In the realm of autism, “the stims” (short for stimulations) refers to an uncontrollable physical or audio release in an individual. For Zach Coffman and Brian Mahoney, better known as The Stims, the notion is rooted into their passion for music. Coffman, who has worked as a special education instructor, explains the correlation. “Music is an automatic for us,” he said. “It’s a natural thing.”
“Playing our music is like letting loose,” Mahoney added. “It’s kind of something you have to do.” Although the duo grew up two hours away from each other, they connected as Salisbury music majors a year and a half ago, creating one of the most diverse acoustic duos to hit the local scene.
“I was the only one in my family who really got into any kind of performing arts,” said Mahoney. “I had two or three best friends who really got me into music.” Growing up in Cecil County, Md., Mahoney was drawn to folk rock legends like Neil Young and Bob Dylan, with modern rock and grunge licks adding to his repertoire. Coffman, whose father was a musician, grew up in Sussex County on Elvis Presley, The Who and Rolling Stones.
While both have an extensive understanding and appreciation for all types of music, gigs yield a hinderance with just two musicians. “Because it’s just the two of us,” said Mahoney, “we work extra hard singing and playing. One of the things we hear most often is, ‘I can’t believe you guys did that song with just the two of you.’ Zachs good at coming up with new songs that people are going to enjoy.” Despite offers from other musicians, including bassists and keyboardists, the two have opted to stay as a two-man group for simplicity sake.
“We bounce ideas off each other, a lot,” added Coffman. “We’re both game to try anything, and the people who come to our shows can expect the songs they know done in a neat, performance-oriented style. We don’t just go up there and play background music. It’s songs that people recognize and enjoy, but played the way we present them, our way. That’s how we want to be noticed. We enjoy the attention.”
With Coffman’s percussion and Mahoney’s expertise on guitar, the duo is constantly bringing new aspects of live performance to their gigs, including an ever-expanding rhythm set-up, and even some instruments you wouldn’t expect from a two-piece band, like harmonica and even a kazoo. “Both of us have some theater background,” said Coffman, “and we like to catch people’s attention. We’ll mix it up with some different instruments, and at open mics, and even at our own shows, we’ll sometimes have people come up and join us.”
The two share an unrivaled compliment when it comes to their vocals, as well. “We don’t have a bass player or a drum set for a solo,” said Mahoney, “so we have to use our voices and do what we can.”
“Everyone’s aware that harmony exists in music,” Coffman added. “We realize that we can do it pretty well, and we focus our music around that.” So what can people expect at The Stims’ show? Their set lists run the gamut, including songs from Talking Heads, Paul Simon and Johnny Cash to Sublime, Dispatch and Bob Marley. The mixed demographic of songs is invitational to friends grabbing a drink, families enjoying a meal out, and couples, young and old.
“Our sound is evolving all the time,” Coffman said. “We don’t strip it down. They are songs that we play it over and over again until we make it work. It’s almost organic. Subconsciously, when we pull our influences, we’re not trying to emulate that sound. We don’t try to sound like anything in particular. We play these songs how we want to play them.”
“There’s hardly anyone who can come to our show and not know some of the songs we play,” Mahoney noted. “All it takes is someone to come up at the end of the show and tell you, ‘I’m glad I got to hear that song.’ That’s one of the best feelings you can get. Some of the non-originals we play are ones that people may not know really well, or would never expect to hear from an acoustic duo. They’re songs we want to play and hear, and everyone seems to enjoy that. We’re mellow enough for the older listeners and hip and upbeat enough for the younger guys.”
The Stims have already recorded a live album, and while it’s the recognizable cover songs that most people come out to hear, they are not afraid to throw an original song or two into the evening. “We know some bands that only want to play covers,” said Mahoney, “but you’re not going to get your stuff heard that way. We have such an eclectic taste in music. We find all these songs we want to do, then realize we’re only a two man band, but somehow, we have to make it work with what we’re doing. We’re not just another cover band in a bar. We will entertain you. We’re the ‘cover band’ that it’s okay to like.”
“I’d like to work up to become a high-profile band,” said an ambitious Coffman, who has participated in the Dewey Music Conference in the past, one of the most sought-after shows along the Delaware shores. “I want to get into the spot where we can develop into an original band and bring more of our own songs. Our music is filling. I like to think that people are getting their fill and are being entertained when they come see The Stims.”
Coffman added that the duo is looking to play more off-season gigs around the metro areas of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., by next season. As for the quickly approaching summer months, the two will find themselves putting on shows around the Delaware coastline and throughout Ocean City and Salisbury, Md.
“It all works out for us so well because we’re on the same page,” said Mahoney. “People get into the music we play, and seeing them dance all evening is a great feeling.” The Stims joined other local musicians at DiFebo’s Bistro on the Green for the Helping Hands for Haiti benefit earlier this month, and will return to the Bistro on Friday, April 9, for a performance at 5 p.m. They will also be headlining their second show at Chalkboard Tavern and Grille in the Sea Colony Marketplace in Bethany Beach on Friday, April 16, at 9:30 p.m. They will also be playing frequent gigs this summer at the Rio Grande Cafe in Ocean City, MD.
Check out their website at www.myspace.com/thestims for exclusive recordings and upcoming events.