The room around me was pretty empty, furniture wise at least. I was sitting on a questionable stool, with my photographer, Victoria, to my left. To my right, sitting on an amplifier, was Simon Edwards, singer in the band Of Gentlemen and Cowards. Across from me sat Josh Dawson, bass player for the band, and to the right of Josh sat Christian Fedele, guitar player. We all just finished laughing about how strange the band coming together was, but we were only started on their adventure. A group of four guys meeting at McMaster University (drummer Jake Warren was at work) and making it all the way to performing on the David Letterman show to millions, the start of a journey that's only just beginning.
Although I'm writing this post weeks later, listening to music played on speakers by my roommate, I feel like my time with the boys down in Hamilton was only the other day. By about five minutes into our casual interview, I decided from now on I wouldn't question an interview opinion from Victoria again, these guys were awesome. Since then, she's suggested two other interviews that I should consider, needless to say, a certain Rob and Olivia are being planned now. Anyway, the band.
Since Josh, at first, was the odd one out, it took a short while for them to reach the level of comfort their at now. Josh and Simon I was told became (in a short while) best friends and worst enemies. I understand what he meant right away, I can name some of those for sure. Josh and Christian right away bonded over shared musical interests, where as Jake and Josh took a bit longer to form a bond. They decided make a big decision right away, something that I would think would be a challenge for a newly formed unit. It was a decision that in a way seems really obvious, but at the same time one I never considered a band taking the time to do. They had to decide the future, and see if each of them had the same idea of an “end goal”. Where the wanted the band to end up and a unit, and how much work needed to be put in to reach their goal. They told me that they all had the same goal in mind. They decided Of Gentlemen and Cowards were going to be the next The Beatles.
Okay, so that was followed by laughter as well, from all five of us there. Obviously that wasn't a reasonable goal, or one that they have ever seriously considered. But they all agreed that if they could be musicians full time, as in earn enough money from their shows to support a life for themselves, then they would be happy. After a short few weeks of practice came January 21st, 2011. Their first show. There was about eight people present, and it wasn't really their best. Simon dedicated a special number to his girlfriend, with a chair pulled up to her and everything. I was told they still poke fun at him for it, so, sorry Simon, had to bring it up for the other three guys.
After that, they decided that the only reasonably thing to do was to go all out and get their name known no matter what. Between January and March they spent about $100.00 to record five songs and get the EP out like crazy. They laugh at the fact that this was their cheapest recording but their one with the most copies distributed. Man, the music industry can be a cruel. On March 5th, after their album boom, they played a show and sold about 150 tickets, packing the place. They looked at all the faces and knew something then. It was official, they were rock stars.
Josh (left) and Simon (right) performing at Supercrawl
Photo by Victoria Alexander
Fast forward a few months. To a show in Ottawa, with the boys ready to kick off another concert on their first tour. Some shows had an okay amount of people, then there was this show. They paid the bar owner some money to ensure that their was no cover fee for those who came to the show. They spent the whole day advertising and getting their name out, and were excited at the interest people showed. It was time to begin, and the boys were about to play their first note to the crowd. But, there was no crowd.
Not a single person showed up.
Who would of expected that this moment, one that would personally crush me, would be one that would help pave their future? Well, it did. It was their musical epiphany. This wasn't going to be easy, there were going to be challenges and difficulties along the way. A thing they said once or twice before meant something more in that moment than it ever had or would before. No matter how many people were in the crowd, zero in Ottawa or millions watching on Letterman over a year later, they were only ever playing for four. Simon, Jake, Josh and Christian. They played to, and for, each other that night.
The tour ended and they made their way back to McMaster. Chris, the sociology student who doubled as a sales manager at bootlegger, Josh who was in classical music as well as his job as a barista and baker, Simon, the engineering student who did research for the university, and Jake in his sociology program were back to their hometown. Back to their busy lives. They had to plan as much practice as they could around their education (they're all serious about their academics, and school is a high priority) and their work (they're university students after all, money was essential). Simon planned their master schedule, and social life took a hit, but one thing was different... they were playing shows (even better news... people were there!). Being in school helped form a solid and supportive fan base, allowing them to play formals, coffee houses, and even formal events all the way up to their university president. Things were looking up. That was when Josh heard about the contest that would lead to the bands biggest achievement to date.
