Married to the Music


By Eli Jace

Sea monkeys, x-ray spectacles and dirt from Dracula’s castle are a few of the things Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola have thought about – and written about, and tried to collect – since starting their fourth band, Darling Pet Munkee, last spring. “We write songs about items sold in comic books,” Epstein says of the subject matter on their new CD, Glows in the Dark! They play Radio (379-381 Somerville Ave) Jan. 14 for the CD release.

Epstein, 34, and Cacciola, 27, not only share a house in Porter Square, but three other active bands. “We each have our primary band,” Epstein explains. His being, ahem, The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library (MJEML) and hers being, wait for it, Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling (DNFMOMD). Then there are their side projects – “fun outlets,” as Cacciola calls them, the latest of which is Darling Pet Munkee: their most serendipitous and weirdest venture yet.

DNFMOMD at the Regent Theatre. Photo by Eli Jace.

The project came into view last spring when a friend in Lowell needed a band to record in a pinch. Cacciola and Epstein, with Catherine Capozzi from the band Axemunkee, jumped in the car to help the friend out. During the drive, the scheme of writing about comic book ads was conceived; within 15 minutes their first song was born. The experience working with Capozzi prompted them to schedule a second recording session that would create the songs on Glows.

Cacciola and Epstein each moved here from the far reaches of New York – Cacciola from the Finger Lakes region and Epstein from Long Island. “Where I grew up is all shopping malls and highways and underdeveloped,” Epstein says. “It was not for me.” While attending grad school at Northeastern, Epstein followed a friend into Davis Square regularly. “I eventually found myself having no choice but to move here,” he says; by 2005 he was a full-time resident. Cacciola arrived in 2001 and found work at the now-defunct CD Spins stores in Harvard and Davis Square. “That was my musical education in a lot of ways,” she remembers.

The two met in 2001 at an open mic session at Club Passim in Cambridge. They each tried songs-in-progress for an unknown audience. “It’s where we got our stage-legs,” Epstein says. “We did that for years to hone our craft.” The immediacy of the open mic was challenging but ultimately rewarding. “It was a good workshop tool,” Cacciola says. “I would write a song that morning, play it at night and see what happens. It was good for developing.” One day, Epstein offered to record Cacciola’s acoustic songs. Since then, they’ve been musical mates, bound by song. They moved in together in 2005 and married a year later. Their large kitchen acts as a practice space and recording studio.

They share a love for deep, remorseless songwriters. Their Mount Rushmore of inspiration would have the carved faces of Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. “We really like clever lyrics and repetitive songs,” Cacciola says.

MJEML played their first show at Radio in early December, donning their usual librarian garb. The eight-member troupe filed on stage with drums, guitar, clarinet, bass, ukulele, keyboards, cowbell, and even a rain stick to match their brand of hoppy folk rock.

Guided by Morrisey from The Smiths, Cacciola injects her post-punk rage into DNFMOMD. She thumps the drums and sounds like Kim Gordon with a smokier baritone but slightly better manners. Epstein plays bass. The project is based on the 1967 secret agent TV show, “The Prisoner,” with each song corresponding to an episode. The video for “Episode 1 – Arrival,” directed by Theodore Cormey, is a scene-byscene recreation of the show’s opening segment. Last year it appeared on one of’s yearend lists, landing sixth among the Top Ten Creative Videos.

In December they played Arlington’s Regent Theatre, dressed in black with white trimmings. From her drum set, Cacciola commanded every beat and measure while Epstein unleashed a firestorm of unforgiving feedback. At times it was like chainsaws were falling from the sky and Cacciola’s voice served as a warning — the soundtrack to sweet revenge.

The Somerville scene has kept the musicians’ calendars full. They performed at ArtBeat last summer and have played the Farmer’s Market in Union Square. “The city has done a nice job of having various arts festivals that support bands,” Epstein delights. The support is mutual. The two penned and recorded a song for the Shift Your Shopping holiday campaign last year and have paid homage to a wild neighborhood turkey. “We make sure we also do projects that are reflective of where we are,” he says. “I’m a big advocate of Somerville,” Cacciola adds. “I love it.”

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