Smells Like Teen Spirit

U18 going on 21: Teen acts of tomorrow and tonight

Despite the local proliferation of music schools, teen bands are considered a novelty. True, native sons We Go to 11 got booked at this year's Austin City Limits Music Festival and Perry Farrell partnered with the Austin chapter of the Paul Green School of Rock in Chicago at Lollapalooza 2008, but is this really the bellwether of change? Let's put it this way: It's beginning to smell like teen spirit around here.

Yes, watching teens and preteens play rock & roll is adorable, but they aren't doing it to be cute. Remember that teen bands drove the sound of Texas rock & roll in the 1960s. Roky Erickson delivered his mighty yawp at the age of 18 on 1965's "You're Gonna Miss Me," everything whirling inside the song developing in his teenage mind. Although the Beatles altered the pop music dynamic of bands by writing and performing their own songs, Lubbock's Buddy Holly & the Crickets did that years before the Fab Four set foot here. Okay, so the hiccup with the thick glasses was 22 when he died in 1959, but he was a teenager when he wrote some of his biggest hits. Doug Sahm was performing in San Antone well before he was in his teens.

Community support once existed for these young bands in a way it hasn't for decades. Nonclub venues such as city parks, community halls, and neighborhood recreation centers, as well as school parties, church functions, coffeehouses, pizza joints, and "teen canteens," were once geared toward entertaining nondrinking audiences in the 1950s and 1960s. Contrast that with new neighborhoods in Austin being developed today with no bus service. No way to get out, no way to get back home. How can they go some place when they can't get there?

And where is "there" anyway? All-ages clubs are accessible, but opening slots generally fall to more established acts. Local venues such as the Parlor, Momo's, Ruta Maya, Antone's, and Threadgill's World Headquarters accommodate the under-18 set but not on a regular basis. That means no consistent place for young musicians to hang out, be seen and heard, network, be exposed to one another's music – nowhere to call their own. And that's just one of many hitches they face as musicians as they dream of ACL stages.

Another is a contemporary variation of what used to be known as the "stage mother." Call her the "backstage mother," though the offending parent may well be the father, too. They cluck about gigs, complain about paying cover, saddle their offspring with unrealistic expectations, interfere in band politics, and yes, even buy them pricey equipment. Take this to the bank: No matter how much they whine for a special-edition Stratocaster, the Squier is a fine guitar for a 12-year-old.

Then there's the sex and excess. Your kids may know more than you think, but they don't know as much as they think. Remember wearing a "sex, drugs, and rock & roll" T and yelling "paaarrrty!!!" while trying to cadge a brewski and get lucky? That's your kid. Have you looked at her MySpace page lately? It probably says she's 23 years old and trying to get laid.

Yet, the time is now to acknowledge the growing strength of this talent pool. The local explosion of teen acts – or, as White Denim might say, "exposion" – and proliferation of U18 talent is a direct result of years of cultivation through schools, camps, and private lessons. The schools and camps and streets are full of them, and they're looking for the next step. This is why investment in the next generation is crucial

Something innate within the Lone Star psyche imbues Texas music with an indefinable power. Texas blues, for example, is rarely short of young guitar slingers eager to don the SRV hat and wail. Sure, Charlie Sexton and Jake Andrews made their marks before age 18, but seeing talents such as Eve Monsees, Gary Clark, and Will Knaak develop is something Austin can take pride in. Pay attention, because guitarists such as Justin Jacobs, Fabi Reyna, Zeke Jarmon, and Henry Gillespie are coming up to bat. Time to cheer the new home team, because they're the local all-stars of tomorrow, or even next week.

Until then, have sympathy for the little devils. And don't ask to be on the guest list. Just pay the cover.

Four Bands to Know


Fireants (Photo by Shelley Hiam)

When this year's Austin Music Award winners for Best Teen Band Jenny Wolfe & the Pack went their separate ways, Packsters Zeke Jarmon, Steven Campbell, and Ian Stewart swarmed to bassist Rebecca Pledger and drummer Victor Ziolkowski to form the Fireants. Their broad spectrum of training from classical to rock blends with bluegrass and won the Old Settler's Music Festival Youth Talent Competition and the Westlake High School Battle of the Bands.

Carson Brock Group

The blistering version of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" on the CBG's MySpace page is a good indicator of this group's dedication to the blues. Drummer Ziolkowski and bassist Jacob Draper give guitarist Carson Brock (son of Eric Johnson bassist Kyle Brock) a tough bottom to work with. Brock meets the challenge with panache and a well-aimed direction for his blues-rock.

We Go to 11

Brothers Zac and Jake teamed with their childhood friend Sled to form We Go to 11 (so named for a quotable Spinal Tap line), arguably the hottest U18 band in Austin for having played Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Family connections to festival agents C3 Presents don't hurt, but We Go to 11's muscular metal edge drives its sound on original material such as "Burning Legions."

