Monday, August 11, 2008

By Day, Paralegal; By Night, Rising Mars

By day, and to most people, Stephen Mauriello is simply a husband, new father, and paralegal near his home in Morristown, N.J. But his fans know him as Steeven Mars, a star on the rise in the music galaxy. Last year, the talented singer/songwriter released his debut solo album, "If Not Now...When?"

"I started the Mars thing to separate the musician side of me from the responsible side," he said. " 'Steevan Mars' became like 'David Bowie,' my alter ego, which is ironic because it's probably more me."

Music has been an integral part of the Florham Park native's life for more than 20 years, ever since his parents gave him his first guitar at age 11.

"It was pretty obvious that I wanted one. I was playing every tennis racket and hockey stick in the house," he said.

Although Mauriello has experimented with other instruments, including drums and piano, he said he's remained loyal to his first love.

"The guitar is, without sounding like a cliche, like a good friend," he said. "I was kind of a lonely kid, and it used to keep me company."

Mauriello started performing in the mid-1990s with the alternative rock band Joyseed, with whom he recorded two albums and performed in various venues in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But the band broke up in 2000 after a record deal with Sony Music fell through.

Mauriello spent the next few years playing in local churches, such as the progressive Liquid Church in Morristown, formerly of Basking Ridge.

"It was the best band I ever played with," he said, noting the weekly church performance schedule helped him hone his skills.

Mauriello's been enjoying positive recognition since the release of the new album. In February, he was a finalist in the "Morristown's Got Talent" competition, and three months later he performed in a showcase for up-and-coming musicians at the legendary Bitter End in New York.

His solo album was inspired by his wife, Lurdes, whom he met six years ago at the Famished Frog in Morristown, where he'd gone to hear a friend play piano.

"She's a very good critic. She's not afraid to tell me what's wrong with my songs," he said. "She's the reason I recorded that CD. I wasn't really doing anything musically, and she said 'Look, this is what you do. I don't care what it costs, what time it would take you."

Mauriello worked nearly a year writing and recording the six songs on "If Not Now...When?" Other songs that he wrote during that time, as well as some new pieces he's worked on since, will appear on his next album, "That Was Then, This Is Now...Again," which he expects to complete in 2009.

The high-energy songs on his debut album reflect Mauriello's taste for classic rock, which he developed as a kid by listening to records that his older siblings lent him -- Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Eric Clapton.

Mauriello said his family not only influenced his choice of instrument and taste in music, but also inspired many of the pieces on his first, six-song solo album.

"Long Time," the album's reflective opening song, was written a year after his sister's divorce, Mauriello said. The song's lyrics evoke the pain the entire family felt after the separation, he said.

"It's in the perspective of my sister, but as a family, we were all going through it," the singer said. "When something is really hitting you emotionally, it really is a good impetus for songwriting."

Other songs on the album are based on events or relationships in his own life.

The lyrics on the album's final track, "Sideways (A Long Way Down)" -- "I want to sing again, if only for an hour or two" -- reflect his frustrations with his old job in New York City.

"I came home after a really long day, sat on my bed and started writing," he said. "It just started to come out how much I hated working in the city."

The album's title track, with its questioning lyrics about finding identity and purpose, hints at Mauriello/Mars' sense that he leads a double life.

"That song is about me.... I'm a paralegal during the day, but is that really who I am?" he explained. "It's about when are you going to find who you are and where you fit into the world.

"If you don't make it in this business, you have to do something else, but in a sense you're living two lives," he continued. "Your true self is really a musician. Sometimes it's hard to reconcile the two, and be one person."

These days, Mauriello said he's found an identity he feels comfortable with: the father of a 1-year-old boy.

"I think Danny's definitely going to be a musician," he said. "If there's music in the house anywhere, he reacts to it. He just moves, or he just smiles, or he sings along. . . . He likes to pluck my guitar."

Mauriello hopes music can serve as an outlet for his son's emotions, just as it did for him.

"Sometimes, growing up as a boy especially, you're not brought up to act on those feelings. Music was a way to bring those feelings out," he said. "(A guitar) is like another voice."

(Source: Morristown Green -

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