On June 14th, 2008, Hmoodle covered the fundraising event “Project Muunoo” at Moonlight Magic Lounge aka Lucy’s. That’s when I first encountered the group Major 5th. With ten other artists who all performed well that night, Major 5th stole the show. That night they thrilled and wowed the crowed that was unmatched by any other performance. It was right then and there I knew that I had to have them appear in our All Access feature.
Major 5th is a six member ensemble that has been together for a little over a year. Their sound is a blend of rock n’roll mixed with techno/electronica that is as alluring as it is hypnotizing. They have been performing at colleges, restaurants, bars, and where ever else they can be heard. Not even old enough to buy drinks at some of the venues they perform at, this young group is often the highlight of the shows they appear in.
The band is lead by the adorable Victoria Vang whose vocal skills prove that she’s not just another pretty face. Leng Moua provides lead guitar and seems to be the vocal leader of the band. Daniel “Jak” McNellis is second guitar and is the outspoken one. David Yang plays the drums and is the bug killer. Andrew Pen provides keyboard along with the synthesizer as well. Lastly, there’s the very soft spoken Washy Lee, who is their bass guitarist. You put that all together and you get the very gifted and talented group that is Major 5th.
I arrived at Metro State and was anticipating a great show. But first I had to meet with the band. With the help of guitarist, Leng Moua, we got the group together, minus Jak, for a sit-down interview. As we literally sat on the floor of Metro State, this is the outcome of that interview.
Hmoodle: First off, let’s get some background information about the group. Were you friends before becoming a band? How was the band formed?
Leng: I knew each member individually on different levels. I met Jak, Andy, and Washy in high school. I performed with David once at a show and I knew him from that point on. Initially, it was Jak and I who started to write songs. Victoria came later on. It was just a guy’s band at first. I heard Victoria’s vocals on a demo disk from Washy, since Washy and Victoria used to perform together. I loved her voice instantly. So we called her and asked her to join the band. She was kind of hesitant at first but when she came to our practice, the music chemistry we shared became very natural. I’m not sure how to describe it, but it was kind of magical the first time we all performed together.
Hmoodle: So were you looking for a female lead singer?
Leng: It was not our intention to have a female lead singer from the beginning of our band’s career. However, I had always enjoyed bands with a female front. When we heard Victoria’s early work, we discovered what we were looking for. It was a very natural decision; it just happened.
Hmoodle: So it was just the guys at first. Is that when you created the name of the band and where did you get the name?
David: It started when we were on our way to St. John’s/St. Benedict’s college for a gig and that was when there were just the five guys. We really didn’t like the name that we had.
Hmoodle: What was the name then?
David: It was Hymn of the Republic. We thought it was too long of a name. People kept pronouncing it wrong, so that didn’t help. We just kept going through different names.
Leng: Major 5th actually came out accidentally. Major 5th is like a musical term, but not really. It was by accident, but it caught on and has stuck with us ever since.
Hmoodle: Victoria, they said that you were hesitant to join the group at first. What made you decide that you wanted to be apart of Major 5th?
Victoria: First, the reason I was hesitant is because I live so far away. I live in Duluth for school. I came down for a practice run and like Leng said, it was kind of like magic. Everything just went together. I played a song that I wrote and they played along with me and we created a song that night.
Hmoodle: So how long have the six of you been together?
Victoria: About a year and a couple of months.
Hmoodle: Who is responsible for the song writing and what goes in to creating the songs?
Leng: Each song is very different. Some of the songs, Victoria has written it on acoustic guitar and she presents it to us. We then compose our own parts. Sometimes, us, as instrumentalists will compose a piece minus the vocals. Sometimes it will happen almost instantly, with a natural sense of direction. We’ll play a guitar lick and everyone will catch on. However, it can also be a long process to compose some of the melodies.
Hmoodle: Prior to performing together, it sounds like you’ve all had experience performing with others, but take us back to the first time the six of you actually played in front of a crowd.
David: Since the first performance, we’ve evolved musically. The first performance that we played together was at Andy’s restaurant. It was just something fun to do. Something to keep us truckin’. It used to be hard for us to practice together because we would mess up, but now it just seems to flow. Everyone brings their own part to the table.
Victoria: I don’t even think that show was planned until like a couple hours before. I came down from Duluth with Leng, who came to pick me up. I still hadn’t met Jak, the other guitarist yet. So, we were panicking because we weren’t sure what parts to play. In the end it ended up being a pretty good show for our first time out together.
Leng: Musically we have become more advanced and experienced. But beyond the music, we have grown closer together as people. I consider my band members my best friends.
Andrew: I know I have evolved personally. I first started with just piano, but now I am playing the synthesizer as well. It’s a big change because it sounds really cool to have the techno effects besides the keyboard in some of our songs.
Hmoodle: What song are guys truly proud of—the song that truly represents Major 5th.
Andrew: I think “Thank You” does. It was one of our first songs that Victoria wrote and we put together. Leng even has his own solo in the song.
Leng: “Thank You” seems to be our most popular song. A lot of people seem to enjoy it. But we always try to offer variety within our music while keeping the style very “Major 5th” like. It is difficult to say which one song represents Major 5th because each song brings a little bit of Major 5th to the table.
About an hour after the interview the band finally took center stage. They started off the show with “Crazy Break Up Song”, which is a great way to start, because it makes the crowd want to rise from their seats. This is also the song that greets you to the groups’ Myspace page. (myspace.com/major5thmn) The recording on the page doesn’t do the song any justice, nor do any of the other recordings available there. They are just so much better live. During this first song, they already had the crowd in the palm of their hands—getting everyone involved with clapping to the beat of the song.
