Citizen Shade begins to shine

by Rebecca Harrelson

Photos by John Ryan Flaherty

| @writemesweetly

I had the pleasure of sitting down with the guys of Citizen Shade over dinner one evening. After seeing them perform once at Churchill’s, I knew their sound would not be contained in Greensboro much longer. Their individual character made for a great conversation about their lives, their passions and the bonds they have formed.

Will Howard Purgason on lead vocals has a raspy but smooth soulful voice. Every now and then he will crack a smile, breaking his cool stage presence, and that small smile shows you how much he actually enjoys this path of music.

Justin Mackey is more or less “the quiet one” that can play a cello like nothing I’ve ever seen. I had no idea a classical instrument could sound so beautiful among high beats and pop music. Mackey voices deep and though provoking comments when he feels necessary, and that quality is not lost on the other two guys. You can tell there is an all-around sense of respect for one another.

David Lezcano is the “outgoing one” who plays the piano alongside these two great musicians and rounds out their unique sound. The piano and I go way back, so my eyes constantly move to Lezcano and the powerful music he plays during each song.

This trio of talented young musicians is unlike anything I have heard in Greensboro. Their love for music comes through in many ways, including in their selfwritten lyrics.

RH: So all of you are students at UNCG?

David Lezcano: I graduated just this past May from UNCG, I received a degree in Piano Performance, and that’s how I met Justin. I was born in Arlington, Virginia. I did two years at Christopher Newport University and I finished the last two years at UNCG.

Justin Mackey: I’m from Hope Mill, North Carolina, right next to Fort Bragg. I’m a cellist, studying at UNCG. David and I had a class together, then we started wanting to do more things musically together. The idea I had was piano guys”¦but something more edgy and then this happen and I was like this is exactly what I wanted, just with vocals added.

Will Howard: Piano guys, but you guys are more attractive and you both still have your hair”¦ haha. Yeah so I’m at UNCG, basically just hoping to finish up period, my grades are good but focusing on that when we are having the opportunities that we’ve had, it’s very difficult for me, to be honest. I have a year left, give or take. I’m working toward a History degree or a Liberal Studies degree with a History concentration.

RH: For your style of music, what venue suits you guys best? Is it coffee shops?

Will Howard: Not for where we are going with our full band sound, it’s going to be much more like”¦mixing the EDM movement with “¦ Waitress: I brought this water just in case you wanted it”¦ Will Howard: Would you put that in the interview? What she said about the water was on point!

“¦We are planning on subbing in a drummer and a DJ some as well. We want to be able to play EDM festivals and also be able to do a stripped down version at a coffee shop. It’s like if you see Adele she is able to fill out Albert Hall and big venues, but also do really intimate settings. And I think if the song is a good song, then you will be able to feel its impact in any setting.

RH: Do you guys write your own music?

Collectively: Yep

RH: And you have an E.P that just came out at the end of July?

Collectively: Yeah, with five songs on that.

David Lezcano: So it’s a trio base, but then we will outsource other musicians to come in and play. So when we played the Fun Fourth Festival, we had a bass player, guitar player and a drummer. We were set up right outside the Carolina Theater. Our audience was better because we were outside.

Justin Mackey: At Fun Fourth this guy (motioning to Will) had the brilliant idea of doing a second sound check right before we went on, even though the sound guy said we didn’t need it, but to attract people”¦it was brilliant.

Will Howard: It was brilliant

RH: So how did you all meet?

Collectively: Laughing and looking at Will…

Justin Mackey: Ugh don’t say it! He normally says something completely outlandish about how we met.

Will: The first time I met David we didn’t know we met, I walked into J-Crew and I was like who is that attractive man?

David: HaHa! Stop. Will: I asked a friend, Tony Watson, for a keys player, because I play the keys “¦ and I do most of my writing on the keys but when you’re behind the piano you just can’t engage the crowd as much.

RH: David do you think that’s true?

David: I mean yeah, I’d say you can’t be a hype man. I mean you look at someone like Billy Joel they would say they are more limited than someone standing in front of a crowd with a mic.

Will: Or Chris Martin, because that’s what I want our show to look like. Sometimes I have a mic, sometimes a guitar. We want to be able to change it up.

RH: When did music happen with you each individually?

Justin: That’s interesting because we all grew up listening to certain genres but I don’t think any of our parents play.

David: That is interesting, something that probably unifies us. I mean I know our parents really love music but none of our parents play.

RH: So Justin when did you start playing cello?

