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An interview with the 502s, the happiest band on earth | The Triangle
Arts & Entertainment

An interview with the 502s, the happiest band on earth

Photo by Alyssa Rasp | The 502s

On Saturday, April 20, American folk band The 502s, took the stage of the Fillmore in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to an incredibly packed crowd. The band features six members: Ed Isola on lead vocals and banjo, Matthew Tonner on keyboard, Graci Phillips on guitar, Nicholas Dallas on bass, Joe Capati on saxophone and Sean Froelich on drums. The six performers lit up the Fillmore stage with their unbelievably positive and high-energy performances, playing a show fans will remember for years to come. Three members of the band, (Ed, Graci, and Joe) hopped on a call with The Triangle to discuss the band’s origins, current tour, and their impressive Philadelphia performance.

James Biernat: Ed, you got your start playing in your dorm room. Can you talk about the start of your musical journey which started in a unique way?

Ed Isola: The earliest iteration of The 502s took place in my dorm room at the end of my freshman year. I wrestled in college and needed something to do after the season ended, and I was big into the folk scene that was going on at that time. So, I picked up a banjo, mostly just to learn some Mumford & Sons cover songs, and it progressed from there. As I went through college, I would borrow guitars from people in my hall to learn different folk songs and then started writing songs as well. 

JB: That’s great. From there, you won a contest that allowed you to perform at the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival, before you had released any music. One of your inspirations, Mumford & Sons was on the bill as well, so can you talk about what a major impact that had on the takeoff of the band?

EI: The fact that Mumford & Sons were there, as well as the Avett Brothers, was why we entered the contest. At the time we were in Orlando, messing around doing open mics, and saw the contest. So, we scraped together three original songs for the battle of the bands, one of which was “Olivia,” which was one of our first popular songs. From there, we called all the family and friends we had in Orlando and told them to come to the battle of the bands, where we were voted through. That was the first real event we had ever played as a band, and we used the $500 reward to record our first EP we put out in 2016. That’s when the band name came around too, we were cycling through a bunch of names, and when we won the contest it was like, I guess we’re the 502s now. 

JB: That’s a super unique way for the band to get started. In almost a decade since then, the band has amassed over two million monthly listeners, and had multiple projects and songs that tracked very highly. Did you ever imagine from the start that the band would reach the heights you’ve found?

EI: I think yes and no. Everybody that’s in the band realized, we’re f-ing great, and we can play stadiums one day. So I think we’ve all had that mentality and we believe in the music to that extent. Then, actually seeing it come to fruition has been almost incomprehensible. Maybe we dreamed it was possible, but didn’t actually know that it was.

JB: I can see your energy translating well to a stadium show. Talking a little more about the show in Philly, as you said on stage that was the largest headlining show you’ve ever played, and it was a super high-energy performance, featuring solos from every member and a trip into the crowd to finish the show. For Joe [Capati] and Graci [Phillips], can you talk about what a special performance that was?

Graci Phillips: Oh my gosh yeah. That show was special for so many reasons. For the band and my time with the band, it was very special. I’ve been in the band for a little over a year, and it was at the Theater of the Living Arts where I talked to Ed for the first time about joining The 502s. So, getting to play at the Fillmore to a packed house was the most exciting, full-circle moment for me. I was thrilled the entire night, so it was hard to not be energetic, it meant so much to the band, and to me and my journey with them. 

Joe Capati: I thought what was especially cool was seeing how large the stage was. We move around a lot on stage, obviously, so that was the first chance for us to really spread our wings and fly on stage. 

JB: Joe, you definitely made good use of flying around the stage, that was another level of energy not usually seen by saxophonists.

JC: Yeah, it’s a new wave of saxophone.

JB: Your song, “Just A Little While” has become somewhat of an instant classic, and a tune many fans look forward to hearing you perform live. For Ed, what was the story behind writing this song?

EI: Instant classic is flattering. That was a song we used to open the set up with, and it came together very quickly, I think in a day. The main inspiration for it was we wanted a song that would catch people’s attention right off the bat. You’re going into these bars, and nobody has any clue who you are, so we wanted to grab people’s attention as best we could. The way I thought to do that was strum the banjo very aggressively and hit a bunch of drums. Lyrically, it’s a reflection on growing up, waiting on things to come, yet still enjoying where you’re at. What’s been cool about that song is people put their own meaning onto it, so I guess it’s kind of open-ended. 

JB: Your opener in Philly, Daniel Nunnalee, also gave a fantastic performance. Can you talk about how talented of an artist he is, and how you discovered his music?

GP: Daniel and his band are from and live in Nashville and we’ve known each other for many years. He had some songs that got big around the time some of The 502s songs went viral. It was really exciting to see him play, and to see someone I know shine. We both got to play Hangout Fest last year, down in Gulf shores. Our teams organized him coming out with us, he’s massively talented, and he gets fans hyped and energetic at every venue. 

JB: What’s next for the band? How do you see the future going, what can fans expect in the coming months and years?

EI: The Great American Road Trip Tour we’re on now runs through Memorial Day weekend, and then we’re working on another tour for later this year where we’ll go overseas. So, a fair amount of touring, and then working on new music. When people ask, what’s next for The 502s, I think it’s just continuing that. JB: Thanks!