The next song up was “Lost” and it was in this song that I really enjoyed hearing the keyboard being played. I am big fan of piano rock and Andrew’s keyboarding abilities really elevate this song, Andrew continued to shine in the next song “What Do We Know”, with his synthesizer skills.
They then performed an untitled song, which apparently was to be named “The Happy Song”, at least for this evening. The intro to this song is really upbeat. It allows the band to show that they are very capable musicians. It’s a very well put together piece. Now they just have to find a name for it.
They went on to play “Oh, What a Night”, definitely not to be confused with the Billy Joel version. After that, they went on to present us with the song, “The Chaser”, which I definitely thought was a drinking song, but apparently it’s a dancing song. You can go ahead and watch the video here. Victoria also mentioned that she didn’t know any good jokes. It was a very sincere, funny, and cute moment. Just another reminder of how young this group is, not that it’s a bad thing.
To finish off the evening they performed “Thank You”, which they had mentioned to me earlier, is one of their most popular songs. I really like this song because it starts off soft and slow then finishes really strong. Another great thing about “Thank You” is that it really allows Victoria to show off her vocal range. It’s a really beautiful song and a great way to end the evening.
Afterwards, the band and I went outside and enjoyed the evening and discussed the show and what we can expect from them in the future.
Hmoodle: Jeremy, you just got to witness your first Major 5th concert. What did you think?
Jeremy: It was awesome!
Hmoodle: What did you think of your Uncle Leng?
Jeremy: He was good.
Hmoodle: Tonight’s crowd was a bit smaller than the one from Lucy’s—the venue itself too, was a bit smaller. Does that change the way you perform?
Jak: Just the space. It just seemed hard to jump around and get going.
Hmoodle: Yeah, that really was a small stage to perform on.
Jak: There are six of us, plus all are instruments and other necessities. It just makes for a crowded stage—but its still fun.
Hmoodle: As an artist, it seems like you become oblivious to the crowd.
Vitcoria: For me, if the crowd’s not into it I feel so weird that I don’t really move too much.
Leng: When you’re on stage, you have to remind yourself that sometimes the people in the crowd have never heard your music. It is difficult for the audience to interact when they are unfamiliar with your music. Hopefully, they are sitting there staring because they are listening to your music. Just have a good time on stage, they’ll see it, and then they’ll have fun as well.
Hmoodle: So all night, I was waiting for the song “Thank You” because some of you had mentioned that it’s the song that sticks out for you guys and I really was happy to hear it, because it really showcased everyone’s talents—Jak,, you weren’t here, what do you make of some of your band mates here saying that the song “Thank You” is the song that stands out for Major 5th.
Jak: It was really cool because Victoria wrote the song. I was gone for awhile in Ireland and I came back and we were preparing for this performance at Andy’s restaurant. Leng told me the chords I had to play and the first time we played it, we nailed it. I had NEVER played it with the guys before, so that was pretty cool. First time we played it, it really creeped me out. I don’t know if it was her voice—it was just so good, it was creepy.
Hmoodle: So Andy, I’ve been hearing about this restaurant of yours, tell us about it?
Andrew: Yeah, it’s called Kolap Restaurant on 601 North Dale Street on the corner of Thomas and Dale. We serve really good Cambodian food.
Jak: Andy’s restaurant is pretty symbolic to the group. After the show we drop our stuff at David’s, go to Cub Food’s for like three hours, wait for David and Washy pick out a razor for an hour, and then go to Andy’s to cook up a big meal. We usually stay up all night.
Hmoodle: What can we expect from you guys in the future? Is there an album in the works?
Leng: We have like five songs that we have picked out so far.
David: Once we record and get our EP out we can expand to places we’ve never been to before and play in bigger venues.
Leng: For the readers, just keep an eye out on our Myspace and look for our EP release. We want to play in more Minneapolis venues.
The first time I heard Major 5th perform they were good, but this time, they exceeded my expectations. As they continue to win over new fans in venues all over the Midwest, you can expect them to be a household name in the Indie music scene for years to come. The sky’s the limit with this group. If they can maintain that strong bond they have as friends then this musical journey they’re on should be a very rewarding one.
I really enjoyed myself at this event. The event (ICE’s Open Mic Night) was a great showcase for up and coming talent. Major 5th proved that they are the emerging as one of Minnesota’s premiere young bands. The bar has definitely been raised.
If you are fan of early “No Doubt”, than I really think you would find yourself enjoying Major 5th. There are some similarities, but make no mistake, Major 5th can hold its own. Obviously I think you should give them a chance, because I can promise you that you won’t be disappointed. I, for one cannot wait for the release of their first album.
I need to thank Major 5th for taking their time to be apart of this feature. They were very gracious and appreciative of Hmoodle being at their concert and wanting them to be apart of our site. Their passion and drive for continued success is contagious. Working with them was a trouble free process. They made themselves available to us prior to and after their performance, which is necessary for a project like this. I also need to thank TouSaiko Lee with Chat, for welcoming us with open arms to ICE’s Open Mic.
Want to get acquainted with Major 5th? You can find additional information here:
Learn more about CHAT and their many programs:
CHAT (Center for Hmong Arts & Talent)
Be sure to check back here at Hmoodle with further updates about Major 5th and future performances. If you find out that Major 5th is performing somewhere near you, take a friend—take a few friends, and have yourself a great time!
If you are an artist that wants to be featured in are All Access feature or you have an event that you’d like us to attend, than feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]