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High Street Rocks
BY PETER GIANOPULOS | PHOTO BY ROB WARNER
When you see the five members of the local teen band, High Street, standing on stage — all well-coiffed and confident, looking ready for a cameo at next year’s Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards — there’s a temptation to write them off as yet another bubble-gum teeny-bopper kid’s band.
Which teen idol, you wonder, are they going to imitate? Justin Bieber? Selena Gomez? One Direction? Or dare it be even written? Those Hanson kids from the ’90s?
But then you hear their sound — a bit mature for a band made primarily of freshman high school students — and you think, given enough time, and the right coaching, that perhaps their manager, David Findling, just might be right. Maybe they are Led Zeppelin meets Adele. Maybe they are something rare: a teenage band dedicated to blending the soul of blues with the passion of rock ‘n’ roll.
“They are going to mature along with their audience,” says Findling, father to Erik, the band’s guitarist, and Kurt, its drummer. “I think they have range. They can appeal to everyone from 15 to 50.”
Only time will tell, but the band’s origins are the stuff rock ‘n’ roll fairy tales are made. It’s a classic story, really. A couple of kids from the neighborhood — middle schoolers who are interested in music of all stripes and eager to create unique sounds — get together for jam sessions in an attic fully equipped for musical experimentation.
In the beginning, it’s all fun. But then they start reaching to become something more. They take lessons. They dedicate a specific time every week — usually Sunday afternoons or Wednesday nights — to coalescing their sounds. They gain confidence by playing cover songs — think, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns & Roses and “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones — during a free neighborhood concert for friends and family. And then suddenly they want to be a band, naming themselves High Street in honor of the street they stared at while jamming together in that fateful attic.
What can’t be denied is that the band has been busy earning its stripes on the local music scene, performing everywhere from Soldier Field and U.S. Cellular Field to local spots like The Alley in Highwood and Nova HP in Highland Park. They’ve got one EP under their belt — named appropriately enough Out of the Attic — followed by a second, “Nocturnal,” which debuted in March.
There’s also a high-end music video on the way, which they hope will go viral on YouTube, plus a date to play Great America on Sept. 2. Add that to the fact they won a coveted spot at last year’s Michigan Summer Festival — beating out a plethora of older, more experienced bands for the prize — and you can see why buzz is building.
But for now, says Annette Findling, who is the band’s communications manager and “snack caterer,” it’s simply about living in the moment. “We treat it no differently than a travel sport. Maybe it will grow into something bigger, but right now they’re just enjoying the opportunity to play together.”
The band’s next local concert will be during Wilmette Summerfest on July 14 at 7 p.m. on the Central Avenue stage near the train station. But in the meantime, here’s an insider’s look at the band’s five young members: Billy, Jimmy, Kurt, Erik, and Jenny. For more information and samples of the band’s music, visit http://highstreetrocks.com.
A group of local teens from Winnetka, Kenilworth and Glenview have banded together, with impressive early success, by rejecting the typical sounds associated with their generation for more mature beats that borrow from the rhythms of their parents’ (and grandparents’) music collections.
Billy Hennessy | Guitarist, 15, Kenilworth
You know musicians like Billy Hennessy, a wise, old soul trapped in a young man’s body. He says things like, “I wasn’t made for this time” and “I should have been born in Chicago in the 1950s” and thinks the sweetest sound on the planet is listening to vinyl records of the Beatles in their heyday. It’s the result of hours spent with a cool little jukebox karaoke machine that his parents let him fiddle with when he was a young boy. That meant lots of Led Zeppelin and not an iota of teeny-bop rock. “I didn’t know who Britney Spears was until I was 9. I turned on VH1 one day and said, ‘Who is that? What is she singing?’” You can hear the effects every time he picks up his Gibson ES-335. It’s old school through and through, or in Hennessy’s words: “a bodacious array of organized sounds.”
Jimmy Friedman | Bass, 15, Glenview
There are advantages to going to band camp on the North Shore. You meet fellow young musicians. You hear them play. You exchange phone numbers. And when you need to fill a hole in your band, you’ve got a number to call. That’s how Jimmy Friedman joined High Street five months ago. The band needed a good bass player, someone with a versatile ear who knew not only how to belt out a jazzy sound but also showed innate curiosity. That was Jimmy. This is a 15-year-old, after all, who is fascinated by girls, Latino music and ancient history (probably in that order), someone who taught himself how to play the didgeridoo, a tube-shaped African/Australian instrument, by watching You Tube videos. Eclectic doesn’t begin to describe him. “I’m not the life of the party,” he says, “more a person to keep it grooving, go with the flow and enjoy the ride.”
Kurt Findling | Drums, 15 Winnetka
You can hear the progression of High Street, from a simple teenage cover band to the more mature bluesy-rock band it is today, every time Kurt Findling talks about playing the drums. “My primary job is time keeper,” he says. “If I do that well, the rest takes care of itself.” And yet he knows the rest is hard work. Like sitting around, for weeks on end, searching for that perfect idea that will give life to a perfect beat. That’s how he helped shape one of the band’s most radio-worthy songs, “Wasted on the Young.” Ostensibly, it’s about the difficulties facing a young man as he matures, but listen to it, he says, and you’ll hear the progression of sounds, a move from Africa to New York, from rhythmic beats to a harsher urban vibe. “We want to grow with our fans,” he says. “We want to mature as we go along.”
Erik Findling | Guitar, 13 Winnetka
It’s not easy being the only middle-schooler in a band filled with high school students. Nor is it easy to be in a band composed primarily of your older brother’s friends. But here’s the thing about Erik Findling: It doesn’t faze him. Never did. When his brother started jamming in their parents’ attic five years ago, he was 8 years old. It didn’t matter. He wanted it. He went up there and told his older brother he could play, riffed and jammed in front of all his friends and won them over, string by string, pick by pick. He wanted it so bad, in fact, that he convinced his parents to send him down to the Old Town School of Folk Music to help him hone his skills. He liked the idea of going into the city, guitar strung on his back. That was his style. Still is. “My style hasn’t changed; it’s just maturing,” he says. “I hear things in the rhythm section that give me inspiration and try to make up new licks.” But the best part of being a part of High Street? “I’m the youngest but have an equal vote.”
Jenny Thompson | Vocals, 15 Kenilworth
You have to listen to High Street’s song “Daylight,” one of the band’s slowest and most soulful efforts, to understand a bit about Jenny Thompson. That’s her song. It’s literally about a break-up as she experienced it. When she’s singing it, she says the world around her — doesn’t matter if it’s 10 people or 10,000 — just blurs away and all the emotions of the experience flow right through her. It’s the reason why she recently had to give up singing choir. She had to choose, she says, between being “breath-y” or “heavy.” She chose heavy, partially because she looks up to her grandfather, a man she never met, who seemed capable of showing deep emotion in every opera performance he gave. That’s what she wants now: emotion. Her other band mates — she calls them “her brothers” — might be into old school sounds, but Thompson knows her Adele, knows what’s on the Top 40 and knows it’s up to her, the sole female of the group, to not only be leader of the band but its voice as well.