Valley fosters growth of Rare Breed

Rare Breed

Jim Ciccolelli, Justin Mullane, Justin Booker and Alex Vitus perform together as Rare Breed, a new-age reggae band. They recently wrapped up pre-production for their debut EP and are rehearsing for upcoming shows. Photo courtesy of Justin Mullane.

Just three days into 2013, Boardman’s Don’t Touch That! Studio served as a temporary home for the Youngstown-born reggae band Rare Breed as its members recorded their long-awaited debut EP.

And, after an entire day spent in the studio, Rare Breed’s members were shocked to hear themselves and what they had created.

Larry Serb, studio owner, said he stayed up late with Rare Breed to finish the project.

“For me, musically what separates them is the vocal effects Justin does,” Serb said, referring to Justin Mullane, the band’s vocalist. “It gets experimental.”

Mullane, a student at Youngstown State University, said he met Justin Booker, Rare Breed’s drummer, in Florida. The chance meeting allowed Mullane and Booker to bond over their shared hometown of Youngstown — and to begin jamming together upon their return.

“[Mullane] sort of showed up one day and asked us if we wanted to hear him beatbox,” Booker said. 

Booker and guitarist Alex Vitus are former YSU students who met at Bliss Hall and began to play music together. But Booker and bassist Jim Ciccolelli’s friendship goes back even further: They used to play football together in high school.

Eventually, though, Mullane joined Booker, Vitus and Ciccolelli for open mic nights at Barley’s in downtown Youngstown, and they decided to turn their routine into a committed project.

Mullane, clad in a Bob Marley T-shirt, said the band took off pretty quickly.

“We maybe jammed together four or five times before our first gig,” he said.

Rare Breed’s first real performance was a standout moment for all members, Ciccolelli said.

“I remember being like, ‘Dude, we’re on stage right now,’” he said.

“We had just anticipated it for a while.”

All members agreed that this first performance was one of their best. Vitus said it simply “felt good to get the crowd moving,” while Booker said Rare Breed “killed it,” despite being “nervous as shit.”

Band members said they’re anticipating an EP release date of March 30 — the one-year anniversary of Rare Breed’s formation.

To Mullane, the band has “the opportunity right now to bust out of what people think of reggae,” and Ciccolelli said he’s excited to share the band’s twist on reggae with everyone. 

“We basically take everything and toss it in a blender. That’s our sound,” he said.

Booker explained that the band prefers not to define itself musically, primarily because of the variety of different flavors that each member brings to the table.

“The way we come up with what we come up with sets us aside,” he said. “We all have different styles, and it’s cool how it fuses together.”

The name Rare Breed seemed perfect for the quartet, as each member listens to and plays different styles of music. Mullane said the name also coincides with a philosophy to which each member subscribes: to be different and stand out from the crowd. 

“A lot of it is really existential,” he said. “Some people are just different, and I invite everyone to be a rare breed with us.”

Aside from their EP release, the band members have the short-term goal of expanding their horizons beyond Youngstown and the long-term goal of being able to live comfortably through performing.

They’re also looking forward to their first gig of the year, which is scheduled for Feb. 1 at University Pizzeria on YSU’s campus.

All four members of Rare Breed said they do not plan on quitting the band any time soon.

“[I won’t quit] as long as we keep getting better,” Booker said. “I don’t get bored jamming with you guys. I’ll jam with you guys forever.”