Jordan Lally started Fiction 20 Down three years ago, but it was not until January that he found the balance he has been seeking for his band since 2007.
Friday night at MaGerk's the group will kick off its fall tour with music as eclectic as the band members themselves.
D.J. Fritzges was on crutches for his audition with Lally, Justin Berdeguez utilized CraigsList and an angry e-mail to earn his spot and Andre Toney is just fortunate he figured out how to play his drums a little louder.
Fritzges, a 23-year-old C. Milton Wright graduate, was the first of the permanent Fiction 20 Down crew to join Lally, the lead singer and producer. Prior to his tryout, though, Fritzges had ankle surgery.
"The first time I met D.J. I had to go visit him for his audition because he was on crutches and couldn't leave his house," Lally said. "I was trying to see how well he could play bass guitar."
Lally, 30, knew very soon that he had his man.
"Jordan started contacting me and it was magic from the start," Fritzges said.
So good was their chemistry that the duo, which met through mutual friends, wrote a song that first day called "Cornerstone," which appeared on one of their early albums.
Lally, who did not even own a guitar until college, had found someone with whom he could chase his dreams.
"I graduated college and knew I wanted to do something in music I just wasn't quite sure what," said Lally, who graduated from the Sheffield Institute after completing undergraduate work at Mount St. Mary's University.
Lally, who has been operating The Reveler Record Co. out of his parents' Joppa garage since 2005, was just getting started. He began spending less time producing for other artists, and more time seeking the other half of his band.
That is where CraigsList came in.
Berdeguez, 26, had been bussing tables for longer than he cared to remember when he reached a breaking point.
"I ended up flipping out on my boss one day and quitting my job," Berdeguez said. "I was like 'What the [heck?] I'm going to look under the musicians ad [on CraigsList.]'"
Lally vividly remembers the response he got from his future lead guitarist.
"I got the worst e-mail back from him of anybody that responded," Lally said. "We auditioned like 10 or 15 people."
Berdeguez did not have any of the credentials Lally listed, but thought he would still make a good fit.
"I was like, 'Dude, you know, there's nothing I can really say about this but if you let me come try out I can prove it to you," Berdeguez said.
This was despite the fact that Berdeguez had only played guitar on special occasions since high school.
"If some chick in college was like, 'Oh, let me see you play the guitar,' you know, I'd definitely have a song ready for her," said Berdeguez, who went to Annapolis High School before Mount St. Mary's, CCBC Essex, and finally, UMBC.
"His first response back to me was like, 'Well, um, I don't know. I think our times are booked up with other people,'" Berdeguez said.
Persistence paid off, though, when Berdeguez told Lally why he quit his job and got a passionate answer in return.
"His next response was, 'Yeah, sure dude. Come on out, I think I've got some time,'" Berdeguez said with a laugh.
Days later, he beat out the other lead guitar finalist, leaving one significant hole in Fiction 20 Down—behind the drums.
"We had this metal drummer … just loud as can be," Lally said.
Added Fritzges: "You had to wear ear plugs all the time."
That drummer was also in the military and could not make the full-time commitment. Berdeguez suggested Toney from his Annapolis High band, Tri-Logic.
"Andre came to jam one day and we literally couldn't hear him. He'd be back there playing his heart out," Lally said. "We'd see him back there swinging his arms … and we couldn't hear it ... After a couple weeks [Berdeguez was] like, 'Trust me, trust me; he's got to get comfortable,'"
When Toney, 27, finally made the adjustment, Lally was done recruiting.
"I've played with a number of drummers and by far, there's like a connection there. The rhythm section's just ridiculous … once we got over that stepping stone," Fritzges said. "We're busting out songs like it's—water."
"You bust out water?" Lally asked
"Yeah, dude. When I drink too much," Fritzges responded laughing.
Despite the chemistry, there is a noticeable contrast between the four musicians. But the combination of their personalities is what makes the "East Coast Reggae Rock" group work so well.
Friday's stop at MaGerk's is the beginning of what Lally tags as their first "true tour." But the mission this fall goes beyond music and money.
"We want to give back to the community," Fritzges said. "Our biggest goal is to hopefully make a difference and have our music be heard."
Wednesday they helped begin building a house in Harford County for the Habitat for Humanity, and as the band members go as far south as Florida, they will play "Save the Gulf" and "Save the Shore" benefits, too.
"It's great that we're doing something for somebody else. We get a great response from it, too," Toney said.
That does not mean that Fiction 20 Down does not aspire to break into the mainstream.
"It'd be nice to do this for a comfortable living," Lally said. "We'd like to get signed but in this day and age that's not really necessary."
Neither is everything else the band does, but at least now Lally has the right men for the job. And by the way, they play music pretty well, too.