Not Their First Rodeo: Men of Horses Plays Joe Pop’s

By SARAH HODGSON | Aug 22, 2018
Photo by: Margot Miller Men of Horses

Last Friday night on the stage of Joe Pop’s in Ship Bottom, a life size, vertical banner displayed the peculiar band logo for Men of Horses. On it was an illustration of a muscular horse standing on his hind legs like a human. He’s flexing, grimacing in either a growl or a whinny – one can never tell with those bodybuilding horses. His human hands are clenched in the air as if to accentuate his chiseled biceps and matching six-pack. Above furrowed brows, a tuft of forelock sprouts between his two ears while his mane disappears down his back. Meanwhile, in front of this comical illustration, a four-man band tuned their instruments and fiddled with amp cords, smiling and bouncing about for a lively sound check. They appeared to be as approachable as their fictitious mascot is unapproachable.

Ron Jervis, Eric Fornelius and brothers Eric Pensa and Cory Pensa of Men of Horses chuckled over the origins of their band’s namesake.

“We were hammered one day, just trying to come up with funny things that would stick and I don’t know. We were just joking around one night and we started saying ‘Men of Horses!’ in this funny medieval voice. Then we started yelling it out at gigs and people started saying it back and it sort of caught on and became a thing,” said Jervis, the MOH guitarist and lead vocalist.

Men of Horses has been a band for a little over seven years with some lineup changes here and there. It started like this: Fornelius, the band’s bassist, went to elementary school with drummer Eric Pensa. The two were in their first band together at their sixth grade talent show.  

“Cory was the older brother and Ron’s the weird outsider from the town next door,” joked Fornelius, accounting for the addition of Pensa and Jervis to the lineup.

The group doesn’t adhere to the stereotypical Jersey cover band standards. “We don’t do Journey or Bon Jovi crap or Springsteen,” said Cory Pensa, the guitarist.  

Jervis said they’ll play anything from the ’90s to now, varying their sets with a diverse and vast repertoire. “We try to mix it up as much as possible because you never know who’s going to be there. And it depends on where we play, too. A place like this, we’re going to play more popular stuff. It’s a younger crowd, they’re up late and they want to party. But we play at some quieter spots where it’s an older crowd and we’ll play some Van Morrison or Tom Petty or Peter Gabriel,” said Jervis.

The band’s musical preferences include everything but the kitchen sink. From Marley and progressive rock to punk rock and Phil Collins, each member brings an eclectic taste that reverberates through their unique performances. Reggae, blues, rock and alternative styles conform and meld to create a sublime mixture of solos and vocals. Hefty percussion, electric guitar and funk bass lines filled the room, evoking ’90s and early 2000s nostalgia. Men of Horses, or “Horse Force,” has made a sound all their own.

Donned in plaid button downs, jeans, cargo shorts and backward baseball caps, the group of men rock a casual East Coast style. They kicked off their first set with hits from Sublime and Imagine Dragons, their punk edge sewn seamlessly to their buoyant reggae sound. Jervis’s vocals are an easy, smooth mix of Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump and Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Anthony Kiedis. In fact, the band’s rendition of RHCP’s funk rock “Aeroplane” was almost indistinguishable from its creators’. Later, covers of Justin Bieber and Post Malone tracks showcased their genre-jumping, decade-darting abilities.

Bar goers of mixed ages swarmed the floor in boozed-fueled bliss. They sang along to anthems like “The Middle” and “Chicken Fried,” grasping onto their beers and cocktails and striving to forget, even for just a few songs, that this would be one of the last Fridays of the summer.

Band members hold onto their day jobs, not because they lack the talent to make it in the music industry (quite the contrary) but because they enjoy the security of steady work and the fun of trivial musical pursuits that they have no real, consequential stake in.

“When we go out to play, we’re like, ‘Are we going to go out and play original music that nobody knows and we’re going to have to pay to do it? Or are we going to go play songs that everybody knows and we are going to get paid to do it?” said Pensa. They choose the latter, opting to play covers over originals.

“But it’s still fun. We get to hang out. We’re all friends. We get to see each other and play our music together,” said Fornelius.

“That’s why I think we’re able to keep this thing as fun as we do. It’s not all of our eggs in one basket. That balance is important. Otherwise, it becomes your living and your job and it can be nerve wracking. I was unemployed for a few months, and I was just living off gigs and it started to get a little sketchy. It’s not really sustainable. It’s nice to have a cushion and make this your outlet,” said Jervis.

“It’s nice to not have to do it,” said Pensa. “When you don’t have to do it, it becomes more fun.”

“Even days when you’re like dead tired and you don’t feel like going to the gig or whatever, as soon as you get there and you set up and you start playing, you get the rush and you’re having fun. That’s what I like about it. When you actually start playing, it’s game on,” said Jervis.

 

Set list snippet:

  • “Aeroplane,” Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • “Radioactive,” Imagine Dragons
  • “No Rain,” Blind Mellon
  • “Cold Water,” Justin Bieber
  • “Hey Jealousy,” Gin Blossoms
  • “Gone, Gone, Gone,” Phillip Phillips
  • “The Middle,” Jimmy Eat World
  • “Chicken Fried,” Zac Brown Band
  • “What I Got,” Sublime
  • “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back,” Shawn Mendes
  • “Cake By the Ocean,” DNCE
  • “Better Now,” Post Malone

 

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