Eighty degrees with not a cloud in sight, and Josh Perna and Aaron Brown’s pitch black skinny jeans were serving as magnets for the heat.
“I’m cooking!” said Perna as Brown chuckled, an inside joke between the two.
But when you’re an up-and-coming rock band on the cusp of a major industry breakthrough, you have to look the part. Obviously. The two mid-20-somethings were all smiles when The Times caught up with them recently in their homebase of New Hope. And rightly so.
After multiple rounds of online voting, it was announced last month their band, Saint Slumber, would perform in Radio 104.5’s Final Four Showcase, taking place this Sunday at Parx Casino from 5 to 8 p.m. The mini concert is the culmination of the alternative music station’s two-month long, fan-driven competition to determine which local band will grace the same stage as Thirty Seconds to Mars and Imagine Dragons at its Birthday Shows June 17 and 30.
To play the spacious BB&T Pavilion in Camden, New Jersey, on the same bill as these rock giants is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most bands, especially the 1-year-old Saint Slumber, whose members hail from extremely humble roots.
“I’m from such a small farming town that I don’t even call it a town,” Perna said.
Perna, Saint Slumber’s dynamic lead vocalist, and guitarist Brown’s friendship dates back to their elementary school days when they discovered a mutual passion for creativity. Since playing music was one of the few fun things to do in the “middle of nowhere,” Perna and Brown figured they may as well be good at it. This early foundation would carry the two through a rocky experimental journey of testing different bands and sounds, including heavy metal.
“We kind of dabbled in everything before we started doing this,” Perna said.
By “this,” Perna is referring to present-day Saint Slumber, which also includes drummer Matt Carpenter and bassist Adam Jessamine, the band’s most recent addition. “He actually saw us play live when we were just a three-piece,” Perna said of Jessamine. “He didn’t even play bass at the time, but he was like, ‘I’ll learn bass!’”
An intimate recording studio was set up in Perna’s home, and the four-piece cranked out more than a dozen songs in the span of a few months. Initially, the band’s ideal sound was up in the air, but after recording and producing several tracks, the guys stumbled upon something special — a unique blend of electronic, rock, indie and pop that could seamlessly transition from a mosh pit to a house party.
“It happened really naturally,” Perna said. “Nothing was contrived or forced.”
The singer admitted the electronic undertone of Saint Slumber confused producers and A&R representatives, who suggested everything from a Perna solo career to he and Brown being the second coming of The Chainsmokers. But they weren’t about to drop their instruments for an easy route to fame.
“We were very insistent that we are a band. We’re guitar-driven, we want a real drum set. That’s something that really meant a lot to us,” Perna said. “We’re always going to be some derivative of a rock band.”
Rather than leave its fate up to labels, Saint Slumber decided to self-produce its records, introducing to the world its debut EP YOUTH//1 in 2017. The five-track creation mixes electronic pop with alternative rock, enticing Top 40 listeners and punk kids alike. Featuring songs such as “Need” and “Human,” YOUTH//1 earned the band an appearance at Radio 104.5’s most recent Winter Jawn Festival with Dashboard Confessional and the Struts.
The festival helped the still brand new Saint Slumber jump on the radar of countless potential fans gathered at Xfinity Live! in Philadelphia. So when it got word the station was seeking local bands to perform at the even larger Birthday Shows, it jumped at the opportunity.
“Radio 104.5 is the best thing to happen to local music. I’ve never heard of this happening anywhere else. No other organization in the country is giving local bands an opportunity to play for the biggest band on earth,” Perna said.
To enter the competition, which kicked off in March, bands from across the Delaware Valley submitted music videos to give Radio 104.5 a taste of their sound. Out of a massive pool, 25 were chosen to vye for the votes of fans and after two rounds, the top four were revealed. Voting was then closed, and according to Perna, station representatives have known since April who won. For the bands, it’ll be kept a secret until the end of the Final Four Showcase.
“It’s probably the most nerve-wracking way that you can find out,” Perna said. “It’s kind of like being on The Bachelor.”
No matter the results, just making it to the final four is a win. First place chooses which Birthday Show they’d like to play (June 17 featuring Thirty Seconds to Mars or June 30 featuring Imagine Dragons), with second place receiving the other. Third and fourth place will each play at an upcoming Block Party at Festival Pier.
If Saint Slumber is so fortunate to have earned the most fan votes, it already knows it will choose the Imagine Dragons date.
“That would definitely be the highlight of our careers so far. I mean, they’re one of the biggest bands in the world,” Perna said. “Imagine Dragons really opened up the pop sphere to bands.”
Until the guys find out whether this dream will come true, they want fans who voted for them to know a few things.
“It’s 2018 and we’re a band that cares. We’re a band that’s still doing it. We’re a band that kind of embodies the American dream. We’re starting from the middle of nowhere, super small town, doing everything ourselves. And now we could be bringing it to one of the biggest stages in the tri-county area, and that’s huge. That’s exciting,” Perna said. “With as much humility as possible, I want people to know we think that’s awesome too. We’re not too cool to care. We care, and we’re doing what we love.”
In the midst of its Birthday Show excitement, Saint Slumber will release its new single “I Think I Like You” on May 25, followed by its second EP YOUTH//2 this summer. The final release in the three-part series, YOUTH//3 will drop in 2019.
“It’s all working together very serendipitously,” Perna said. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org