School Of Athens:
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
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