When Mike Bernos wrote the songs for Nine Lives Down, he wanted them to give vent to his New Orleans R&B roots and “open” up his music.
“I wanted a band that could give expression and interpretation to my songs,” he said. His first band formed in 2010, eponymously named the Mike Bernos Band and was a five-piece ensemble in which he traded off on guitar and piano. After a few years, he started playing guitar regularly and brought in Cyrus Quaranta on keyboards and Richard Garcia on saxophone to join Jeremy Gray on bass and Sam Rodriguez on drums.
During those years the band featured several singers to handle the lead vocals.
“Finding the right lead singer is like finding the right woman to marry – you have to love her and like her,” said Bernos.
That singer, Brittany Wescott, came at the recommendation of friends Tanya Kroeber and Don Ringhoffer of Stay Tune Studios.
“I admit, when I first met her I was not convinced she was the best fit for the band,” said Bernos. “She had a good voice but she was shy and stuck in the role of background singer.”
Bernos and Wescott worked with each other for a year when Mike Hamilton of Swagsonville recorded the band’s performance at 1904.
The next day, Hamilton brought Bernos into his studio and the two listened to the tape.
“My jaw dropped,” Bernos said. “It was like, ‘who is this girl singing?’”
Bernos said it was like a switch was turned on. He said Wescott let loose that evening displaying a remarkable nuanced vocal dexterity, which was captured by the recording.
“It’s tough to hear through the monitors when you are playing live,” he said. “Maybe it’s always been there and I just never heard the amazing elements to her voice.”
To begin with, he adds, she has a gospel foundation that allows her to fill her songs with much emotion and then she does this thing where she takes the end of a note and bends it ever so subtly, “it’s crazy good.”
According to Bernos, Wescott’s break-out performance was perfectly timed because he had been in talks with Aardvark Records in the UK about his music. Now he had the singer. In 2013, the band went into AIA Studio with platinum-credentialed audio engineer, Daryl Phennegar and produced Nine Lives Down, a 10-song mix of blues-rock, pop and reggae driven by Bernos’s dirty guitar, Garcia’s gutty sax and Wescott’s powerful vocals. Nowhere is that more evident than on the cut, One Shot, a song in which many ways is Bernos’s most personal.
The band was signed by Aardvark in 2013 and released the CD later that year.
Mondo Mike and the Po Boys continue to work around town hoping that the label brings them more attention.
“I enjoy my relationship with all the band members, but I have grown fond of Brittany, not only because she is a talented singer, but also because she has such a great spirit,” Bernos said.
“She has emerged into a captivating frontperson, exuding joy that is infectious – the audience picks up on it and I never fail to do so as well.”
He says when he performs with Wescott, she never lets him forget how redemptive music has been for him. “When she sings, its like water rushing into the breach of my soul.”
Bernos said that he hopes the band gets a break because Spice and the other band members deserve it,” he said. “They are immensely talented and dedicated musicians. “As for me, I’m on my ninth life.”