Painting a Perfect Portrait

An Interview with The 502s Eddie Isola
Painting a Perfect Portrait
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There aren’t very many bands whose main goal starting out was to wear shorts on stage.”

— Eddie Isola

The 502s, a band based in Maitland, Florida, are known for their lively music that infuses folk with sunny feel-good vibes. In 2021, the release of their song “Just a Little While” led to the band’s rise in popularity. Currently on their Great American Road Trip Tour, the six-piece band brought the sounds of summer to Silver Spring, Maryland, where I attended their show and spoke with Eddie Isola, The 502s frontman. 

In the world of music, some groups have known each other for years, bonding over shared experiences, while others find themselves brought together by chance. For The 502s, it was a blend of both, as Isola recalls the band’s humble beginnings.

The group formed as a few cousins and friends jamming for fun in its earliest days. “We were really inspired by the folk music of the early 2010s and that caused us to want to pick up and learn instruments (we hadn’t played any before then). Once we started jamming and playing together, we realized we liked creating our own songs versus playing other people’s. And that was really the earliest form of the band in 2015-2016. From there we didn’t make a conscious decision to pursue music for a while. It was more of a thinking along the lines of ‘Hey this is fun, what would be the next fun thing to do?’ That led to tours, albums, music, etc. But it wasn’t until that line of thinking led to a handful of viral videos between 2016-20 that we had to really consider and decide to do this full-time,” Isola said. 

Matthew Tonner, Sean Froehlich, Joe Capati, Nick Melashenko, and Graci Phillips are members of The 502s joining Isola to combine their talents and skills to create a dynamic sound.

Their songwriting process is a testament to their diverse sources of inspiration. Isola said that he draws from two places: the people around him and his internal monologue. 

The people surrounding Isola play a big role in shaping his songwriting process, offering different perspectives and experiences that influence his lyrics. 

Songs like “Perfect Portrait of Young Love” and “hey, honey (feat. hey, nothing)” are inspired by his wife. “hey, honey” captures the feelings of being deeply in love and appreciating the small moments shared with a loved one. The sweet and uplifting tune reminds listeners of the beauty found in everyday moments. 

Something’s Gonna Go Our Way” and “You Belong are phrases that he’s heard his grandpa use frequently. Those phrases inspire two different songs. 

In the song “You Belong,” 1.48 minutes into the track, a voicemail is embedded. It’s a message from his grandpa that says, “…just calling to tell you, kid, YOU BELONG. You got a long wonderful path ahead of you, make it happen!” The personal touch of the voicemail adds depth, making it feel more sentimental and personal. The themes of identifying and finding one’s place in life amidst the complexities of the world is a reminder to embrace our authentic selves. Anyone who has ever felt lost or uncertain is offered the message of hope and resilience. 

“I have so many good people surrounding me that their actions and existence is something that makes me happy and makes a fun subject to write about,” Isola reminisces.

Isola also delves into his thoughts and feelings for inspiration. “‘Everything’s Changing,’ ‘When I Get to Heaven,’ ‘Enjoy the Ride,’ ‘Bad Haircuts’… so many songs have been written from my own thoughts, fears, and excitement channeled into lyrics,” Isola said. The unique blend of reflection and observation resonates deeply with audiences lending to the authenticity of their sound. 

Musically, The 502s draw from a wide range of influences. “The most natural comparison and source is Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers. But I also draw from the likes of Jimmy Buffett all the way to Disney and Shakira. For me it’s more ‘Oh that was really cool / sounded cool / was a cool musical idea’. And if it piques my interest then I want to try to make it our own, regardless of genre or inspiration,” Isola explains. Their musical approach is uniquely theirs, a blend of folk, pop, and everything in between. 

The unity and joy that define their performances leave audiences uplifted and inspired. Isola described a simple but profound hope that he wishes fans take away from live performances. He said, “A sense of community and a sense of togetherness. A place where you can come for an evening and disappear into a world of camaraderie and happiness,” Isola shares. The 502s concerts are shared experience where all worries melt away and only music remains. 

Although the band is known for producing “pure serotonin”, they face their fair share of challenges. Isola admits, “I think the biggest challenge so far has really been managing my own expectations. Once we decided to pursue music full time, we wanted to be successful with it. And we wanted to be successful ASAP.  But having patience and realizing that we are successful and continue to grow as a band every day has been important and a great lesson in patience and focusing on the present. Being surrounded by great friends/bandmates, family, and management has helped us all overcome this sentiment of ‘now.’ I realized recently that my biggest fear is not not being successful but rather ignoring all the incredible things happening in my life right now because I am so focused on the future.” Through patience, they’ve learned to focus on the present and appreciate the journey surrounded by the supportive network of family, friends, and bandmates.

Balancing the demands of music with the responsibilities of everyday life is no easy task, but The 502s find strength in the bonds of love and understanding that unite them. “Luckily we all have a very supportive family/partners. It wouldn’t work without that. It is difficult to balance sometimes but communicating with each other and planning things out well in advance has proven to be key so far! Having family visit during the tour is also great for everyone,” Isola shared.

For those just beginning their musical journey, Isola offers wise advice: “I think the most basic advice is to do something that you enjoy, and do it with people you enjoy doing it with. This band does not and never has felt like work. Sure it has been hard at times, but it is the kind of hard work that you are excited to figure out and work through because you love it so much. Do it because you love it. And make stuff that is cool. There is a lot of music that is uninspired, and people can see right through that.” From years of shared laughter and late-night jam sessions, Isola believes that the truest music comes from the heart. 

The 502s aim to convey one important message: “Hope, happiness, and connectivity. The idea that even when things are tough there is something or someone positive to latch onto,” said Isola.

What sets the band apart from others is truly unique. Isola shared, “There aren’t very many bands whose main goal starting out was to wear shorts on stage. I think the Florida x folk (what we call beach folk) is a unique combination. It is very natural to us growing up at the beach, but a banjo is usually depicted as a dude in a flannel, not a floral shirt in the sunshine and sand. And naturally the overwhelmingly happy, upbeat nature of our music is unique.” 

So far, throughout The 502s Great American Road Trip Tour, they have memorable moments. “Every show has been awesome, just watching the crowds grow but the energy and togetherness of the crowds remain the same as the same venues we came up in has been awesome. Specifically, I have loved “Roadtrips” in the crowd lately!” Isola said.

Isola shared songs that held meanings to him of which he enjoys to play live. “For me personally, I love playing Just A Little While because of the energy around it. Magdalene and Perfect Portrait have also been amazing lately…. anything people are singing and dancing along to at a show is pretty much my favorite,” Isola explains. 

Recently, The 502s were overflowing with energy at The Fillmore Silver Spring. Maryland was the 6th stop of the road trip and was nothing short of jaw-dropping. The moment the lights dimmed, familiar chords filled the air as the crowd roared with excitement, signaling the start of an unforgettable night. The beauty of the venue enhanced the experience, allowing fans to feel immersed in the atmosphere. Their talent and genuine enthusiasm left a lasting core memory never to be forgotten.

As the venues grow, the fan base grows, yet The 502s stay humble. “The growth of the band is really hard to contextualize. To us, it feels like the same six buddies that were playing to 43 people a few years ago. And in the most sincere way not much has changed from a show/performance perspective. We play with the same energy, attention to detail, etc as we did when we were starting. And so to us it feels like the same thing, with massively more people. It has been really fun to watch it grow and watch the stages and rooms get bigger. It is definitely validating. But the best part of all is watching the number of faces each night that are smiling/singing/coming together. It is really nice to know that more and more people are being positively impacted by our music,” Isola shared. 

The newly released album, The 502s, dropped on April 12, 2024. That day was additionally the first day of their tour. One song stands out in particular to Isola. “‘hey, honey’ was a really fun and challenging song to put together. ‘hey, honey’ and ‘Daydreams’ were actually one song originally. And the DAY before recording we made the decision to split them into two songs. So we would go every day and record, and then come home and work on those songs until 2 or 3 in the morning. I knew they would get finished, but it was a fun process working on them late into the night every night,” Isola said. 

The camaraderie and friendship of the band contribute to their overall sense of happiness and fulfillment. “‘The happiest band on earth’ is a catchphrase that a fan DM’d us last year at some point, and we instantly loved it! Being from Orlando (home of the Happiest place on earth) we immediately felt connected to it. And it really does embody everything that this band is about in both music and performance,” Isola exclaimed.

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  • J

    JoanMay 5, 2024 at 2:24 pm

    Great article, and I learned a few new things about one of my favorite bands! I love listening to the 502s when I need a boost of happy energy just as much as when I’m already in a great mood. I’ve seen them four times now, starting from smaller Orlando venues, and they always bring the energy! Truly some of the most joyful performances I’ve ever seen, pure serotonin is for real! I’m so happy for all their success and that so many people are feeling the joy and happiness that they bring.

  • E

    EdMay 3, 2024 at 11:39 am

    this is such a sweet and well written article! Thank you for taking the time to talk about our music and journey and put it so beautifully into words!!! Eddie 🙂