have a proposition for you. I have this pop song and I need a singer who can sing pop and I just want someone to sing on the track.’” Joe describes the song through laughs as a joke song about texting. “And the song went,” he begins before belting out the tune, “’Hey girl, why didn’t you text me tonight? Oh, oh, ‘ey girl.’” He summarizes the entire encounter as something that was supposed to be a fun joke but it turned into Pros & iCons.
When the group came together and got serious about what they were doing, one of the first steps was deciding on a name. I asked how they picked Pros & iCons, to which Joe told us that the group went through a long period of debate over names.
“It was the three of us at the time,” Joe says as he points between himself, Lenny, and Nick. “And we couldn’t agree on anything, and anything we agreed on was taken. We kind of went to the core of everything we had, which is the fact that we balance a lot of different genres of music and we thought, ‘Something that’s contradictory like pros and cons!’ And Pros & iCons sounded quirky and fun and it just stuck with us.”
Not long before this show in July, the group had begun to post on their social media pages to their fans that this Long Island, NY concert could be the last chance to hear their old music live. For every fan, the announcement of new music is quite possibly one of the most exciting, besides a tour.
I ask the group what they can say about their new music. The question incites a similar, immediate reaction in all four young men. Wide smiles grace all of their faces and it feels as if the excitement in this small outside area has risen tenfold. It’s an interesting and unique reaction that I have not seen in any other group beforehand.
“Soon to come,” Lenny says, his wide grin turning into a teasing smirk.
“Yeah, Soon To Come alert!” Nick echoes. “We’ve got cool new stuff that we’re so excited to show people. Imagine the better parts of ‘Iconography’,” he begins, referencing their EP. “Without the worst parts, and that’s like the new stuff.” Lenny’s smile returns full width as he nods in agreement.
“Yeah, it really hones in on our sound – where you would hear these tracks and say, ‘Oh, that’s definitely Pros & iCons!’”
“I think in the beginning, we were getting our feet wet, trying new things – we had just all met – and uh, I think we’ve had a lot of time to marinate in our universal, unique sound and I think what you’re gonna hear is a lot more of us in the music. It’s gonna be good.” Tyler nods his head to Joe’s statement.
I ask the timeline of when fans can expect this new music.
Straight-faced and almost too quiet to hear, Tyler says, “Four or five years.”
His band members immediately crack grins, as we attempt to quiet our chuckles.
With an easy smile, Lenny says, “No, very soon. We’re working on everything right now. Everything is written, recorded – we’ve been mixed, mastering. Definitely expect it very, very soon.”
“Summer 2016, we’re putting everything into high gear. So expect it soon,” adds Joe, the contagious, excited smile gracing his face again.
As far as the process of working on this new music, Nick explains for us that it usually starts off with an idea on a voice memo.
He says, “One of us will send it to the other person and then we kind of add on to it.” He informs Kim and I that that the band actually built studios in all of their basements. “So we do everything there, in our underwear pretty much,” he supplies which receives some chuckles. But for as far as the songwriting process, he continues, “We just get a nice feel for it until it becomes a finalized track. Everyone gets to put input and it’s a lot of fun, the process of writing.”
With new music on the way, I had to inquiry about what the group thought of their journey so far. With a few years under their belt, and two different experiences at Jingle Ball, Lenny is the one to reflect on their time.
“I think when we first started, as we said, we just wrote a song and said, ‘Oh, let’s try to put a singer on it!’ And then so quickly, it grew together and just molded together. We kind of learned how to look as a band,” he says, and I take note of the black and white theme that the four have going on. “How to sound like a band, and we’ve just grown from not knowing what to do, to everything we do, we think about it – it’s premeditated.”
Lenny grins at the end of his statement along with the rest of the group, satisfied with his answer.
“Good answer,” Tyler says to him.
Joe, in-between the two, nudges Lenny with his elbow and grins, “Good work.”
I bring up their appearances at Jingle Ball, asking if that’s one of their greatest accomplishments and what else they’d like to achieve in the future.
“Well, the Jingle Ball thing, like how I was just saying it all came together so quickly, that was only our like third show,” says Lenny as the four guys look at each other and confirm that it was, indeed, only their third show. “So it was kind of like, ‘Let’s try and play a few shows’ to Jingle Ball. That was a great accomplishment. They invited us back last year; we had a signing booth there.” As for what he hopes for in the future, Lenny says, “I think some accomplishments would be to tour full time by the fall and winter, and hopefully be a part of the Jingle Ball tour as well.” He pauses for only a second. “Officially.” Joe can’t hold back his laugh.
We continue to talk about how far they’ve come from the start, and I ask what they’ve learned about themselves.
For the group, Lenny is able to sum up their feelings.
“I know we learned that this is what we’re great at. Everyone figures out at some point in their life that they’re great at something and it’s so hard sometimes for someone to figure that out, and collectively as a band, we mold and mesh so well together. We realized this is what we’re supposed to do and how well we’re doing it, because we’re very level-headed and if something isn’t right, we say it. If something doesn’t sound good, we say it. But we know this is something that we’re going to do.”
