Sounds Like Teen Spirit 

Panda and Please Quiet Ourselves prove that the music industry is not just for grown-ups anymore.

Page 5 of 6

Outfitted with three guitars (Jojo, Adam, and Haran), a melodica (Max), a violin (Simeon Farwell-Miller), and a set of congas (Eli), the band sets up on a small riser in the cafe's front corner. Only bassist Maddie Tien is missing, home sick. The set begins with a new song written by Adam, which sounds as good as anything on the album. Afterward the kids giggle and grin nervously, unaccustomed to playing before family instead of their usual Berkeley High crowd. The parents, in turn, remain reserved in their praise, as if this were a piano recital and not a rock concert. As the set progresses and the group warms up, both sides become increasingly at ease.

Tonight's intermittent mistakes, abrupt endings, and awkward moments come off as appealing instead of distracting. This is the magic of teenage music. No one in Please Quiet Ourselves is unaware that while their youth has been a logistical disadvantage, it has benefited them too. "We're young, so people seem to enjoy that," Max said. "I'm sure if we were in our twenties living in apartments in Brooklyn, far less people would care about us — or maybe they would." The band doesn't dwell on this in its lyrics, but there are moments: They always say you're young, they always say you're old, Jojo seems to lament in "Minors vs. Majors." In the final track, "Mystery Girl," Max wonders, When did sixteen years start to feel so damn old?/I never pictured it this way.

After a 45-minute set, the kids mingle with their parents and buzz excitedly about South by Southwest. It's only a few weeks away. Max is particularly thrilled that he's finally been cleared to attend. When Jenn De La Vega presented the opportunity of playing an official Fanatic Promotion showcase, most everyone immediately jumped on board. Parents, who'd been all but shut out of the band's operations, were brought into the picture and became nearly as elated as their kids. Jojo's parents decided to make a vacation out of it.

Max's, however, were concerned with how much class he'd be missing, and told him he'd have to miss out. "I was very torn because I think it's an excellent opportunity," his mom said. "But I feel that his schoolwork comes first." For his part, Max wasn't about to give up. He prepared a letter for all of his teachers that politely outlined how serious he was about the band and how great of an opportunity the trip would be. Then he asked for their permission to miss class. All of them signed off, leaving Max's mom in a difficult position. "So I reexamined it and said my criteria is now that you do all your schoolwork before you go."

The group managed to land an impressive four gigs in three days at the festival, including a bill shared with legendary UK punk group the Slits and San Francisco musician Nyles Lannon. Despite the fact that as minors they couldn't enter most of the festival's venues, they enjoyed a hugely successful trip. And with the exception of tween bands Tiny Masters of Today and Care Bears on Fire, both from New York, Please Quiet Ourselves may well have been the youngest band there.

Although the members of Please Quiet Ourselves are still immersed in high school, college looms, and as with Panda, it promises serious challenges. De La Vega hopes to squeeze another album out of them before then. It's not yet clear where the kids' paths will lead once they leave Berkeley High, especially with seven people in two different grades. By this time next year, Eli, Max, Maddie, and Haran will be on the verge of graduation; they've already begun looking at colleges.

For Panda, that subject remains touchy, and different parties still harbor different opinions about last summer's decision-making process. "It ended in kids being pissed off, parents being frustrated," Jonny recalled. "We worked things out. They got their way." His parents, both psychologists, were adamant about his obtaining a degree. Louie's decision also came down to the wishes of his parents: "They were providing me food and shelter, so I basically had to do what they said. They ultimately influenced my decision for the most practical reason."

Early on, the band looked for advice to friends in the music industry. "Everyone was telling us that we were great and if you're serious, you should take a year off and become rock stars," Louie said. John Murphy happens to agree. His old band, the K.G.B., signed to DreamWorks Records while still in high school and opted to sacrifice college for music. "I definitely disagree with the need to go to school when you're as talented as these guys," he said. "I have trouble when kids that are that talented waste their time with college."

Miles Hurwitz, the manager of the Matches and a perennial adviser to developing bands, offered the kids a dissenting opinion. He told them that while they had a lot going for them, they didn't have enough momentum to make skipping school a wise choice. Eventually, they resigned themselves to college. But Petros made no secret of his long-term priorities, resolving in the final sentence of his UC Santa Cruz application essay: "I want to be a rock 'n' roll star."

Panda's debut album, due for release on June 20 and likely to bear a brand new band name, will focus the group's efforts this summer as it works to wrangle new fans, play increasingly high-profile local shows, and lay the groundwork for its first tour. "We're just trying to keep the momentum going until summer," Joey said after the band's Bottom of the Hill show, "when we are just going to fuckin' murder it." If all goes as planned, the five young musicians may not be returning to school. As Jonny reasons, "School will always be there, but a band will not."


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments will be removed.

Latest in Feature

Author Archives

  • Recreation Calendar

    Our annual guide to Northern California's summer recreation season.
    • May 21, 2014
  • Green-Energy Storage: 'The Next Big Thing'

    For California to reach its ambitious climate-change goals, it must figure out how to deliver electricity when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing.
    • Sep 4, 2013
  • More»

Most Popular Stories

Special Reports

The Beer Issue 2020

The Decade in Review

The events and trends that shaped the Teens.

Best of the East Bay


© 2020 Telegraph Media    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation