School's Out Forever
These kids are coming for your gigs
At 22, Rachel Loy is young but not a child. Her radiance is part dewy youth, part sweet innocence, but as her debut CD, Love the Mess, illustrated so sharply last month, Loy has a firm grasp on the vagaries of love and life.
Rachel Loy is also a veteran musician, both in performance and in training, educated at the Austin School of Music and later at Berklee School of Music from 2001 to 2003. She started out locally in ballet, then began attending music camp when she was 13, inspired in part by her father who once played bass in a country band. In her teens, she recorded and performed with her sibling Sarah as the Loy Sisters, while her cousins Zak and Beau Loy indie-rocked Damesviolet.
Loy gigs regularly as bassist for 54 Seconds with Spencer Gibb (yes, one of the nephews Gibb) as well as being a four-stringer-for-hire with acts like John Pointer and Carlos Sosa's Boombox. She's scored a coveted slot in this year's Austin Music Foundation Incubator program, holds down a weekly gig at Momos, and sells Love the Mess from her Web site (RachelLoy.com). In short, Rachel Loy's one of the first graduates of Austin's new wave of young musicians. She views her experience at the Austin School of Music camp with great affection.
"I've always learned the most from interacting with other musicians, whether onstage or in the studio. Once I joined rock & roll camp, it was unstoppable it was my first experience where music was an exchange. And it continues to be. Not a lot has changed except that through education, music as a language has become much more fluent for me. Communicating is quicker and easier than it ever was."
Loy enters as a sparkling alumna of a musically schooled generation whose elder ranks include such names as Patrice Pike and Django Walker, educated in Dallas and Liverpool respectively. Music camps and schools aren't the only path to the spotlight, either just ask Eve Monsees, 21. She and Gary Clark Jr. are two other young local musicians who recently shed their teens, joining a long tradition of musicians who grew up in nightclubs, such as the Keller Brothers, the Moellers, Jake Andrews, Charlie Sexton, David Murray, and Jimmie Vaughan. Stepping into adulthood was a mere formality for them; they were all full-fledged veterans of the Austin club circuit at age 15. They didn't attend camps or go to music schools. They just played music with legends.
"The Antone's anniversaries were the most fun," recalls Monsees. "Lazy Lester, Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton. Gary and I opened for Jimmie Vaughan one year, and it was amazing!"
Even as Eve Monsees, Gary Clark Jr., and Rachel Loy leave the kid stuff behind, there are plenty of takers out there. Those who don't go to ASM can learn their chops at Natural Ear Music Camp, the Austin Arts & Music Project at St. Stephen's, or any number of the other music camps from Christian to rock. Sometimes, the young musicians just go it on their own. Yet if Monsees, Clark, and Loy no longer sit at the kids table, who does?
In talking to seven young acts between the ages of 12 and 20, it's hard not to be infected with their enthusiasm. Jazz, blues, bluegrass, country, rock, pop there's not a shade of music not colored in by the kids. Watching them engage in artistic pursuit is uncommonly gratifying ... and perhaps a little unnerving for older musicians. These kids are coming for their gigs.
Not every youngster sticks with music, however. Many take lessons to please their parents or simply lose interest after a certain age. Yet there's a succinct reason the natural attrition rate is beneficial. Eve Monsees sums it up bluntly.
"When I heard about this story, I thought, 'Oh boy! This is the first time where Gary and I aren't going to be 'the kids!' anymore!'"
By most rights, Will Knaak is too old for this group. Yet at age 20, the local guitarist is actively eking out a career as a musician. Knaak, whose parents are both longtime music scenesters, began studying at Natural Ear Music Camp at age 12 with Michele Murphy and Alvin Crow. His first band was Red-Headed Stepchild, and he considers guitarist John X Reed his mentor.
When Knaak grew too old to take lessons at camp, he turned to teaching. Today, Knaak gives private guitar lessons at Natural Ear's music school.
"Teaching," admits Knaak, "was a little overwhelming at first. It was like, 'Can I do this?' But I've been in the system for a while, you could say, and I was used to the ins and outs. Alvin [Crow] was always there to give assistance."
His rock outfit is the Knaak Attack, which performs around town with an energetic brand of Texas-style rock. Knaak also has a burgeoning relationship with Lone Wolf Management, who are taking a close look at him. Though rock & roll is his first love, his years playing under Reed and Crow well qualified him to play rhythm guitar in country bands. He recently flew to Nashville to showcase for a few labels, but he's loath to reveal any names.