Every band needs that one cover. (L to R): Josh, Simon, Jake and Christian.
Photo used with permission of Simon Edwards.
As Josh described it, “I was on a site that gives bands opportunities to submit stuff.” Thanks Josh, elaborate. One contest he entered was related to a lower-budget movie called simply “We Made This Movie”. If your song received the most votes, it would be in the background of one scene. It was called the “Red Bull Sound Stage Choice Competition”. There were about 2000 to 3000 applicants, so he really had no care about the results. In the very fine print there was a memo, the winner would perform on their song The David Letterman Show. Still, it wasn't something Josh noticed. The band was really busy at the time, so they decided not asked people for votes. As one could guess, there weren't chosen by number of votes, and their slight chance was over. Then, they got an email.
The producers of the movie had their twenty songs picked, but they also decided to choose another four songs from the entries to be in the movie as well, out of the remaining songs that were unsuccessfully voted in. Among them, the Of Gentlemen and Cowards song (one of my personal favourites) Save Me. That wasn't all, the boys found out they now had a one in twenty-four chance of a trip to New York. Now their thought processes changed. They had to be on Letterman.
They took off with their voting plee to their collection of fans, Simon even taking time off work to be able to Facebook message anyone he could. Trying to be as successful as possible, they named their voting plee “Get McMaster on Letterman”. It was now up to their fellow university students to help them win their contest anyway they could. Tweets went out and statuses shared. They became stressed, under-slept, and cranky.
They were in first, then fell to second. It was back and forth fighting for the last few days of the contest. Desperate times called for desperate measures, they reached out to celebrities via Twitter. It was the last thought they had as a last ditch effort. In the last twenty minutes of voting, they received a tweet from Dallas Green telling people to vote for them. They then received retweets from champion hockey player Hayley Wickenhesier and television host George Stroumboulopoulos. They thought they were in first, after not checking for a while, with twenty minutes to go. But within those twenty minutes of the contest remaining, the website for voting went down. They didn't see who was in first, they had no idea if they made it or not. An email was received.
The winner would be announced in four days.
A photo of the boys meeting Letterman, courtesy of Simon Edwards.
It's hard to draw the suspense out when I told you earlier that they did in fact have the chance to play at Letterman, but I tried, hope you it was thoroughly suspenseful! They won! They were going to perform on Letterman!
They were flown down to New York and escorted around in shiny black escalades. They were rock stars after all! This was their second musical epiphany as a band. Their fans came together and helped them win an amazing opportunity. Their fans. Maybe they could make it after all.
The boys think they broke a record, “the only band to grace the Ed Sullivan theatre with less than 1000 Facebook likes, or even a manager.” Walking in, and during sound check (during which they had the chance to jam with Paul Shaffer, leader of “The World's Most Dangerous Band”, providing the music for the Letterman show since 1982. As they were about to walk on stage, they looked at their Facebook page. They made it, their 1000th “like” on the page.
Ya. These guys were rock stars.
With excitement, they reminded each other their motto. No matter who was watching, they were playing to four. They were playing to Simon, Josh, Jake and Christian.
They saw their cue, and made it to the stage.
Months later, I said goodbye to the guys, with the plan that we would keep in touch. Weeks later, I'm here finishing up their interview. On my iPod, I have a song playing called “Save Me” by a group of four guys from Hamilton, Ontario. A group of four guys who randomly met at McMaster University with big hopes. A song played live on the David Letterman show.
Believe it or not, as much as Letterman was amazing, another part of their collective journey stuck out as a highlight. A certain type of fan. One who wasn't one of their friends, one who wasn't family or even a friend of a friend. Their highlight were the fans who were actual fans. Ones who gave them the time of day, the applaud and the cheer solely for the sake of musical merit.
I found out Victoria was one of the first such people, and I'm glad she helped me get the chance to meet the four guys from Hamilton. The soon to be bigger than The-Beatles, Of Gentlemen and Cowards.
With the band. Hopefully we meet again!
Photo by Victoria Alexander