2022 was a big year for Mega Mango. After forming four years prior as students at Drexel University, the band entered an extended hiatus. The “phruitcore” group returned in late 2021 with the release of “Boggle”, their first single since 2019. Since then, the Philadelphia-based band has reached great heights: the addition of a new drummer, the release of three more singles, a fourteen-show tour through the US, and plenty in the works for next year.
With Crow Costello leading and composing songs, Alex Spagnolia on guitar and producing, Niko Jones on bass, and Sam Poll on drums, Mega Mango have cultivated a fanbase with their evocative songwriting and genre-defiant production style.
But the group’s vibrance amounts to more than just their musical prowess; in a recent conversation with Mega Mango, I witnessed firsthand the camaraderie between members – the kind of coalescence that makes great music.
You guys had some success a few years ago and then decided to take a hiatus. What led you to that decision?
CROW: Sophomore year, we came back to school, and our drummer unfortunately decided to drop out, which kind of left us in a tough position for playing live shows and making music. It was a bit discouraging to try and schedule practices when there was no beat to practice to. But I think after two years, we were just kind of itching — Alex and I moved in together, and we just needed to do something, so I think we needed to come back for that reason.
And you guys started the band while in college. How did you navigate living in those two worlds?
NIKO: Crow and I met up before we even got to Drexel; we had a groupchat for the music industry majors…I had experience playing in bands before, and it was one of our friends, Jake, who really brought us all together. The first week, we got together to try to start recording a song, which ended up being “You Spent All Your Love”, the first song we recorded. It was hectic, but that’s what I wanted to do personally as soon as I got to Drexel, was to start a group and start playing music. I’ve come from a long history of that beforehand in California.
You guys brought Sam in as the drummer after the hiatus. Sam, how did you get involved?
SAM: I was a fan at first, which was really, really cool to join these guys. I had a class with Niko…we had a friendship, and then I was a fan, so once we came back from the pandemic I heard “Boggle” in a TikTok that Crow had posted, and I was like, “This song is amazing.” I messaged Niko, and I was like, “Hey, could I try out to play?” And I never tried out, but they let me in, so that was pretty cool.
NIKO: Sam’s easily one of the most hilarious people I’ve ever met; that’s a very important aspect of the job.
ALEX: So true.
NIKO: I think when you’re looking for band members, playing music and making sure you can do the thing is one part of it, but being able to gel as a friend is equally as important. We needed that.
ALEX: And that’s how me and Crow became friends, we were in a production class at Drexel. We ended up just being random partners way back in freshman year…and it just worked. We worked well together. That’s always crucial — good friends first, and then make music.
And how was that for the rest of you, having a new personality with a new set of experiences come in?
ALEX: Amazing. It was fantastic.
NIKO: I think for pretty much all of us, getting in that room again and recording and practicing together was something we missed out on for those two years during the hiatus. It was brutal, ‘cause that was something we all really loved doing beforehand. We were itching to get back in and start playing, and we really wanted a full group to come at it…I think we all learned something pretty impactful those two years about ourselves and what we wanted to add to the music, so it was a…
ALEX: A perfect addition. For sure…it was the missing key. We were making all of our drums on Logic with a drum pad.
Crow, you write the lyrics. Is there an element of contribution from other members, or do you take the helm there?
CROW: Sometimes! I’d like there to be. I think a lot of the music that I’ve brought to the table until this point were ones that I fleshed out on my own, just the lyrics and chords, and I would bring it to them and say, “What can you add?”. But I’ve been trying to sit down and write some more and leave space open for more collaboration, I think…there are times where I like having the control, but as I run out of things I can make on my own, the only thing to really do is bring in collaborators and learn more ways to write. And then I can make things on my own again, but there definitely needs to be some ebb-and-flow there.
When I listen to your singles, I hear such emotional, personal stuff, and you do such a good job of expressing these grievances. That takes a lot.
CROW: This is gonna sound kinda bad, but I used to say to my mom and my grandma…the easiest way to get through to someone is sadness. Which sounds like “baby’s first emotional manipulation”, but I feel like that’s my go-to emotion to sit with for music. I feel like that’s been my outlet…that’s just what I’m comfortable with.
And honestly, your production is amazing. It completely blew me away…
ALEX: The past four songs so far have all been made in the bedroom. It was my bedroom at our last apartment, and we recorded everything in there and mixed and mastered everything in there. And I think we really just aimed to copy popular music and what they’re doing and make it competitive to that…but more low-end, more bass, I want people to feel it more if that makes sense. A lot of rock music is very boxy, very flat — we want something very dynamic with more roundness, more bass.
Dynamic is the perfect word for it. And you mention doing everything in your bedroom — there’s this label of bedroom pop that I know I personally have trouble with.
SAM: We’ve been mislabeled…as “bedroom rock”.
ALEX: It was “bedroom pop”! I wouldn’t have had a problem with “bedroom rock”.
CROW: Yeah, “bedroom rock” makes sense.
ALEX: But it’s not pop. I wouldn’t call it pop.
CROW: Exclusively, at least.
ALEX: But I can see where it comes from. We sort of incorporate the tonality of pop music as opposed to the tonality of rock music, yet it’s the same textures.
SAM: I love it, and I think it speaks to your talent as a producer…it’s made in a bedroom, so you think bedroom pop, but it’s a whole band. It sounds professional. It’s a weird dichotomy back and forth between those two.
And on the subject of pop, your songs “Risk” and “Blurt” both evoke these power-pop instincts in the writing.
CROW: Yeah, I definitely think that there’s a lot of pop influence in my writing.
ALEX: Structurally, for sure.