I then ask what they’d tell their younger selves, if given the opportunity.
It’s Lenny this time that cracks a joke.
“That The Lion King game on Sega is the hardest game ever,” he says through some laughs before sobering up. “I would tell my younger self to get into music earlier because I didn’t start until I was 17-ish. So if I would have done that when I was five, who knows.”
“I’m kind of in the same boat,” Joe speaks up. “I probably would have told myself to be fearless. And to stop overthinking everything and every step I take. I think that prevented me from discovering who I truly was and how much I love performing and music, because I was so scared to do it and then when I finally did it, it was a huge epiphany. I would say be fearless. I’d say that to me – I’d say that to anybody who’s young. Do what you do and go head strong into it.”
Tyler goes on to add that he would tell himself, “Not to worry about what other people are thinking, cause there’s always people judging you, especially the younger crowd. There’s always someone out there who thinks they’re bigger than you and if you cared about what they think then you’re not going to go very far. You need to just worry about yourself and just stay positive about everything.”
With all the reflection I asked the group to do, I couldn’t help but ask one more.
“I hate everything so far,” I’m able to hear Tyler joke before he and Joe are overcome with laughter, when asked about their favorite moment in their careers so far.
The group share some smiles, Tyler’s humor coming forward at the most opportune moments for him to get the greatest laugh.
Nick, having been observing his other band members for a few minutes, takes the helm for this answer and everyone seems to agree wholeheartedly with it as well.
“I think the ability to wake up and actually play an instrument and actually sing, and actually make art,” Nick stresses. “I think every moment like that is the greatest accomplishment. I think all the opportunity that we have – it might be cliché but the world is our oyster and if we want to do something, we can go and do it because we have the liberty to do that. And I think that’s something taken for granted by many people. To pinpoint one thing, it’s impossible. It’s the collective unit of experiences and memories and future possibilities – that’s the greatest moment.”
As the sun beats down on us and I am reaching the end of my questions, I ask the group what else fans can expect in 2016.
“They can expect to see a whole new Pros & iCons – new look, new music. New tour dates, new shows – expect the unexpected,” Lenny says as Joe laughs. “Really everything is happening right now; [fans] have no idea what’s about to happen.” His teasing smirk has made a repeat appearance. “It’s gonna be iconic!”
Winding down the interview before we begin the short game, I deliver the final question.
What is one thing you’d like to say to your fans?
Tyler is quick to answer, immediately jumping in as he puts his whole heart in what he says. “We love you. Thank you so much for everything. We really appreciate all the support and everything you guys have done for us. We’re going to try to make you proud on this next record.”
“The fans are what makes us do it,” Lenny adds, “because there are moments like Jingle Ball that are great and playing bigger shows that are great, but when we receive personal messages saying, ‘I just lost a loved one and the only thing that made me smile today was listening to your music,’ it’s like, ‘Alright, I’m doing something right.’ I am doing this for someone else, not just myself, and that’s such a gratifying feeling.”
“It’s also really cool when they make fan art for us,” Nick says, the excitement and awe bubbling through his voice. “We have a girl from Afghanistan that just sent us – she made multiple fan arts of us and those are the things that we remember all the time, that we always talk about, and I think those things are really great as well. We want to tell all our fans that we truly remember everything. It’s awesome. Thank you a lot for everything.”
“And I also want to say that we’re excited to meet so many of you,” Joe says in response, Tyler nodding his head beside him. “Probably my favorite thing in everything we do is probably meeting our fans, meeting people who can sit down, listen to our art, and connect with it because if we didn’t have anybody, an audience, to be receptive to what we do, then we wouldn’t be doing this. There’s so many of you that we haven’t met yet and I’m ecstatic to meet you guys and I hope you come to our shows when we tour and come say hi to us,” he continues, and Tyler, who has not stopped nodding in agreement, can’t help but grin. “And hang out with us because we want to meet you.”
It’s after our game when the group goes inside to get ready to perform their set.
They play music on stage as if it’s their greatest enjoyment in life. Joe puts every ounce of his being into each lyric that escapes his mouth. Tyler lets all the energy in his body free as there’s not a moment on stage when he is still. Nick and Lenny, while playing the same instrument, are still able to hold an individual presence on stage and cannot be forced to fade into the background.
It’s all of their difference energies and personalities on stage that, as they perform, they are doing so as a tightknit group. Their bond shows as they move around on stage and their faces light up when they catch fans singing along, or meet the eyes of someone who has been to a prior show.
Their adoration for their fans mimics what their fans hold for them. The group stands in the back area, where we held the interview, after their set and meet with fans. They spend considerable amounts of time with each person, even catching up with some that have been to multiple shows.
The way Pros & iCons carries themselves is with a bond over a great love for music, and a deep appreciation for the fans who enjoy the art they create.
As I watch the joyous scene in front of me, of people meeting those they adore and admire, I’m reminded of the last thing said during the interview.
It is Tyler that had commented, “It’s only the beginning. Remember that – it’s only the beginning.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Check out fun, exclusive behind-the-scenes photos from their interview here!