Re-Named, Re-Energized

By Matt Morrissette

Any family tree representing the past three decades of local, original music in Delaware would be incomplete without listing Phil Young, Mark Stallard, and Pete Romano. In fact, these Delawareans (currently known collectively under their new moniker, Von Holden) are a musical family tree unto themselves.

The three multi-instrumentalists have been stalwarts of the local scene since the ‘90s, playing in some of the best bands the area at such much-missed, legendary venues as The East End Café and its successor, Mojo, in Newark, and The Barn Door in Wilmington.

Young was a founding member of the great ‘60’s jangle-inspired outfit, The Knobs, who garnered national attention before their run was tragically cut short by the death of singer Phil Healy. Young later founded Rubber Uglies and Suckee (both with Stallard) and has several great releases under his own name. His performances at the annual Shine a Light fundraiser shows at The Queen have delivered some of the most searing moments in the history of the concert series.

Born in Elkton, Stallard has lived in Delaware since the mid-‘80s. His tasteful and elegant guitar, bass, and vocal skills have had him in demand not only as Young’s righthand man, but also in a host of his own bands over the years, including Black Maria and Pigeonhole.

Though known primarily as one of the state’s go-to drummers, Pete Romano is an ace on guitar and bass as well. Beyond his work with Young and Stallard, Romano played in Cincotta, Gangster Pump, and Bos Taurus (with Young), and currently fronts the post-punk outfit, Strawman. He also somehow finds time to play drums in Wilmington garage rock band Bad Eyesight.

Beyond making music, all three have provided support and expertise to the local scene whenever needed over the years. Called upon to help Wilmington’s beloved and much-missed dive bar, The Jackson Inn, during a period of financial struggle many years ago, they built a stage, provided a sound system, and hosted a weekly open mic there that invigorated both the business and the local music scene.

Romano also has been instrumental in bringing local, live music back after the pandemic by orchestrating the return of rock shows to The Logan House in Trolley Square and booking shows at venues such as the Little Italy record store, Squeezebox Records.

After some two decades being known collectively as The Cocks, the three friends find themselves re-energized, especially with a record set to drop under the new name, Von Holden.

The name is a take on the location of their practice space in Young’s basement on Holden Street in New Castle. According to Stallard, the name change is indicative of a bit of a new direction and a rediscovered commitment.

“By 2022, we’d kind of been floundering for a few years and decided the name had run its course,” he says. “It was time to shake things up a bit. We considered expanding the lineup and got together with some great musicians, but we ultimately reverted to being a power trio.

“Stylistically, there’s been a slight change in the sound to both harder songs and a bit of experimenting. However, it’s still a collaborative effort in the songwriting, as always.”

With two drummers in the band (Young and Romano) and with song contributions by all three members, the band covers plenty of stylistic territory, with each member taking a turn as front man. But, according to Young, the song always dictates the band members’ roles.

“We switch instruments as needed,” he says. “Basically, whoever wrote the lyrics is the one who sings the song, and sometimes that requires an instrument change. But it really comes down to who makes most sense playing a particular instrument.”

The self-titled album from Von Holden begins streaming and on vinyl on March 15. It was recorded over a long period, including a session from 2017 at Miner Street Recordings, a studio in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood. The legendary studio, owned by Brian McTear and Amy Morrissey, started in West Chester in the mid-‘90s and went through several iterations before settling in Fishtown. Artists such as Kurt Vile, Waxahatchee, Sharon Van Etten, and The Dead Milkmen have recorded there.

The long gestation period for the record was a product of both circumstances and artistic prerogatives, according to Romano.

“In January of 2017, we booked three days to track songs at Miner Street,” he says. “That session resulted in four tracks, but the tracks didn’t really seem cohesive enough to release as they were. Thus, the decision was made to hold on to them and record some more tracks later.

“Fast forward past the pandemic, the one-and-a-half-year residency hosting the open mic at The Jackson Inn, and the band ‘breakup’ in March of 2021. We then headed back to Miner Street in January of 2022. At that time, we recorded three additional tracks. When we started putting the record together in 2023, we dropped a song from the original session and added a new, more experimental track that we recorded in our home studio in 2023. We finally had an end result that we were all happy with.”

According to the band, the songs to look out for on the new album are “Sane,” “D.S.L.,” and “Sorry Kid,” which they have declared to be “certifiable bangers.”

Being elder statesmen in any field is a touchy subject, as it can imply being past one’s prime or otherwise engaged in nostalgia. However, the members of Von Holden embody that label in the best sense by maintaining their passion for their own music while lending their expertise wherever and however it can help other bands that are following in their footsteps.

As Stallard says, “We’ve collectively been playing on the scene for over 30 years. It’s just that we enjoy creating and playing music, and we’re very fortunate to still be able to do it. If that makes us elder statesmen, then so be it.”

Pictured: Area music veterans (l-r) Mark Stallard, Phil Young and Pete Romano have reemerged as Von Holden. Photo provided.