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Interviews: School of Athens

Courtesy photo of School Of Athens
Courtesy photo

School Of Athens: Interview
January 2004
By: Linda Spielman


Anywhere on the planet seems warmer than my hometown of Pittsburgh over the last few weeks. I was hoping that sitting down recently with one of the area's newest, up and coming bands, School Of Athens, would help transport me to a warmer place. Maybe a Grecian Isle? Well, in a futile attempt to wish for a warmer climate, I did discover that band members Drew Fogle, Neal Rosenblat, and Chris Wasel were eager to talk about their music, aspirations and upcoming projects, which in itself are generating some heat and noteworthy buzz within the current local music scene.

The band started roughly about six years ago when Fogle and Wasel met after high school graduation. Although Fogle went away to college and Wasel opted to stay local, they remained close friends over the years. After college, the two sat down and discussed the prospects of pursuing music full-time with the intention of putting together a band. Remembering a mutual friend from his high school days, Fogle tracked down Rosenblat, who he knew would be a perfect fit for the band. With the common thread of influence via the highly melodic and lyrically charged Radiohead on the part of all three guys, School Of Athens was born.

Fogle elaborates on the decision of the band's namesake, "School of Athens is the name of a painting by Raphael. Chris had an art class in college, studied the painting and was inspired by the meaning and the name. The short version of what the meaning is is that of bringing more than one idea and converting it into one. . . which makes sense, because every member in the band has an idea, and we form it into one--- kind of like three of us creating the same song, like taking our three minds and inspirations and working our melodies and chord progressions and making one song out of it."

Call it kismet, fate or beginners luck that the three band members found each other to form not only a solid sounding rock band, but also more of a brotherhood. As Wasel notes, "We spend so much time together rehearsing, writing and playing live not only do we connect in every way musically, but we're also best friends and almost like brothers."

Fogle, Wasel and Rosenblat all come from classically trained backgrounds. Fogle and Wasel both took up piano as young as four and six years old, while Rosenblat was already playing guitar both through professional lessons and learning on his own at six years of age. As each of the band members grew up, each continued with their musical training. Fogle performed in various youth choirs and went onto Mercyhurst College as a voice major. Rosenblat continued teaching himself guitar, while Wasel gave up piano but started teaching himself guitar and drums. As similar as their backgrounds are, so are the band's musical influences, which include Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers and even Counting Crows, which add yet another element to the perfect fit of these band members.

The obvious enthusiasm and genuine commitment they have for music in general as well as the music they create seems to be paying off. They've only been playing out live for a little over four months. "As a kid, I hated playing piano because I hated playing other people's music. I haven't felt so strongly about any other music I've played up to this point," Wasel admits. Fogle rediscovered and mastered the piano after college and developed his singer/instrumental frontman skills. And Rosenblat incorporates strong melodic chords along with backing vocals to the group's songs. Although there are three distinctive personalities and musical perspectives in the band, they come off as one musical entity. Rosenblat elaborates, "Between all of us there is such a strong and rooted musical core. We all know what we want and can see the big picture. . . Because of our background we are able to see all the different aspects of being in a band."

Writing all the group's material is a collective effort by all three members. In many ways as Fogle describes it, the inception of most all of their songs starts off as an impromptu jam session. "I will usually bring an element or melody for a song out on the piano. Neal will then come in with a guitar part, and Chris will add a percussion arrangement." Although the structure of writing and arranging their music seems a bit "unstructured," it works very well for the group. "Within five minutes we usually know if it's going to work or not," Fogle is quick to point out. As powerful as Fogle's voice is as frontman for the band, all of the members are quick to defend their instrumental core and note that is where their primary focus lies--- lyrics are always last in the musical equation.

The energy of the band and melodic-driven music they play live is proof of the commitment they have made to the group and to each other. They pull much of their inspiration from the people who have touched their lives and the joys and sadnesses which all people go through. However, the channeling of all those experiences into the music School Of Athens creates is a melting pot of their influences like Radiohead, all the while enabling them to carve out a niche and musical identity all their own.

Being as close-knit as the three members are, they do freely rely on complete honesty in the writing process. Both Rosenblat and Fogle agree, "It was hard at first. We had to learn that it was OK to be so honest with each other. We are now brutally honest with everything every step of the way. . . the writing, rehearsing and performing. When we write, if there is something that just isn't clicking, we are pretty clear up front, so we don't hang on to it."

Preparing to start playing the local Pittsburgh music scene involved about eight months of rehearsing before their first gig ever was played. Almost right out of the gate, School Of Athens cemented a spot as a finalist in the 2003 Hard Rock Challenge in early December. Despite only a two-vote margin between them and the first place winners, it was obvious that the band was making a good first impression on the local music scene and was immediately respected for their music--- especially considering that they had performed less than a dozen shows at that point. January and February 2004 find School Of Athens heading to Erie, PA to start production on their first demo release. Between day jobs and recording, the band plays out at least twice a week if not more around the Greater Pittsburgh area and at many of the clubs on the famed Carson Street, Southside.

Looking ahead to the future for the band, all three members are confident and content. To no one's surprise their pursuit of writing and playing good music is their foremost concern and mission. Everything else is icing on the cake. In a refreshing outlook to success, the group has no unrealistic expectations of the industry and success as a whole. Within the next year they want to broaden their fan base into a more regional direction, start shopping their demo to the labels, and play live as much as their schedules allow, while continuing to write new material. It appears that an overall consensus is to establish School Of Athens as a respected and successful band, compared to flavor of the week or superstar bands that come and go so quickly in today's music industry.

In the same respect, the band isn't willing to sell their souls to the industry. However, they understand, acknowledge, and accept the art of compromise the industry as a whole. Knowing that realistic aspect of the business, yet holding firm to their belief in the group gives them an edge over many up and coming bands. Fogle, Rosenblat and Wasel all agree that this is the first "real" band, they've been in and will be their last. The musical and personal relationship they've built through the band has made them believe that it truly doesn't get any better than what they have.

The "work hard, play hard and play often" mentality of School Of Athens is something that will bring the band success. Whether they make a living doing this full-time, are commissioned artists for television or movies, or a perform as a top-selling band, Fogel, Rosenblat and Wasel approach it all with the same dedication, commitment and intensity.


http://www.schoolofathens.com


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