In its own strange way, a band from Samuel Roberson Technical’s School of Rock has made it to the main stage in the province-wide Battle of the Bands.
Cam D’Eith, Reece Dickson, Zack Wismer and Jack Williams make up the band Strange Ways, and they have made it to the top four in the Nimbus School of Recording and Media’s Battle of the Bands.
The competition began Feb. 3 at The Roxy in Vancouver. Each Saturday, four to five bands showcased their talents during live performances. Each showcase included a morning of coaching from Nimbus instructors on performance, stagecraft and soundchecks. The concerts included full sound and lights.
To enter the competition, musical talent could include a solo artist and bands could include no more than five members.
All contestants had to be in grades 10 to 12 and play a 15-minute set, consisting of three to four songs – one being an original. They also had to submit a video of themselves performing.
Members of Strange Ways heard about the contest through a friend who saw a link on Instagram and told them they had to enter.
The band saw the competition as a way to get their name out. Members were also curious about what their peers outside of their Maple Ridge high school were working on and what their skill level was like.
Strange Ways was a finalist in a province-wide youth talent contest last year, but members feel the battle competition is more suited to them.
“The last competition was cool to do. It was our first show outside of school. But it was a full talent search and some of the judges were not looking at the band and the music behind it,” said Williams, the band’s drummer.
“The [Nimbus] judges are judging us on our musical talent and our stage craft, stuff like that, more musical than talent in general,” he added.
The band members have been working together for at least two years and focus on writing original music.
SRT School of Rock teacher Allard Ludwig thinks this gives Strange Ways an edge in the competition.
“Most of the bands played three covers and one original to meet the qualifications. Strange Ways played three originals and one cover,” he said.
Ludwig noted that three of the band members have been playing together since Grade 10, when they first joined the School of Rock program, and Wismer, who plays bass, joined the year after.
“That never used to happen with the way the program used to be run,” said Ludwig.
“It used to be just Grade 11s and 12s and they usually end up in a different band each year. But then I decided there are all these young and talented kids, just get them in the program and the more that they can play together then the more they can develop as a band.”
Organizers of the competition were so impressed by the skill level of Strange Ways, they asked Ludwig if he had any other bands to enter. So a second band called Beyond Time also competed.
Wismer thinks what makes Strange Ways stand out is all the members are comfortable on stage.
“I think that gives us a pretty good edge. I think whenever I watch our shows and video of our shows I can just tell it’s pretty natural,” he said.
“We know what to do and what we are going to do when we get out there,” added Williams.
Reece Dickson, who plays guitar, admits he still gets butterflies before every show.
“But once we get out on stage, I’m so comfortable with these people because we’ve played together for so long that it just comes out and the nerves are all gone once we start playing.”
Cam D’Eith, the lead vocalist, has enjoyed the competition experience and playing at a venue like The Roxy.
“I really like playing there because the sound people were just on point and the lights and everything. It was really fun to be on stage,” he said.
The band’s influences vary widely from blues, Motown, jazz, rap, R&B and classic rock. Jimi Hendrix is a favourite artist to cover.
D’Eith usually writes the lyrics, while Dickson pens melodies.
They all credit Ludwig for listening to their songs and giving them feedback.
For the finale, on Monday, the band has chosen three original songs. Eyes Open in the Dark is about nicotine addiction and how it affects everyday life. White Raven is a song Dickson asked D’Eith to write about a girl he met in Ontario. The third song is called Figment. They are still debating what cover song to perform, possibly a number from Black Sabbath.
Bands will be judged on preparedness, marketability, audience engagement and musicality, performance, vocals and songwriting.
Winners of the competition will receive $25,000 in Nimbus school scholarships to be split by the band members, a $1,000 gift card from Tom Lee Music, $1,000 store credit from Tom Lee Music for the winning band’s high school program, tickets to attend the JUNO Awards broadcast on Mar. 25 at Rogers Arena.
Winner will also get to play at the JUNO Host Committee Celebration Site and receive coaching from Nimbus instructor and JUNO-award-winner Dave Genn of 54-40.
Nimbus will have a mobile truck capture full audio and video of each act’s performance at the finals. The winning band will be announced that night.
Ludwig thinks Strange Ways has a shot.
“I think just they’ve developed such great chemistry,” he said.
“The fact that they’re so well matched. It’s not one strong member, it’s four strong members who really play well together,” he added.
“I think that’s what makes them special.”
The boys are hoping to record their first album in the near future. Their goal is to one day headline at The Vogue Theatre in Vancouver.
“We are playing beside it,” laughed Dickson.
“Now we just have to move over,” quipped D’Eith.
The Nimbus School Battle of the Bands Finale takes place at 5 p.m. on Monday, Mar. 5 at The Roxy, 932 Granville St., downtown Vancouver.
There is a $5 cover charge for the event with all proceeds going to MusiCounts, a national music education and charity organization whose goal is to ensure all children and youth in Canada have access to music education and musical instruments.