"[ZZ Top manager] Bill [Hamm] is doing his thing, and we're just waiting, but the balancing act is fun."
In Austin, young jazz musicians flock to the Austin School of Music. ASM offers summer jazz camp as well as private lessons, which is what attracted 18-year-old Aaron Allen.
When asked to recommend an aspiring jazz musician, ASM teacher and veteran local jazz guitarist Glenn Rexach didn't hesitate to name Allen. The 18-year-old jazz bassist from Bowie High School has been playing three and a half years as a self-starter. Unlike many of his peers, there are no musicians in his family. Instead, his love for music developed from listening to radio and television.
Allen has attended ASM for the past three years, playing electric and acoustic bass and taking lessons one-on-one with Rexach. He's not forthcoming about his activities, which feels like typical teen reticence, yet when asked about his idols and playing, his interest is noticeably piqued.
"Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Keith Jarrett ... I listen to them, and some others. The biggest challenge of doing this is finding the time to work on everything. With school and homework, it's hard to find that time."
He finds the time to pick up an occasional gig with the Paul White Quintet once a month or so and has dabbled in recording with friends, but has no release or demo. What does the summer hold in store for him?
"Hopefully, playing gigs around town. Nothing set. And lessons with Glenn. Then I'm going to New York for a few days."
On the cusp of 14, Sarah Jarosz is very clear about her future: She will play music. That's been evident in her prodigy-like embrace of the mandolin, her instrument of choice. A resident of nearby Wimberley, Jarosz isn't affiliated with the Austin music camps or schools but studied under teacher Diana Riepe.
Jarosz is a remarkably eloquent young woman, almost preternaturally knowledgeable about everything from performance to her goals. She performs with her mother, Mary, one-half of the parental team that oversees her career. A high school freshman come this fall, Sarah has played mandolin for four years, taken up guitar and bass, and most recently clawhammer banjo and fiddle.
"Just trying to expand my musical knowledge," she offers.
Expanding her musical knowledge means not just playing instruments but writing. She's already tried her hand at several instrumentals and looks forward to what she'll learn at the RockyGrass Academy and Festival in Lyons, Colo., this summer the festival has been an auspicious event for the aspiring Jarosz.
"One year, I was invited to do a 'tweener' on the mainstage of the festival that's one or two songs between the acts. I was backstage, and I had this amazing experience playing my mandolin. David Grisman, Pete Wernick, Mike Bubb, Ronnie McCoury, and all these musicians walked up, and it turned into this amazing jam. A lot of things happened to me because of that backstage jam."
Jarosz plays regularly in the area and is excited about both a mandolin symposium in June in Santa Cruz, Calif., and an invitation to play the Telluride Bluegrass Festival for the first time. Her girlish giggles punctuate her excitement.
"It's going to be a blast!"
Though the Flames have flickered in and around with their personnel, the powerhouse duo of Ariel Abshire and Fabi Reyna fronts the roots-rock band, like an adolescent distaff version of Jagger and Richards. With Casey Karhan on guitar, Connor McNally on bass, and Josh Crow on drums, the quintet is a formidable outfit, especially when Ariel begins singing.
"She's an outrageous singer! Amazing!" declares 13-year-old Reyna, and she's not joking. Her fellow 13-year-old's vocalizing is something akin to Brenda Lee and Lou Ann Barton, a fact not missed on the band's teacher at Natural Ear, Alvin Crow, whose son Josh drums for the band, and who regularly features Ariel at his Broken Spoke gigs. The young singer was also a special guest at the Austin Music Awards this year, the youngest female performer ever.
All this makes Ariel a little wary, though it's hard not to be excited about recording vocals for the credits of Robert Rodriguez new film, Sharkboy and Lavagirl. She tries taking it all in stride.
"I'm really fortunate to have people like Alvin who ask me to sing," smiles Ariel. "I'm fortunate to know a lot of people who think I am talented."
The Flames have been together about a year, formed at camp last summer. The six young personalities meld well, and Fabi views this as the right way to be.
"If you get along with your band, then everything's perfect after that because you enjoy playing with them," she enthuses. "You practice with them and are comfortable with them. I love it more than anything in the world. It's the thing I like most in my life.
