105.5 Triple M’s Project M Finalists Wow High Noon Saloon; Erik Kjelland Triumphs
It was a grueling six weeks for the contestants of 105.5 Triple M’s Project M competition. Each week the contestants, which numbered eight at the start and were whittled down to three finalists, convened at Funk’s Pub in Fitchburg with a new song in hand. The subject matter for each new song was thrown down only one week prior by the event’s organizers.
It’s a very difficult challenge indeed: write a song in a week or less within pre-determined subject parameters, come back on six successive Mondays to play in front of a live audience, be critiqued by three-person judging panel, be filmed performing your one song and then have the public view the videos online and cast votes. Not only that, you have to first sweat out the elimination process which happens before each week’s performances.
The 2015 edition of Project M was a solo performer affair. Erik Kjelland, who plays with the Mascot Theory, a fine Americana band currently gracing Madison’s eclectic music scene, eventually won out in what was a very competitive final play-off at the High Noon Saloon on May 13th. The three finalists, which also included Tyler Preston and Doctor Noise, each performed a thirty-minute set. The judges are given the chance to see the performer in their element, playing songs they are far more comfortable with and interacting with the crowd. Remarkably, each of the three sets featured songs the contestants had written specifically for the competition. Even more remarkably, they all brought their A game and played to a virtual draw.
Kjelland found the final event especially grueling. He spent the previous night in a hospital with a kidney stone and was released only hours before the show, giving new meaning to the term “gutsy.” Kjelland is a true wordsmith, his songs beautifully composed and emotionally delivered. His professionalism was apparent throughout the competition.
Doctor Noise followed with a potent set that fired up the many supporters he brought to the venue, many of whom sang along at prescribed moments and displayed genuine affection and loyalty. Noise was especially entertaining as he brought an honest brand of humor to songs about respecting Michael J. Fox and a love song to himself. Noise has a rock edge and a strong voice with ample range. His melodic sensibilities carried him through the contest.
Tyler Preston gave an incredible solo performance, varying his set with a mandolin ballad and pulling out an electric guitar and diving into some Lightning Hopkins-inspired blues while playing (and even soloing!) to a rhythmic loop he made by strumming the muted guitar strings. Preston has a real winning personality and style, smiling throughout and delivering his smooth compositions with a relaxed flair.
All three excelled in their own way and it was a very difficult decision for the judges which included a scowl-faced Simon Cowell wannabe…oh wait, that was me! All kidding aside, it was as hard a choice as it was a joy to watch all three perform.
Triple M is to be commended for this outstanding show of support for local artists. The winner of the contest gets a song put into rotation on the station. They also win $1,000, a gig at Summerfest, a Breedlove guitar donated by Ward Brodt Music and a gig at Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona. But it’s the support that may be most meaningful, not to mention the growth that is obviously apparent in each of the contestants as they rose to the challenge week after week. A competition can be anathema to the art of music because all art is subjective. But Triple M has developed this program into a meaningful development tool for those brave enough to rise to the difficult challenge of creating a new song each week that resonates with the audience but also impresses the judges who apply their industry knowledge to break it down to its elements, especially the grumpy Simon Cowell-like bastard.