Super Pal Universe

Super Pal Universe is very much a concept band, managed and mentored by Sara Hickman and aiming not just for MTV but a TV show. Nadia, Boris, Julie, Riff, and Sam – their SPU handles – are also extremely accomplished musicians, sporting B-52s quirk on "Don't Let That Water Run" and a likely hit in "Microphone," a song that might have been done by Throwing Muses or the Breeders. .

Next Up: The U18 Austin Music Showcase

Saturdays, 4-7pm, Threadgill's World HQ

Oct. 25

Cheap Fire

The Loose



Poor Yorick

Nov. 1

High on Hot Dogs


Paul Green School

of Rock All-Stars


Nov. 8

Love on Tap


Super Pal Universe

The Tellevators

Nov. 15

Urban Legend


Chief Rival

Carson Brock Group

We Go to 11

All acts subject to change. Check for updates and times.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Six to Watch

Victor Ziolkowski

Victor Ziolkowski currently juggles edgy roots-rockers the Fireants and blues trio Carson Brock Group, but the 16-year-old might also be drumming with 3 Balls of Fire, performing behind legendary guitarists such as Jerry Cole and the Ventures' Bob Spalding. The son of bassist Vic Gerard (Two Hoots & a Holler, Chaparral), Ziolkowski's jazz-inflected style laid down the rhythm for popular U18 band Misspent Youth, three-time winners of the Austin Music Awards' Best Teen Band.

Ruby Jane Smith

Smells Like Teen Spirit
Photo by Shelley Hiam

These days Ruby Jane Smith is often seen fiddling with mentor Ray Benson, but the 13-year-old can also lay claim as the youngest fiddler invited onto the Grand Ole Opry stage. No surprise that her doggedly traditional style won her the Mississippi State Fiddle Champion title in 2005 and made her the 2007 Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin recipient, an honor she passed on to Ian Stewart. As a part-time Austin resident, Ruby Jane also stays busy as an actress and model. She currently studies with fiddler Jim Brock.

Smells Like Teen Spirit
Photo by Shelley Hiam

Ian Stewart

At 16, Ian Stewart can dust off his bookshelf to make room for a growing collection of awards. Stewart is the 2008 Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin recipient, third in a row of winners from Austin. At Westlake High, he performs in the school orchestra and also with the Fireants, whose edgy Americana is informed by his years as a Suzuki Music School student and attending camps such as the Mark O'Connor Fiddle Camp and Natural Ear Music School.

April Kaplowitz

Smells Like Teen Spirit
Photo by Seabrook Jones

She might be playing bass with the jazz band from Khabele School, acting in an Austin Lyric Opera production, performing as a member of the all-girl Platforms, and/or organizing benefits. April Kaplowitz has done all four over the last couple of years, and that's just a drop in the bucket for the socially conscious 18-year-old. Daughter of a singer and saxophone player who encouraged their musical children, Kaplowitz also sings and composes and plans to minor in jazz studies after she graduates this December.

Smells Like Teen Spirit
Photo by Shelley Hiam

Justin Jacobs

Schooled by Will Knaak and Natural Ear Music but definitely from the Stevie Ray Vaughan school of soaring Strat leads, Justin Jacobs is busy hustling gigs. Now 17, he's done with homeschooling and saw his summertime blues trio implode but found work helping host Nuno's blues jams and playing at Giddy Ups. Usually teamed with his bassist brother, Jake, Jacobs is a purist when it comes to blues, preferring traditional blues stylings both acoustic and electric.

Smells Like Teen Spirit
Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Evan Slack

As the eldest member of Super Pal Universe, Evan Slack (Riff) finds his time taken up between senior-year school demands and the growing success of the band. That's okay with the 17-year-old McNeil High School student, because it's afforded him the opportunity to write on guitar and piano with an older class of local musicians. Slack, who played in youthful bands such as the Watermelon Social, is currently recording a solo CD of his original indie pop-rock.

Where Are They Now?

The Chronicle has focused on a number of U18 musicians over the years. Here are two faces from the past and what they're up to.

Fabi Reyna

Smells Like Teen Spirit
Photo by Shelley Hiam

All of 12 the first time the Chronicle caught up with her, Fabi Reyna, now 17, first appeared in the Natural Ear Music School band Spontaneous Combustion and later fronted the Flames with Ariel Abshire under Alvin Crow's direction. At 15, she attended her first Girls Rock Camp in Portland, Ore.; today, she's a guitar instructor and band coach at Girls Rock Camp Austin. All that music training and experience has served her well as she currently performs with Code Rainbow! and the Silver Series and actively pursues performing solo and with a flute-cello combination. A senior majoring in guitar at McCallum Fine Arts Academy, Reyna balances music, sports, and volunteering for the Yellow Bike Project. "I do my homework, and I do my sports, and in between, I pick up my guitar," she laughs. "I'm always writing music."

