The 502s achieved success after ‘Just A Little While’ went viral during the pandemicJames Wallace with permission for Varsity

Talking to The 502s was just what I needed in the middle of an essay crisis. As proclaimed by the T-shirt that frontman Ed Isola was wearing, the group self-identify as “the happiest band in the world”, and their infectious energy certainly came across during our interview. Formed in 2015, the Floridian indie-folk band achieved success during the pandemic after their songs ‘Magdalene’ and ‘Just A Little While’ went viral on TikTok.

I asked them where they think their continual successes on the Internet stem from. “Continued authenticity,” Isola replied, fiddling with a hair clip, “All the videos that have gone viral for us are things that we’ve obsessed over making.” However, for those seeking a quick route to virality, Isola has some bad news: “You can’t really plan it. You’ve just got to make things you love.”

"You’ve just got to make things you love"

Perhaps it helps that both Isola and multi-instrumentalist Matthew Tonner have marketing backgrounds. Nevertheless, all that work advertising their songs must surely have taken time away from the musical aspects of their job. As Isola said, now that they have a team around them, music promotion is a much easier task. Besides, they would never complain about their work: “It’s like, ‘Wow, this is what we get to do for our job!’”.

Whilst TikTok has certainly benefited The 502s, I wondered if they had noticed any negative effects of the app on the music industry. For Isola, the platform only becomes a problem when artists concentrate on creating viral content rather than quality music: “The artists who have gone viral and had more sustained success have focused on making music they like and then promoting it”.

Going viral must always be a surreal experience but, for The 502s, there was the added factor of it happening during a global pandemic. As Tonner explained, the band had just finished recording their sophomore album, Could It Get Better Than This, when Covid hit. With their tour cancelled, the group spent quarantine practising and forging connections over social media – even if that was just by “hanging out” and “trying to send good vibes to people in our ‘fam’”. “It’s a big part of what got me through that time,” Tonner acknowledged.

One way in which the band sought to connect with their fans during the pandemic was Camp Feels Good: a virtual summer camp where listeners could gain early access to the album and exclusive behind-the-scenes content. But did people resonate with their music more because of the pandemic? “I wouldn’t say people liked the songs just because it was the pandemic,” Isola retorted, “I think people resonated with the community aspect which maybe made them more inclined to enjoy the music.”

"I think people resonated with the community aspect"

There is no denying that The 502s possess the kind of feelgood energy needed to navigate years of lockdowns. Is spreading joy the core principle of the band? Maybe that would've been Isola's answer when they started. “I think it’s starting to trend more towards self-fulfilment and how that leads to shades of happiness,” Isola explained. “You’re not actually happy in the sense of the word but you’re fulfilled and not alone so that gives you some peace.”

Tonner concurs: “Happiness is a practice, not a condition”. When he plays music or meets people who resonate with The 502s, he feels pure joy: “We just want to give all that love back and make everyone feel as good as we possibly can.”

“Happiness is a practice, not a condition”

Consequently, their third album will be exactly what you expect: “good, fun, happy, classic folk music”. Only this time it will be even better, since they have a team supporting them. I asked if they have a favourite track off their upcoming record. Isola laughed: “There are seven that are my current favourite and there are 12 songs – and all the others are tied for second.”


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What about off their previous album? To this, Ed supplied what he considered the “weird answer” of ‘Just A Little While’ – their most popular track. “It’s just strumming the banjo as hard as I can,” he chuckled. Evidently, the group have not tired of their music as it has become more popular. If anything, the love that others have shown towards their songs has only increased their fondness of them. Yet, as Tonner said, pointing to a framed copy of Could It Get Better Than This on his wall, “I think we would love it regardless of if anyone listened to it.”

The story of The 502s is particularly motivational for students as, before attending college and learning the banjo, Isola had never picked up an instrument. I wondered if he had any advice for student musicians. “I wouldn’t say I’m a great musician,” Isola conceded, provoking a chuckle from Tonner. But, as former band member Jonathan Ruiz said of the musicians they met in Nashville: “They have talent; we have heart.” Therefore, his advice is: “If you’re leading with your heart, and you’re passionate about it, you’re doing the right thing.”