Wanted: Guitarist for teen rock band. Classic rock and originals. Must be able to jump around on stage, make your hair go crazy and pump up the volume. Interest in Lynyrd Skynyrd a plus.
That’s Ryan Scotchie’s dream ad.
A 15-year-old guitarist from Weaverville, Scotchie has now had a taste of the dream. Rehearsing onstage at the Asheville Arts Center’s rock-band camp this summer, Scotchie played lead guitar on Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll.” His band’s rendition was complete with guitarists jumping up and down and lunging toward the audience as they flopped their heads about.
But the best taste for Scotchie is watching the iconic Southern-rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd perform live. “Free Bird,” the group’s lengthy signature song, transports the teen.
It’s the song’s long guitar solo that captures Scotchie. “It starts slow, and it builds, and it builds, and it builds, and it peaks,” says the budding rocker, who wears his feelings on his chest, courtesy of Skynyrd T-shirts. “When you’re sitting there in concert, and they’re playing it, it’s a holy feeling.”
Skynyrd concerts are enough to motivate Scotchie to try to make a life in music. That drive landed him at the arts center camp with 25 other teens amped, to varying degrees, with rock-and-roll passion.
The day camp was held in two one-week sessions, in July and August. The setting one afternoon was, like the music the kids played, restless and rowdy: guitars and instrument cases scattered, random chords charging the air, occasional thumps of sticks on drums.
“There’s a big desire to be in a band,” says Lief Stevens, a bass instructor at the camp and arts center who plays in the band Orange Krush. “We’re surrounded by music all the time. There’s also the image of the rock star, like being an actor, playing in front of an audience, being in the limelight. You see them on MTV. You want to emulate that.”
It’s not only teenagers who have a rage for the stage: The arts center’s new rock-band class, which will meet the first Saturday of each month starting Oct. 1, has drawn adult participants, too. The class has the same aims as the camp: to teach people how to play in an ensemble and give them tips on how to form a band.
Scotchie and other teens who participated in the summer program are forming bands with fellow campers.
“I’m dead set on it happening. I have high hopes,” says Scotchie, a 10th-grader at North Buncombe High School. From the camp, he has recruited several band members, including his brother Andrew, 12, a guitarist with whom Scotchie practices for hours each night in a garage beside their house. He’s lined up a drummer and another guitarist and is looking for a bass player.
“I know we’ve all got a lot of dedication. We have what it takes,” Scotchie says.
Instructors at the camp focused on teaching what it takes to make a band work: having a leader, making eye contact, changing the volume at different times in a song and supporting soloists. Bands also must decide how to begin and end songs in unison and how to set a tempo.
“There’s a whole different set of skills to play in a group than just to play by yourself,” says Stevens, who got his start as a teen. “A huge chunk of playing in a band is communication.”
“We try to let them know that it doesn’t just happen,” says Tom Leiner, a guitar instructor at the camp and arts center who plays with, among others, the Kat Williams Band. “It’s not just four guys in a room.”
One camp day, though, it was just four guys in a room, and the scene was lively. With a bleating bass in the background, campers preparing for instruction from Leiner waited with their instruments, including a drum set, in a small space crammed with speakers, amplifiers and a microphone. To pulsing electric notes, boys checked themselves out in mirrors that lined the wall.
“Don’t blow the speaker,” Leiner warned a boy with a guitar who was adjusting the volume.
“We’re breaking new boundaries,” another boy said.
“Yeah, unfortunately,” Leiner muttered good-naturedly.
A lunchtime pause from breaking boundaries offered no break from music at the arts center. In the former church, boom boxes blasted the guttural sounds of Led Zeppelin and other rock groups, creating a jungle of noise. Boys with guitars strapped around their chests paced, occasionally making air-guitar flourishes.
After the recess, rehearsals began for the camp’s culminating concerts, with the musicians being divided into a handful of bands of mixed skill levels. Boys with hair spiked, shoulder-length and tamed under caps milled around, waiting for their turn on the rehearsal stage.
The first band stepped up. A boy tapped four times on a red drum set to launch “Wild Thing,” a perpetually popular youth ode to rebellion. The band members, who resembled toothpicks in tie-dye and tennis shoes, unleashed a rendition that struggled to its knees, sluggish but passionate. Hair hung like veils over the guitarists’ eyes, suggesting modern versions of the early Byrds and Beatles.
A boy on a skateboard sailed through the back of the room. (Skateboards can be uncool for a young band: It was skateboards, in fact, that trumped Toby Kvalvik’s plans for a band last year. His buddies were too distracted by motion to make music.)
Kvalvik, 14, a Waynesville drummer, has pounded on pots and whatever else he could find since he was a toddler. Attending the rock-band camp made sense. “Thundering rock and roll just explains me,” he says. “I love the crash and the boom. I love hitting the cymbals. I just love rhythm. It’s kind of in my blood.”
He plans to take drum lessons and wants to form a band this year with kids from the camp. “I know I have to have discipline. I’m personally a very dedicated drummer,” says Kvalvik, an 8th-grader at Waynesville Middle School.
Chelsea Wise, 13, of Charleston, S.C., the only girl at the camp, plays alto saxophone. “I like to be onstage and playing in front of people,” she says. But she’s not sure about being in a rock band. “I think it’s something you’re really good at or you just flop. You’ve just got to take the chance.”
“It’s probably your life”
Fellow camper Julien Melissas, 12, certainly plans to. A guitarist, bass player and drummer, he wants to create a recording studio at his home in Asheville, where he plays classic rock with his father, a guitarist. Melissas, a 7th-grader at Evergreen Community Charter School, is debating between architecture and music as a career.