Needham’s ‘The Tapples’ Amped for Music Showdown

March 8, 2024
• They can’t drink at the bar, and they can’t technically enter the venue as attendees, but The Tapples still plan to rock the stage. The four-man band is tuning up for a competitive rock performance.

The Needham high schoolers are set to compete in Boston’s Last Band Standing, where they’ll face six other regional acts in a bid for more than $5,000 in prizes and a chance to play at the New England Music Awards.

The 21+ show — on March 15 at the Rockwood Music Hall — will be the group’s second appearance in the contest, after playing at the now-closed Hard Rock Cafe two years ago.

Much has changed over those two years. Their early Beatles inspiration had already evolved into an affinity for the rock sounds of R.E.M., Counting Crows and Foo Fighters, and they later developed a love for guitarists John Mayer and Eric Clapton, as well as jazz greats like Duke Ellington. They’ve incorporated the complex chords and production often found in jazz music — they have the NHS Jazz Band to thank for that.

And being teenagers, their voices have also evolved, vocalist and guitarist Riley Zakarian, 18, said. By focusing more on their instrumentation, he said he’s excited to reintroduce the group in Fenway.

“I really love it, the way that we planned everything out,” he said. “There’s solos for everybody in the band, and it’s really nice. It’s like a little jam session we get to do in one part of one of the songs we’re doing.”

During their 20-minute set, they’ll perform a few originals and a cover of “Neon” by John Mayer. Drummer Liam King, 17, said each song creates a different vibe.

Riley Zakarian, 18, plays guitar at his home studio with The Tapples. (Cameron Morsberger)

“We try not to get boxed into one specific genre,” King said. “We’re playing a funk song, we’re playing a country song, almost like a blues song. I think it’s gonna be exciting to do all those mood shifts with the audience.”

Though they may be the youngest group on stage, that doesn’t faze them — they’ve been together in some form for more than 10 years. Riley’s brother Avery, 15, joined as a kindergartner, and Ashton Kim, 16, their keyboardist, is their newest recruit as of the NHS WinterFest. They started writing songs when Riley was in third grade and have since released 21 songs.

In their first showing at Last Band Standing, The Tapples received praise for their chords and sound, but were docked points for their stage presence. Age plays a factor, Riley Zakarian said, especially when they’re up against professional musicians with weekly gigs, but practice makes perfect.

“We’re looking to try to really nail that this time around,” Riley Zakarian said.

And when it comes to booking their own gigs, they sometimes have to remind venues they’re not of age — after scheduling a show at a club in Somerville a couple years ago, the band confirmed the show with organizers, only to be told they were too young.

Liam King, 17, plays drums in The Tapples. (Cameron Morsberger)

“We had to cancel that, which was a bummer,” King said, “but it was pretty funny that they didn’t know that when they listened to our reference tracks.”

The group rehearses in the Zakarian’s basement studio, which is decked with LEDs, a flat screen displaying their tracks in Pro Tools and nearly 40 stringed instruments.

They also display their first album, “Where You’ve Been,” on vinyl, the cover of which features Needham street signs. A second album is in the works, which they hope to release late this summer, before Riley starts classes at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music.

Writing songs is always a collaborative process.

“Someone always starts with some seed, a small idea, and then over time, we build off of it,” said Avery Zakarian, who plays bass and mandolin. “If Riley came up with a cool guitar part, then Liam will come with the drum part to match it, and then I’ll play like a baseline or something.”

About 30 locals are expected to cheer on the band Friday. The contest’s preliminary rounds take place through April, with finals held in May.

Should The Tapples advance to the next round, they won’t have much time to celebrate — they have state finals with their NHS band the next morning. Their friends can go to that gig, just not this one.

“I’ve been saying this joke to my friends where I’m like, ‘Hey, can you ask your parents if they can come to the show?’” Riley Zakarian said, laughing.

Previous post Student Involvement Makes Sunita Williams Shine
Next post Louise Miller Prepares to Become Next Town Clerk