Chilltonic the band that plays simply for their love of music

By Marisol Melchor
Arts and Features Writer
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Photographed by Seth Malie
Chilltonic Band Member Teso Mcdonald discusses the band and their history

Chilltonic is an Asheville-based genre fluid band composed of two aspiring 23-year-old musicians named Teso McDonald and Michael Dunham. Five years ago the band members were playing as solo artists until one night they encountered each other.
“Teso and I met each other outside of an open mic. I got really excited because I thought he had a really good ear and great charisma. We wound up playing an open mic the next night so that was our first performance together,” Dunham said.
Since the summer the band has played shows at venues such as The Orange Peel, The Salvage Station, The Grey Eagle and they most recently played the Boogie Charm Music Festival out in Black Mountain, NC. The band plans on opening for The Get Right Band at the Salvage Station next month. While the band does enjoy the Asheville music scene they said they hope to venture out into other cities and would like to eventually tour. 
“I really like how collaborative the music scene is out here, it’s amazing how many talented artists there are out here. It’s mind boggling really. You can get amazing musicians of all genres, there’s a heavy old time scene, there’s a heavy gyspy jazz scene, there’s even a metal scene,” McDonald said.
Typically McDonald develops the lyrical and chord ideas and Dunham contributes to the sound by working on the dynamics of the song and chords.
“Musically, I see us sticking together for a while, we’ll be making music for a long time. I feel like we’ve got a lifetime of tunes to write,” McDonald said.
Chilltonic is currently working on an album which they hope to release in the near future as well as music videos and recorded songs. The group categorizes themselves as an “indie band” which means they are musically independent and do not belong to a record label.
“We’re straight up underground, we’re crawling out. When it comes to whether we’d be interested in signing on to one it just depends on whether we’re being respected. There’s certain freedoms that come with being indie that you don’t get when you’re signed,” McDonald said.
The pair is not completely alone, they are currently being represented and managed by John Gellman. Gellman is the third manager they have worked with and according to the band he is the one they have been most successfully able to work with. 
“Our other managers?Yeah we totally burnt them out. The thing is when you’re not ready to achieve something and somebody is trying to push for that, you waste a lot of their energy,” said McDonald. 
Gellman manages finances, gigs, schedules, job opportunities and inquiries and does photography for the band. Gellman also helps establish relationships and projects with content producers such as Justin Wood from High Water TV and Tevin Jordan from NerdsTypingWords which is a software design and development engineering business based in Asheville.
“Gellman gathers up people like me to do bomb work behind the scenes, I help manage the email, I do freelance web development for the band, and I help out with social media too,” Jordan said.
Gellman came across McDonald at the same open mic where the duo met. The two connected through their love of music. 
“When I met Teso, I just knew he wasn’t your average musician. I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve heard a lot of music and I’ve met a lot of artists. I can tell you without a doubt in my mind that is good. Kid’s got a golden voice,” Gellman said.
Gellman started in the music industry as a photographer and had no managerial experience prior to the band. McDonald and Gellman lived together a few months during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic. This opportunity allowed Gellman to see and understand McDonald’s creative writing process and was able to not only connect musically but emotionally to them. 
“I got to know them as their friend first, Teso in particular since he lived with me during the early days of COVID-19, even though we’re so different in age I was able to recognize that when he had creative intelligence that was worth listening to. He is just so full of creativity, passion, charisma, and talent. Teso used to play up in a tree out on Biltmore. You would walk by and hear an electric guitar and singing coming from and it sounded just lovely. There’s a certain charm about them. I like to say that I’m first and foremost their friend and a fan and after that I’m their manager,” Gellman said.
Chilltonic is the only band Gellman manages at the moment and the only band he plans to ever manage. 
“Teso and I first got to know each other as friends, but the band was struggling with their management situation at the time so he started asking me if I could do it. I can’t tell you many times I told him no but eventually he wore me down. Managing a band takes a lot of work and it’s very time consuming,” Gellman said.

Photographed by Seth Maile
Chilltonic band member Teso McDonald performing at Boogie Charm music festival in
Black Mountain, NC

Gellman’s  knowledge of management comes from decades of experience photographing and working with musicians and artists. His experiences help him recognize the band’s artistic needs.
“He’s worked with some southern rock bands, The Outlaws, he’s done photography for the Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers. This man has rubbed shoulders with the best of the best,” Dunham said.
The band sees a bright future for themselves and aspires to venture out into the world. They  like to work with other artists that are just as passionate as themselves and leave meaningful impressions. Music is the band’s devotion but they still hold a deep respect and appreciation for other art forms and even ventured into other projects. This past July McDonald put together an art collective called True Noble.
“We’re just putting together variety shows. We’re trying to promote a bunch of local artists, including ourselves. That’s my deepest venture out into other art forms at the moment” McDonald said.
Chilltonic is enjoying Asheville’s diverse and creative music scene at the moment, but the boys have their eyes set on even bigger things.
“They are so talented and bright and I know it’s only a matter of time before they go big and make something of themselves in the world. I don’t know if it will be with me as their manager or with other representation but they’re more than capable and they have a real future,” Gellman said.