Chhilltonic the band that plays just for the love of music – The Blue Banner
By Marisol Melchor
Writer of art and feature films
Chiltonic is an Asheville-based fluid genre group made up of two 23-year-old budding musicians named Teso McDonald and Michael Dunham. Five years ago, the band members were playing solo until the night they met.
“Teso and I met outside of an open mic. I was really excited because I thought he had a really good ear and great charisma. We ended up playing on open mike the next night, so it was our first performance together, ”said Dunham.
Since the summer, the band has performed at venues such as The Orange Peel, The Salvage Station, The Gray Eagle and they recently performed at the Boogie Charm Music Festival in Black Mountain, NC. The band plans to open for The Get Right Band at Salvage Station next month. While the group enjoys Asheville’s music scene, they said they were hoping to venture into other cities and would like to eventually tour.
“I really love how collaborative the music scene is here, it’s amazing how many talented artists there are here. It is truly mind-boggling. You can have amazing musicians of all genres, there’s an old time heavy scene, there’s a gypsy heavy jazz scene, there’s even a metal scene, ”said McDonald.
Usually McDonald’s develops the lyric and chord ideas and Dunham contributes to the sound by working on the song’s dynamics and chords.
“Musically, I see us staying together for a while, we’re going to be making music for a long time. I feel like we have a lifetime of songs to write, ”said McDonald.
Chiltonic is currently working on an album they hope to release in the near future as well as some music videos and recorded songs. The group falls under the category of “independent groups” which means that they are musically independent and do not belong to a record company.
“We are directly underground, we crawl. When it comes to whether we would be interested in signing one, it just depends on our respect. There are certain freedoms that come with being independent that you don’t get when you’re signed up, ”McDonald said.
The couple are not completely alone, they are currently represented and directed by John Gellman. Gellman is the third manager they’ve worked with and, according to the group, he’s the one they’ve been most successful working with.
“Our other managers? Yes, we have totally exhausted them. The problem is, when you’re not ready to achieve something and someone is trying to do it, you are wasting a lot of their energy, ”McDonald said.
Gellman manages finances, concerts, schedules, employment opportunities and inquiries and does photography for the band. Gellman also helps build relationships and projects with content producers such as Justin Wood of High Water TV and Tevin Jordan of NerdsTypingWords, an Asheville-based software design and development engineering firm.
“Gellman brings people like me together to do bombshell work behind the scenes, help manage emails, do freelance web development for the group and also help with social media,” said Jordan.
Gellman bumped into McDonald’s at the same open mic where the duo met. The two bonded by their love of music.
“When I first met Teso, I just knew he was no ordinary musician. I’ve been there for a long time and heard a lot of music and met a lot of artists. I can tell you without a doubt in my mind that it is fine. Kid has a golden voice, ”Gellman said.
Gellman started out in the music industry as a photographer and had no management experience before the band. McDonald and Gellman lived together for a few months during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. This opportunity allowed Gellman to see and understand McDonald’s creative writing process and to connect not only musically but emotionally with them.
“I first got to know them as their friend, Teso in particular since living with me during the early days of COVID-19, even though we are so different in age, I was able to recognize that when he had a creative intelligence that was worth listening to. He is so full of creativity, passion, charisma and talent. Teso was playing in a tree in Biltmore. You would pass by and hear an electric guitar and vocals coming in and it sounded just lovely. There is a certain charm about them. I like to say that I am first and foremost their friend and fan and after that I am their manager, ”said Gellman.
Chilltonic is the only group Gellman manages at the moment and the only group he plans to manage one day.
“Teso and I first got to know each other as friends, but the band was grappling with their management situation at the time, so he started to wonder if I could do it. I can’t tell you several times that I said no to him but in the end he exhausted me. Running a group is labor intensive and time consuming, ”said Gellman.
Gellman’s management knowledge comes from decades of experience in photography and working with musicians and artists. Her experiences help her recognize the artistic needs of the group.
“He worked with southern rock groups, The Outlaws, he did photography for the Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers. This man rubbed shoulders with the best of the best, ”said Dunham.
The group sees a bright future and aspires to venture out into the world. They enjoy working with other artists just as passionate as themselves and leaving meaningful impressions. Music is the band’s devotion, but they still have a deep respect and appreciation for other art forms and have even ventured into other projects. Last July, McDonald’s started an art collective called True Noble.
“We just do variety shows. We are trying to promote a group of local artists, including ourselves. It’s my deepest adventure in other art forms right now, ”McDonald said.
Chiltonic currently enjoys Asheville’s diverse and creative music scene, but the boys have their eyes set on even bigger things.
“They are so talented and brilliant and I know it’s only a matter of time before they get big and do something on their own in the world. I don’t know if it will be with me as a manager or with some other representation, but they are more than capable and they have a real future, ”said Gellman.