CROW: I feel like I’ve had a really weird mix of taste growing up…it was a combination of things my parents liked, but what I’ve heard on the radio. So I feel like pop kind of is very much ingrained. I can’t say I disagree with being labeled as pop, it just hurts to be exclusively labeled as pop.
ALEX: Please acknowledge the guitars.
CROW: There’s other sounds there, I promise! I don’t have a problem with pop as a genre…there’s good pop, there’s bad pop, but there is good pop. It’s just hard to find.
As long as we’re talking about influences, what do you each individually bring to the table?
NIKO: I was raised on…The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, that kind of vibe, which is a lot of what I was listening to when I was learning bass. I was really into a lot of alternative, and the beginning garage rock, indie stuff…The Kooks were a really big one. When I started playing in bands, I took more to a surf rock, punk influence…I tend to write a lot of melodic parts with my basslines, and I really enjoy working with Crow because their vocal melodies are very intricate…I have a lot of fun in this project because there’s so much to do, and they let me do whatever I want.
ALEX: This is very true. We let Niko go crazy on the bass. I’d say, influence-wise, I grew up on a lot of classic rock: Van Halen, Kiss, Def Leppard, things like that. That was what my parents played for me as a kid, and then I got really into Foo Fighters, Nirvana, some grunge. Around eighteen years old, I really got into some pop stuff…and really fell into this indie-pop hole for a few years. So that makes this project very fulfilling for me to work on and produce, because I get to blend all of these interests that I’ve had over these years.
CROW: I’ve had a weird history, I guess, when it comes to music. I grew up doing theatre, so I feel like that’s initially where my interest in performing came from and a lot of my vocal habits and abilities…I have a very theatrical way of using my voice, almost.
ALEX: Your delivery is theatrical, for sure.
CROW: I’m a little self-conscious about it sometimes, I can’t lie, because I don’t want to be outed as a theatre kid.
ALEX: Too late!
CROW: I feel like as I started exploring music more as a personal endeavor, just me and an instrument, I got more into folk-y, singer-songwriter type of sounds, and then as college drew nearer, it was more the indie, garage-rock type of sounds. Active Bird Community is one of my favorite bands…I love them so much. For folk I would say Brandi Carlile is a huge inspiration, crazy vocalist, love her so much.
SAM: I’m more into hip-hop and jazz, I guess. Recently I’ve been into…it kinda sucks because I’m a huge Kanye fan, and right now he’s being really shitty, which is an understatement. I like Playboy Carti, Uzi…I grew up listening to mostly that, and my dad’s old Pink Floyd records.
You guys have been up to a lot — you recently completed a fourteen-show tour. How was that?
ALEX: It was very, very, very fun.
NIKO: It was a dream. I’m still kind of very much processing it. It went really well…we started planning the tour back in…
ALEX: In the summer, early summer, right? We’d been planning that tour for a long time.
NIKO: We had a lot of really wonderful opportunities doing that. That was my first time in many of those states…we were able to do an Audiotree, which was very cool. Going to Chicago was wonderful.
ALEX: Atlanta was a highlight.
SAM: Having people sing back to us…in Atlanta especially. None of us had been there before, and almost 100 people showed up to see us. And they brought us two plushies!
ALEX: They did! They brought us these really cool plushies. One of them is a strawberry with a cowboy hat, and then another one was a yellow Among Us with a leaf, like a lemon. The fans were sweet. Very, very sweet.
NIKO: Up until we had gone on tour, it was very much us in a bedroom and on TikTok, and the only times we got to interact with people was digitally. Being able to go out and put usernames to faces…
ALEX: It reminded us that we’re real people.
NIKO: It was so surreal. It’s something that affects me a lot, it’s so crazy to think that we have this much of an impact on people.
SAM: Didn’t someone come up to you at the show…
NIKO: That was…that was something that was really sweet. Shoutout Aidan, I’ll never forget you…he came to the DC show and came up to me at the merch stand, just him and a buddy, and told me that I directly inspired him to pick up a bass.
ALEX: You can quit now. You’ve done it.
NIKO: There’s been so many groups where I’ve wished I could say that to somebody. That’ll never leave my mind; it just feels very special to have that connection.
NIKO: I’ve done weekenders, but not to the scale of going out of state at this capacity.
ALEX: Definitely not to audiences this size, that’s for sure. It was weird.
And how was that experience for you guys as a group? That’s pretty taxing, going across the country together.
SAM: It wasn’t that bad.
ALEX: It could have been way worse.
CROW: I think the car took it worse than any of us did.
ALEX: We did the whole thing in this Volkswagen Jetta hatchback…rest in peace all of our knees, Niko mostly.
NIKO: I was in the backseat for most of it, and when I drove, that’s when it was the easiest.
SAM: Is that why you drove so much?
NIKO: Yeah. Considering we all managed to fit a bass cab, a drum set, four guitars, all of our equipment in a very small car…it was a clown car. The entire situation was insane.
NIKO: It’s pretty easy for us to communicate if something is bothering us, or if we need a second to chill. We were never at each others’ throats, it was a wonderful experience for all of us. I’d never take it for granted.
ALEX: We’re so lucky. A lot of bands tend to butt heads a little more, so I feel lucky to be in a group with these people.
NIKO: But this is our first tour, so maybe down the line…
Speaking of later down the line…what’s up next?
NIKO: We are working on the final release of this board game series.
ALEX: It’s very done.
CROW: There’s one thing missing.
ALEX: There’s one thing missing, but the mix is all done. We’re trying to release vinyls at the moment…those are currently being mastered for vinyl now, so we can do a vinyl release of the entire EP.
NIKO: Hopefully by the beginning of next year, those will be out. And we’re working on our next tour.
ALEX: And we have a couple of demos in the works for the next project, the next group of songs. A lot coming.