Justin: So in 5 th grade I was able to take cello, like a beginning class. I don’t honestly know what made me decide, it’s kind of beside me, I got a big sheet of paper with instruments on it and I chose cello without knowing what it was. And then guitar hero got me playing guitar, I even bought a Les Paul because that’s what I played in the game.

David: You’re my hero!

RH: And what about you David?

David: I started taking piano lessons when I was five, of course there were times when I would have rather been outside but throughout time it was something I really did enjoy. There were moments where I kind of ran away from it, but in high school I really solidified it and made the commitment to go into a music program. So then I knew it was getting pretty serious. A college education based around it, and a lot of money.

Justin: A really expensive piece of paper that’s for sure.

Will: I was a huge jock for as long as I can remember. I played basketball, and I thought that’s what I was going to do. In high school, I was burning out with playing. So I said I would get into drums cause’ I love drums, and that was where I started. I had taken piano in first and second grade but because I was gone every weekend playing basketball I stopped. Wasn’t until I was a senior in High School that I picked up the guitar and started singing and playing. I liked playing in my church.

David: Yeah I think we all spent our high school years playing in church Will: Started playing basketball again at Anderson, and then I was challenged by some people there asking me why I hadn’t shown them any of my music. So I came back to UNCG, I was born here so it was much cheaper to go to school here. Started with procession, one of the teachers pushed me into the direction of singer/ songwriter so”¦

RH: When you started singing, was it this Ah Ha moment realizing you could sing?

Will: Oh no way I was a shit singer when I started. Listening to a bunch of different music brought it out in me. Vocal lessons took me the extra mile, but I had to develop my own tone. When I started I might not have been horrible, but I sounded like everyone else. I tried to model my voice after Sam Cook and soul singers, Otis Redding, David Ruffin, and that’s where it started, copying people I admired.

David: Do you want the pillow thing on the record?

Will: Oh yeah, well it’s definitely unorthodox I don’t recommend it. When I was developing my tone, that’s a muscle and I knew I really liked my voice after a football game when I’ve been screaming.

So what I would do to warm up was scream into a pillow. And drink tea and chocolate milk. I definitely don’t do that anymore; we would be able to play for about another year, until my voice would be done. Now I warm up the right way, even if it takes a longer time.

Justin: Vocal is just as fine an instrument as any other, you can be technically really strict which in the long run allows you to free yourself and add your own style later on. Just like with me and the cello, my arm is supposed to be a lot higher but I droop it when I play with these guys so I can play faster. There is no right or wrong way of doing these things, but there are learning experiences that come from all forms.

Will: When I teach people vocals, I tell them to develop a tone first, like don’t even worry about your range; just make what’s comfortable to you different. My favorite singers could sing the phonebook and make it sound amazing.

RH: What is the Citizen Shade sound if you had to put a label on it?

David: Metal”¦.trash. HaHa. No, no. Will: It really depends on the album, the last album we did was R&B and pop soul, but just pop. We want to always be ten feet ahead of the scene. I think artists that look ahead are always more successful. Musicians that can branch out but still hold true in their convictions. Coldplay is a group we all really enjoy, they branch out and yet they still will always be Coldplay. I like his lyrics a lot because he talks about history, bringing in the French Revolution was cool to me.

RH: Do you guys hangout when you’re not performing or practicing?

David: I joke with some people when I’m not with these guys that I end up on the phone with one of these two every single day or multiple times a day. There is always something going on that we need to be talking about but one day all of that will boil down to this, and that will be beautiful.

RH: So final question, why start a band?

Will: Cause we couldn’t not do it. Seriously, like I can’t not play music. I’ve tried life without music, because there are ways to make money quicker unless you pass that threshold in the business. Generally, and I’m not making predictions, but it’s hard, especially with all the streaming services now. I think that’s how we all feel, it always draws you back, something you’re passionate about you can’t stay away from.

David: I think for all three of us, it allows us to do something bigger; I mean we’ve talked about this before, something bigger than just ourselves. We all have the ability to play by ourselves, to perform classically by ourselves.

Will: Yeah and I’ve tried the singer songwriter thing by myself and it’s just not as fun.

Justin: For me, I’m a classically trained musician but I listen to music like this. This is a way I can explore a way of being a classical musician within modern music. And for me, say when I die I would like someone to remember me as someone who really worked on making the cello something relevant in today’s music, so it doesn’t just fade away.

Will: We can all choose to be individuals but our story together is so much more interesting.

David: And we do things so much better when we come together. I think we are talented in our own unique ways and I think that about these guys, and when we come together we are able to create something that inspires substance. !

REBECCA HARRELSON is a proud Greensboro resident, and an insatiably curious soul.