Photograph by Karl Byrn
Axe Man: Jason Lawler learns the basics of dynamics.
By Karl Byrn
Jason Lawler was becoming quite a guitarist after four years of lessons, but he hadn't yet played with other musicians, so he signed up for the Atlas Studios School of Rock in July. "Before that, I thought that in big recording studios there was only one mic hanging down, and they all just jammed," the 13-year-old Rincon Valley Middle School student says with a grin. "I had no idea that it was all of this."
"All of this" is a two-week long session of summer band camp, held at Atlas Studios, a modest downtown Santa Rosa recording facility located behind a video store. Owner Jesse Wickman, who also teaches drums at Stanroy Music Center, says his school "teaches kids how to be in a rock band," with a focus not on music or the music business, but on rehearsal, recording and performance.
The group dynamic Lawler sought is also Wickman's goal. In contrast to working with students one-on-one, he says, "the group is instantly rewarding. They come in the first day and choose songs. We rehearse until the songs are tightened up, we record and then they play a concert. How awesome is that?"
The School of Rock graduation concert takes place this Saturday at the Santa Rosa Skate Park, as the graduates open for experienced local hardcore acts. It's a perfect debut gig, as the show is one of a recent series of all-ages shows sponsored by Skate Works in Santa Rosa.
Wickman won't be jumping across the stage like teacher Jack Black in the kids' beloved School of Rock movie. "Jesse's not the Jack Black of Santa Rosa", says 17-year-old drummer Nick Lenchner. "I am!" But Wickman is still a kid himself. When he asked Lawler, "What was the one thing I said to you guys a million times?" the guitarist replied, "You mean besides 'Sweet!'?"
The real answer is an admonition about getting in tune, which shows that the School of Rock is serious. Ed Lino, whose 13-year-old son Kyle attended both sessions after only six months of guitar lessons, knew this would be a terrific summer activity. "You always want your kids to fall in love with something," he says. "We've tried different sports, which he can do well and sort of likes, but you had to ride him to practice." With the School of Rock, Lino observes, "No one is saying 'Kyle, you have to practice that guitar.'"
Kyle contributed an original song to the sessions and says all the kids were "nervous at first, until we heard each other's skills." Also attending the two sessions were 13-year-old guitarist Blake Deal, 17-year-old drummer Erica Duck and nine-year-old guitarist Thomas Silva, who learned bass during the recordings with tutelage from musician/actor Paul Hoffman.
"The kids are all really talented, really friendly and they worked hard," says Ellen Lenchner, whose son Nick has studied drums with Wickman for two years. "It was amazing to watch them learn problem-solving skills and click as a group. Jesse kept them focused, and balanced it in a fun way."
There's still some post-graduate work to be done. The students' disc, a collection of covers ranging from Led Zeppelin and Guns 'N Roses to My Chemical Romance, is still being completed. Jason is working on a cover image of a sledgehammer smashing a disc in a vise, which Nick jokes should be entitled Demolition Demo. The finished tracks are largely instrumental, though Nick has recorded passionate vocals for the group's most difficult song, System of a Down's "Toxicity."
The kids seem ready to make their band dreams real. Lenchner, who has had experience in local bands, says he's ready to hire them all. With just the right amount of fatherly advice, Ed Lino tells the kids, "All you guys need is a van."
School of Rock (the graduates' chosen band name) open for Snag, Violation and S.K.U.M. on Saturday, Aug. 11, at the Santa Rosa Skate Park, on Piner Road north of Guerneville Road. 4pm to 6pm. Admission is free. Atlas Studios will host its next session in December. For details, contact Jesse Wickman at 707.486.9139.