‘I can’t comprehend it’: Student band experiences newfound success with recent single


Image Courtesy of Lauren DeSousa.

Members of the band “If Kansas Had Trees” performing on stage.

By Trinity Foster, Senior Staff Writer

If Kansas Had Trees’ recent single “Swallow” opens with a moody guitar and edgy lyrics exploring toxicity and the feeling of being “swallowed whole.”

If Kansas Had Trees (IKHT) is a student band experiencing unprecedented success with “Swallow,” which was released on Feb. 24. The single has more than 36,000 streams on Spotify and placed first on Spotify’s editorial playlist Alternative Noise, with more than 65,000 saves, and eighth on playlist All New Rock, with more than 300,000 saves. 

The unexpected response is exciting for the band’s guitarist Maddux Testa, a sophomore aerospace engineering major at West Virginia University. 

“There were days when we’d check our Spotify Artist and we’d be getting three, six, streams per day total across all of our songs. And so, to wake up and, in that first week, be doing four, five thousand streams per day, it doesn’t register with you at first,” Testa said.

Testa is joined by Stona Magagna, sophomore computational biology major at Pitt and drummer for the band, and lead singer Joey Nardone, a junior at Seton Hall majoring in visual and sound media and TV production. Testa and Magagna connected in middle school over a shared love of music, but didn’t start creating original songs until Nardone entered the picture. 

Magagna and Nardone met in 2016 in a band program at Rockology Music Academy, a hometown business owned by Nardone’s father that provides music lessons to youth. Magagna and Testa, who had previously only played together in Magagna’s attic, decided to pivot towards creating original music. With his vocals and previous band experience, Nardone seemed like the perfect addition. 

“That very first practice, we wrote a song together in probably an hour and a half, two hours tops. That ended up making it onto our first EP we released in 2021,” Testa said. “It was that moment, when we wrote that song so quickly and clicked, we looked at each other and were like, ‘There may be something here.’”

The band’s first practice together was July 24, 2020, and they have worked together ever since. 

Members of the band “If Kansas Had Trees”. (Image via If Kansas Had Trees)

IKHT’s music is alternative rock, with influences from emo and indie music, according to Nardone. He said the band has a loose writing structure, with all three members splitting writing credentials equally. “Swallow” was largely Testa’s project.

Initially, the band struggled to finalize the song. 

“We tried working on [‘Swallow’] a long time ago and we kind of scrapped it, like a year ago. Maddux came back with the song and it was pretty much all written, except for the drums,” Nardone said.

The band usually starts writing songs with a guitar riff from Testa, which Magagna then builds upon with the drums, and lyrics come last, according to Nardone. The process for writing “Swallow” followed a different structure — starting in November 2021, it took Magagna months to write his drum part, he said.

“I wanted to play parts that were fulfilling to myself but didn’t take away from the song. I was definitely having writer’s block, I was in my head. I almost didn’t even want to keep playing the song,” Magagna said. “Maddux and I were up in my attic and he was like, ‘You can let loose a little bit,’ and I did, and I started actually playing how I wanted to. So, thank God we didn’t scrap it.”

IKHT previously worked with James Yarmus, a close friend of Magagna, on their self-titled first album. Testas said with their next album, which includes “Swallow” and a new single “Anything Right” that’s coming out March 24, the band wanted to take advantage of the rich music scene around their hometown Wilkes-Barre, and found Joe Loftus from JL Studios

“That was a whole studio, professional experience. To hear [our music] be made into something so professional and so cohesive, it gives you a new perspective. I never expected something I made to be so dense, so layered. All props to Joe on the mixing and mastering and recording,” Testa said.

Nardone said the band has the utmost respect and gratitude for their producers, whose work helps them realize the importance of outside voices. 

“This is the best my vocals have ever sounded. It’s the magic he works. Sometimes you get trapped worrying about the smaller stuff, but then the professional will come in and make it better,” Nardone said.

Often, the band’s music comes from a very personal place, Testa said.

“‘Swallow’ is about a thing that’s tearing you apart, it’s bad for you. And working through that, and understanding it’s okay to have that experience and realize that it’s a part of you. The concept of being able to swallow everything, to take it down again, to digest it, and be fine with it,” Testa said.

Nardone also believes listeners can take their own meaning away from the song.

“It’s not ours to say, now, what it means. People from France and Australia were DMing us about hearing the song,” Nardone said. “People around the world can hear this and they can get their own meanings from it, and I’m sure that’s different than what we were thinking when we were writing the song. And I think that’s awesome.”

Although the success following “Swallow” is exciting, attention was never the band’s main movie to start writing. It’s about fulfillment, Testa said. 

For the band members, the goal is expressing their creativity and creating music that they enjoy, Magagna said.

“This whole situation is really just crazy to us, and we’re very grateful for it. We write to make music that we want to make. So, if the three of us were the only three to ever listen to these songs when we put them out, we were totally content with that. It’s incredibly humbling and so amazing that people actually want to listen,” Magagna said.