The teen music scene
Twilight Concert finale showcases young local acts
Molly Butera, a 2011 graduate of Gunn High School, makes two key observations about her task as a teen musician. First of all, it's tough. But more importantly, she says, tough is a challenge, not a deterrent.
"People are always going to be judging you, seeing if they think you're good, trying to point out your flaws," she said of performing with After Closing Time, the indie alternative band for which she plays bass guitar. "But it's such an awesome feeling being with your friends, playing music and showing the audience what you've been working on."
Which is precisely what After Closing Time will be up to on Aug. 20 at Teens on the Green, the youth-focused group concert that will serve as a finale to Palo Alto's Twilight Concert Series. The band will perform at Mitchell Park along with two solo acts from Palo Alto, singers Elana Loeb and Hannah Allison.
Also scheduled are the alternative band Caustic Ties (Ashwin Jaini, Rahul Patel and Neil Mallinar of Mountain View High School) and the Palo Alto rock/Americana band The Northern Flickers, which just signed on for the concert.
Many of the young performers in question have already encountered the public eye, and developed comfort levels that range from marginally jittery to cool as a cucumber. Local concertgoers might remember Butera and her bandmates from last year's Teens On The Green, or recall having heard Allison strumming soulful country-pop tunes at Palo Alto's World Music Day outdoor festival in June.
Here's a closer look at several of the Palo Altans in the upcoming Aug. 20 concert:
After Closing Time
Each of the four artists in this band — Butera and Gunn seniors Nitsan Shai (piano/guitar), Justin Alfrey (guitar/vocals) and Remy Felsch (drums/vocals) — seems emphatically an individual. The musicians have individual approaches to music and differing post-high school plans.
Felsch, who is also a songwriter, is looking into music schools where he might study composition. Butera, a soon-to-be freshman at University of the Pacific, says she's curious about its program in music management.
Independent though they may be, the band members appear to handle their group dynamic with ease, operating on a "friends first, band second" philosophy and insisting that artistic differences should never be divisive.
"Sometimes we have arguments, but we're all friends," Felsch said. "We have to remind ourselves that friendship is more important than being in a band. You never know, maybe your band won't be popular."
A sensible acknowledgment, but perhaps not one that needs to be a concern. The teens have amassed a Facebook fan following that numbers in the hundreds; collaborated with rappers; and even popped into a studio for two immersive days of recording their shiny new EP, which they're fairly secretive about due to the difficulty of keeping tabs on their music once it materializes on the Web.
Some of their tracks have been accessible through a music-sharing site called PureVolume, but the band's page is "in the process of being taken down," Felsch said. "PureVolume is kind of like Myspace, but different because (on PureVolume) you can download music for free, which we're trying not to do because we want to sell our music."
Those who attend the Aug. 20 concert can expect After Closing Time to debut a fresh batch of hitherto unheard songs.
"Be excited!" Butera said.
A guitarist, singer, enthusiastic scholar of history, aspiring writer of musical theater and self-described cinephile, Loeb values artistic flexibility and risk-taking over measures of experience.
"There are great musicians who can do crazy, crazy things with their instruments, but they don't write," said Loeb, a songwriter approaching her junior year at Gunn. "That, to me, doesn't make any sense. Why wouldn't you try? I have more respect for people who play a really terrible song that they wrote than I have for people who do what someone else did. It takes so much bravery to get up and play an original song."
This kind of originality, especially the writing involved, is "why I play music," Loeb said. "The point of playing music is to create."
And create she does, often bringing her rock, jazz and pop stylings to open mics around town.
She's also taken part in local theatrical productions. According to Loeb, childhood participation in Peninsula Youth Theatre and a recent role in the "Little Women" musical put on by Los Altos Youth Theatre are good experiences to draw on for her current project, a musical she hopes to see performed by student thespians at Gunn.
"I'm writing and choreographing and I really want to direct next year for One Acts, my school's student-directed plays," she said. "It's a silly, random musical about comic books and copyrights and men in spandex shorts."
The inevitable downside of all this fun is that schedules tend to fill up for students keeping a grip on academics and activities.
"There'll be times when it's one in the morning and I'm halfway done with my homework and I'll be like, 'Hey! I'm going to write music now,'" she said. "So yes, it is difficult balancing everything, but for a high schooler, especially a high schooler in Palo Alto, it's not that crazy."
Loeb cites "Seussical the Musical" and "The Book of Mormon" as personal favorites. In terms of general listening, she talks nonstop about Ella Fitzgerald and Elvis Costello.
Like her peers, Allison preaches work ethic.
"Just stick with it," the singer-guitarist said. "If you love music and have a true passion for it, you'll get what you want."
Since the age of 4 or 5, she's found singing — and then, starting in her freshman year of high school, playing the guitar — to be a matter of "sitting down and working with it until you're strong enough." Recording her country acoustic "heartbreak songs" from home has been tricky, she notes, but overwhelmingly positive responses from friends and family, along with a learned willingness to "just let it go," make it less necessary for her sound to give off an air of slick production.
"I don't want a lot more attention for (my music)," Allison said. "It's really special for me in the way that I can just come home and zone out and sit down with my guitar for an hour. I want to keep it with me all my life."
The laid-back approach is one plausible reason for moving away from social media typically used by young artists. Allison has considered weaning herself off musician profiles on Myspace and Facebook and creating a less hectic, but ultimately more approachable, personal website.
"I want my fans to be able to hear my music even if they don't have Facebook or Myspace," she said.
The artist's senior year at Gunn will be spent working in a similar vein. As a student government official overseeing campus arts, Allison will be charged with coordinating ways for students to entertain and be entertained.
"I want to get more open mics at Gunn and more opportunities for performers and all kinds of artists," she said. "I think it's really important for people to have chances to show their work."
What: Teens On The Green, a concert of teen bands that concludes the city of Palo Alto's annual Twilight Concert Series
Where: Mitchell Park, 600 E. Meadow Drive, Palo Alto
When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 20
Info: Go to cityofpaloalto.org or call 650-463-4930. (The second-to-last Twilight concert is scheduled for this Saturday, Aug. 13, at 6:30 p.m. in Mitchell Park, featuring Beatles cover band The Sun Kings.)