The general consensus among the female population is that if a guy is a musician, he automatically becomes twice as appealing. Put a guitar and microphone in front of any guy, and suddenly they are full-fledged hotties, capable of turning a group of girls into a hysterical mob (i.e. the Jonas Brothers).
Now that young men have gotten wind of this phenomenon, it seems every other guy you meet plays guitar. So, when hearing from a friend about “this freshman guy who’s in this really awesome band,” immediately a high school band pumping out power chords and break-up ballads comes to mind. But Fair Herald, a Chicago-based band of five endearing college freshman, breaks the mold with one simple refreshing characteristic — they actually have talent. In an interview with The Badger Herald, Sean Bacastow, bassist for Fair Herald and current UW student, gives an insight into the life of being in an up-and-coming band as well as a college freshman.
“I got my first guitar when I was 11 for my birthday and, ever since then, I just kind of started picking up other instruments. I liked how music sounded, but I wasn’t avid about music or anything. One day, I just wanted a guitar. It was completely random,” Bacastow remembers. It wasn’t until his freshman year at St. Ignatius College Prep that he became a part of what is now Fair Herald. “I met them in gym class. First, I asked them if they needed a bassist, and we like to joke that they kind of blew me off, but a couple of weeks later they asked me to come out and jam with them. First day, we jammed, we recorded a couple songs, and it just worked.”
Four years later, the band still remains with Mike Kuntz on vocals and guitar, Mark Goldich on guitarist, Sean Bacastow on bass, Jimmy Bloniarz on keyboard and synth and Dave Brankin on drums and percussion.
Fair Herald’s sound, as described by Bacastow, is “roots rock with good pop-sensibilities,” which they consider to be “more traditional rock music that’s fun to listen to.” And there is no denying that Fair Herald’s music is fun. Their album, Familiar Streets, is composed of tracks reminiscent of REM, Ryan Adams and Neil Young, something everyone can appreciate. They have a surprisingly mature sound, but have the ability to fit right in on a college students’ playlist.
“We wrote half of the album in probably two weeks,” Bacastow said. “None of us have had it hard in life — we don’t have a ton of life experience. We’re college students. But everything we write is what affects us. Our lyrics aren’t cryptic.”
Fair Herald began like any other modest high school garage band. “We had this place called the Ashbary that we played. That’s kind of like where we started playing shows. We probably played there five or six times. We released our first EP there,” Bacastow said.
Soon they moved on to larger shows. Bacastow still remembers what he considers their first big booking. “First time we played at the Hideout, that was our first reputable venue.” Nervous? “Yeah, especially for that show because so many groups have played there, like Wilco, Andrew Bird, all these artists I looked up to. It’s just daunting when you’re high school juniors. You feel like there’s a lot to live up to,” he said.
Last Monday, Fair Herald played a show in Chicago at Schuba’s with Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson — the much-buzzed about artist from Brooklyn — and Hoot and Hellmouth. “That was probably the most fun show I’ve ever played. Meeting those guys — they were hilarious. You can probably meet the most interesting people in music out of any other field. One night of talking to someone, you can learn so much. Getting advice from them and being able to discuss what they do. … Honestly, we’re just getting into this, where we are taking music more seriously. There’s a level where you hit — you’re not professional, but you start making money, and we could go on tour and sustain ourselves, which is a cool thing, but you basically have to live broke so … I think for the most part, the only thing stopping us from doing that is expectations. But I think we all take it seriously enough to pursue it as a career.”
To add to their impressive repertoire, Fair Herald is a part of label Where Ends Meet Records. “It’s a collection of artists we’ve played with in the past — five or six bands are on it now. Basically, it’s an umbrella label, so that if one band gets some success, the other bands can benefit from it,” Bacastow explained.
When asked what living in Madison is like for a musician, Bacastow feels conflicted. “It’s an awesome place to see shows. There was a week early in the first semester where I saw four shows in six days. You can find a lot of good music to go see. But as far as getting the band down here, it’s been a struggle,” Bacastow said. “We play clubs in Chicago, bars — that kind of thing — and occasionally a venue like the Metro. But here in Madison, there’s not a good, midsized club. The closest that comes is High Noon Saloon, which is hard to book.”
Traveling between Madison and Chicago might seem intimidating as both student and musician, but Bacastow seems to have it under control. “Some kids play sports — it’s just like any other hobby. You have to balance your time and work around it. The only time it’s hard for me is having to go out of town. It’s tough to catch up,” he said. Although he may not know exactly what he wants to major in — it’s a toss up between English, journalism and environmental science — there is no doubt Fair Herald will remain a part of the Chicago music scene. Although the other band members attend University of Michigan, Fair Herald has not stopped playing shows and making music. “It’s a commitment you have to really stick to. We’re really passionate about the band — we knew that coming out of high school.”
Unfortunately, there won’t be any chances to catch Fair Herald live this semester.
“We’re taking off the rest of the school year — were actually off until June. July and August we’ll be doing a lot of shows, a lot of writing,” Bacastow said. There is good news. “We’re going to record in August. We’re doing a three-song demo.”
Even with immense potential and experience in the business, it’s not easy to make it big. “There’s so much white noise out there. You can find a thousand new bands on MySpace a day, I bet. And it’s like, with the technology, anyone can be an artist. You don’t have to be good. There are a lot of bands who completely have the songs and the talent to be something great, but there’s so much white noise to sift through, no one ever finds them,” Bacastow said.
If the amateur music scene is white noise, then Fair Herald is the distinct melody heard above the blaring, inarticulate nonsense. They are destined to capture the attention of classic rock aficionados, but not until they’ve aced their midterms.
Check out Fair Herald at www.myspace.com/fairherald.