"Both me and Ariel are starting to write our own music. We want to get a feel for writing our own songs and maybe later put it out there. Also, I'd like to go to Portland, Oregon, and maybe go to a camp there. I'd like to travel and hear the music around the country."
When Misspent Youth walked off stage at the Austin Music Hall last March, nothing could wipe the grins from the faces of the young quartet from LBJ High School and Small Middle School. With an Austin Music Award for Best Kid Band in hand for the second year in a row, the four were feeling pretty good.
Brothers Nick and Ben Porter, Nick Hurt (son of cartoonist Sam Hurt), and Victor Ziolkowski have been blasting the amps for three years, playing everything from surf instrumentals to Nirvana covers. For Ziolkowski, 12, it helps to have musical parents; his dad is Vic Gerard with Two Hoots & a Holler. The young drummer also plays "a little guitar and bass and [I'm] learning percussion at school."
Dad's connections have helped the band get booked at Gruene Hall, Flamingo Cantina, Antone's, Broken Spoke, and the Hole in the Wall, among others, but then Ziolkowski also has credentials seldom seen at such a young age.
"I've played with Mike Vernon & 3 Balls of Fire, the Fat Cats jazz band at school, Chaparral, and my dad's band Two Hoots & a Holler."
Most recently, he drummed on a track for an upcoming Christmas compilation, but what he really wants to do is start a ska band.
"We've been really busy the last month, playing once or twice a week," says Ziolkowski, going over Misspent Youth's schedule, "but normally it's just once or twice a month. But we practice every week."
Misspent Youth have their roots in Natural Ear Music Camp, but Ziolkowski also attended Blue Star Music Camp last year. This gives him more than the usual credibility when he offers advice to younger musicians.
"Keep playing. Don't give up. Push yourself. Yeah."
"He's a little like a young Kurt Cobain," a local booking agent described Austin's Gryphon Graham. OK, so praise like that can overwhelm anyone, let alone a teenager, but it's a fair description of the 17-year-old's introspective songwriting. Nevertheless, Graham prefers citing Elliott Smith as inspiration, and it's clear the teen knows just where he's going.
That's no surprise for the Garza High School student, who's also taking classes in audio engineering at Austin Community College. As a child, he toured with his mother and stepfather with their band the Shivers his mother is Kelly Bell who also played in the popular Eighties outfit Go Dog Go.
Graham, who started out playing drums at age 5, began playing with a band called Spilltoy at the Austin School of Music's summer camp program nearly two years ago. He still performs with the group but recently struck out on his own playing singer-songwriter fare at venues such as Threadgill's.
"I've always written solo material, even while I was writing for the band. I write on acoustic guitar and attempt piano. Some songs I ended up shelving, but now I've got a compilation built up over the last year and a half. I play about twice a month around town.
"I'd tell younger musicians to play out as much as they can. Get as much exposure as you can, and try to do some recording. Sometimes when you're young, you feel like you're not getting taken seriously in comparison to older artists. Try to have as much fun as you can, or else it becomes tiring like going through the motions."
It's "just plain Ava" for this 16-year-old diva, thank you very much, and she effervesces with enthusiasm for her band, the Shiners, and their wiggly path to being a cohesive band.
"The Shiners have morphed over the past year or so," she explains. "It's the same band, just with tons of people in and out the door."
Both Ava and the Shiners attend the Austin School of Music, where she enters her third year in camp. She has been performing in musical theatre since age 9, sang in the Austin Girls Choir, and was later tapped for roles in Annie and Gypsy at the Paramount Theatre. Her father is "the George Harrison guy" in the Eggmen, Austin's Beatles cover band; both parents were in a band together in Akron, Ohio, where they met. "My little brother tries to play the drums."
The Shiners James Wiseman (drums), Sean Harkins (guitar), Casey O'Keefe (keys), Tyler Rush (bass) have recorded a five-song demo of original songs, a result of individual songwriting efforts within the band.
"Our guitarist is influenced by different people than me. When he writes, it's funky and hard rock, which I guess is how I'd describe the Shiners' music hard funk rock. Some blues in there, too."
The hardest thing about going on your own, notes Ava, "is to organize yourself. In rock camp, they organize it for you you have to be there from X time to Y time, and you have a teacher guiding you. On your own, you have to decide your own rehearsal times, you gotta make it to them. ... It's a lot different. But it's a lot of fun. In fact, it's pretty exciting!