Will Knaak

"I'm 24, and I've been playing half my life." That's common acknowledgement around Austin as its youthful population of musicians matures. For Will Knaak, a Natural Ear Music School graduate, those years have been eye-opening. Knaak was 20 when the Chronicle last spoke with him and being developed by former ZZ Top manager Bill Hamm, an experience as enlightening as it was difficult. "Going from obscure to playing arenas with 10,000 was really exciting," allows Knaak about performing with country singer Angela Peterson. "It was experience I couldn't gain playing around town, [but] I didn't want to be her lead player for the rest of my life." Knaak traded up to his most recent gig with Johnny Solinger, lead singer for Skid Row, a role that pays the bills while the hard rock guitarist hones his own sound and works with younger players such as Justin Jacobs. Knaak is succinct about giving advice: "Until something happens, it's always just talk."

Six Places to Learn

Once upon a time, Michele Murphy's Natural Ear Music School was the only player in Austin's music-camp game. The Austin School of Music set up with a different idea and technique, then opened a North campus. Along came the mighty Paul Green School of Rock with its national affiliation and upped the ante. In the last couple of years, the philosophical Red Leaf School of Music, Emily Marks' Girls Rock Camp Austin, and Alvin Crow's Austin School of Rock and Roll have opened. They're all fine schools with wildly varying approaches to music. – M.M.

Natural Ear Music School

103 Krebs


Paul Green School of Rock

13803 Dragline #200


Austin School of Music

2428-B W. Ben White


13945 Hwy. 183 N.


Girls Rock Camp Austin

PO Box 41912

Austin, 78704


Austin School of

Rock and Roll


Red Leaf School of Music

4800 S. First


The U18 Reality Check

You're 17, and you've been playing for four years. Face it: Your parents have been schlepping you to and from lessons and gigs for most of your teens. They're bored, and they don't come to the shows anymore, but you don't have a car and couldn't afford gas if you did. Your friends who like music have their own bands. Even your little sister who used to come to your gigs has a band.

All-ages gigs seem a little babyish these days, and 13-year-olds are getting your old slots because they're younger and cuter. The over-21 venues are hard to break into. When you get gigs in adult venues, your friends can't always come, because your set is late or their parents are terrified their kids will come home from Sixth Street tattooed. You can't drink, and the money from the last gig barely paid for the cigarettes outlawed in clubs when you were in middle school. Welcome to the real world.

Was it fun while it lasted? Yes, but that's the natural order of things growing up, having the rug yanked out from under you just when your stride feels confident. How you deal with those changes will determine the course of your career. Booking is its own daunting effort that requires patience and organization, and you have to take a more active role in promoting your gigs, not just having Mom send an e-mail to the school listserv (see "Promoting Your Gig," right). Romance and relationships are a bigger part of your life, too, with their own kinds of havoc. Keep practicing.

And take heart: When you turn 18, life will change once again because now you will officially be an adult and you will suddenly have freedom you didn't imagine before. Soon enough, those 13-year-olds will be 17 and wondering what happened to their gigs. – M.M.

Music Resources

American Federation of Musicians Local 433

Represents more than 500 local musicians, booking weddings, corporate parties, and other events, plus working with members on employment issues.

Austin Music Commission

Advises the City Council on music-development issues, assists in the implementation of programs to meet the needs of the industry, and reviews matters that affect the music industry.

Austin Music Foundation

Provides free music-business education to local musicians.

Health Alliance for Austin Musicians

Offers low-cost primary health-care services, basic dental care, and mental-health counseling (via the Sims Foundation) for eligible musicians.

Save Austin Music

A grassroots community organization that aims to revitalize Austin's live music and the Austin music industry.

Sims Foundation

Provides confidential low-cost counseling and other mental-health services tailored to the needs of musicians and their families.

Promoting Your Gig

Work those MySpace, Facebook, Imeem pages! Keep your gig calendar current and complete and your photos reasonably sized.

Make sure you are listed in the newspapers' club listings or announcement sections. Area publications such as Oak Hill Gazette and Slaughter Creek Reporter offer extra opportunities for listings. Buy an ad if you can afford it.

Encourage your friends to each bring a friend, but forget about "street teams." Your fans are your street teams – offer them downloads and fun merch, and they'll talk you up.

Selling merch: T-shirts are bulky and troublesome, but they're the most popular item next to your CD. Alternately, stickers and clings are a great idea and are inexpensive ways to get your name out there.

Does your school or church or apartment complex offer a place to put a poster or make announcements? You never know who might be interested.

Forget about the old-school sending of bulky press kits to journalists. If you're contacting the press, make sure all your info is online and good photos are available. Send the CD and a one-page press release with your website or MySpace page listed.

• Team up with another band or two. The more musicians involved, the more the gig is talked about. Besides, it's smart to support one another. You may be playing together in the next band.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Four Places to Use Duct Tape Besides the Stage Floor

1) Tape your set list to the monitor.

2) Attach that flappy Vans sole back on your shoe.

3) Hold your pants up when you lose your belt.

4) Cover that hole in your favorite jeans that just tore wide10 minutes before stage time.

From the 'Chronicle' Archives

Natural Ear Music Camp: "The Kids Are All Right," Aug. 22, 2003

Revisiting teen bands: "School's Out Forever," June 3, 2005

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