Assistants of Death…Metal

By Benjamin McKnight III

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Morgan student Brendan Matthew McCoy and his twin brother, Matthew Thomas McCoy, have an album out this month

On a Friday afternoon in the Carl J. Murphy Center for Fine Arts, Morgan State University’s Choir is practicing “Battle of Jericho” for an upcoming performance. Looking into the half-circle of seats, there are two singers on the right whose white faces don’t seem to fit in with those around them. After class ends, those same two students hop into their 1997 Acura Integra and drive to band practice for their heavy metal group Death’s Apothecary. The effort it takes to switch from melodic singing to rigid instrumentals would sap the energy of the average person, but both students pull it off successfully as they prepare for a lineup of shows to come in November.

“I’ve loved music since I was born,” said Brendan Matthew McCoy, a Music major focusing in vocals. He and his twin brother Matthew Thomas McCoy, who is pursuing the same degree, have always shown interest in both the instrumental and vocal aspects of music, according to their mother Teresa McCoy. She noticed at around nine months that “the only toy they would play with was this little keyboard” and a few years later when they sang in their church’s Christmas play, “they stole the show, with no microphones, at five years old.” Matthew went on to play the trumpet beginning in fifth grade before transitioning to the tuba in his last two years of high school, while Brendan played the clarinet from fifth to twelfth grade while also singing.

However, their pride and joy comes is their death metal rock band, Death’s Apothecary.

In 2013, during their senior year at Calvert Hall, the two came up with the idea of forming a band. Their frontman, Kyle Galligan, a student at Full Sail University and fellow Calvert Hall graduate, said, “It was something we all talked about doing for a while.” Another schoolmate, Aaron Gordon, became the band’s bass player and Death’s Apothecary was born.

In medieval times, an apothecary made poisons and antidotes. “Death is this badass motherf***er, right?” asked Brendan when discussing how the band got its name. “Who’s worse than Death? Death’s Apothecary; he’s Death’s right-hand man.”

Since the band’s creation, they’ve had a handful of shows at local venues, some with pay and some free. In addition to their November show schedule, Death’s Apothecary released its first EP, a self-titled, five-track project available on soundcloud.com/deaths-apothecary-2. They also have a second project in the works according to Gordon, but “we’re still in the middle of writing it,” he said.

Both McCoys agree that their most memorable performance was a paid gig at Fishhead Cantina in Arbutus, a small town in Baltimore County. “We had the biggest crowd there,” Matt said. Brendan added, “We went crazy as hell; we made the stage our basement,” and credited their sound technician that night for enhancing their performance.

For Death’s Apothecary, the passion and joy in making music with one another is most important. “We don’t look at our band as a way to make money,” Gordon said. “It’s a hobby.” In the band’s only professional performance, they earned $30. “We split it between five people,” said Matthew, after including their manager in the earnings. “So, 30 divided by five, whatever that math is,” he said with a chuckle, adding that it was now a running joke among band members. In Galligan’s words, “It’s not just a friendship, it’s a brotherhood.”

The McCoys knew that they wanted to pursue a degree following high school. However, Morgan State wasn’t even on the list when the duo was applying to colleges. Following an All-State chorus event, Ridley Chauvin, a judge at the event and an Assistant Professor of Voice here at the University, spoke with the McCoys, giving them a private lesson and simultaneously pitching the school to the two. Weeks before classes started, the twins received their financial aid awards and, after comparing other schools, realized the benefits of enrolling at Morgan State both from a financial and educational perspective.

“They prepare you to be performing artists, so that when you come out of that building, you are of the caliber to go to New York or anywhere you want to go to try and get a [performing] job,” Brendan said about the College of Liberal Arts’ Fine Arts and Performing majors. This was a far cry from Towson, one of their top choices, which he said only “prepares you to become a teacher.”

Their mother was equally impressed with Morgan State’s music program. “Towson can’t even compare,” she said, “and I don’t even know if UMBC does music.” Brendan also noted that they discovered a majority of the Performing Arts professors at Morgan State were in their respective industry as well, providing professional connections that could benefit students in a competitive field.

On campus, Brendan and Matthew are noticeable in a crowd. According to Morgan State’s Fall 2013 Student Demographics report – which can be found on the university’s website –  only 3.4 percent of the student body is white.

Brendan knew that Morgan State University was a Historically Black University before applying. Still, he said, “I didn’t know what an HBCU was before I got here, but I knew [Morgan] was predominantly black.” Matthew, on the other hand, only knew that the school was in the city, but “I had no clue what an HBCU was” until going through freshman orientation. In his English class that same year, Matthew saw the famous Spike Lee film “School Daze” for the first time, and his immediate reaction was “That’s Morgan State. This movie is dead on.”

Nonetheless, neither feels out of place on campus. “I grew up in Baltimore City, I’ve been surrounded by African-Americans my whole life, so this is nothing different for me,” Brendan noted.

When asked about their experience as white students at an HBCU, Brendan said “It depends on the culture you come from.” Matthew added “[Your] experience is whatever friends you make.”

Outside of music, the two find plenty of time to pursue other passions and hobbies. On Mondays, they participate in a late night Adult Hockey League in Reisterstown. Before that, they volunteer at a Dance Studio in Catonsville, where they have been lending a hand for five years. Currently, they are focusing on ballet, but they also do swing and jazz dancing as well. “We do whatever the teacher tells us to do,” Brendan said with a chuckle, adding that it works out well because it counts for his community service requirements as a student in the Honor’s program.

The studio’s instructor of 22 years, Lisa Lee Clark, first met the McCoys five years ago through Brendan’s former girlfriend whom she had as a student. She is grateful that they have continued to help for as long as they have. “They’re like a secondary instructor,” she says, crediting their musical background, patience, and willingness to learn. The twins have equally enjoyed being a part of the program. “Now, I do it just to do it, and it really helps out Ms. Lisa,” Matthew said.

Both brothers plan to stay involved with music for years to come. Now, the two are dedicated to their music both in and out of school. In the future, they intend to open a music studio and a summer camp for kids after fulfilling their initial dream. “I don’t care how much money I make, as long as I can perform and live comfortably,” said Matthew. Brendan plans to “see where music takes me. That is my number one goal, to go as far as I can with music.”

Photo by Benjamin McKnight III

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