While every young person knows that you’re supposed to listen to your mother, very few often do. Fortunately for drummer Jake Stretch, he took his mother’s advice roughly four years ago at an open house for accepted students at Point Park University.
“My mom’s with me, and she says, ‘That guy’s wearing a Bob Marley hoodie. You love Bob Marley, you wear his shirts all the time. You’re going to love him.’” Stretch says. “So, I was like, ‘OK, Mom, I’ll make a friend because of you.’ But, I guess it really worked out well.”
The other student in the Bob Marley hoodie was Chase Barron. The two became friends and that union led to the formation of Chase and the Barons, a hard-rock dance band that has been playing since 2016. On Nov. 2, the band won Pittsburgh City Paper’s Face the Music Battle of the Bands at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille, in Warrendale. The group opened the six-band show and its15-minute set of original music was good enough to hold off the competition.
Not bad for a group that’s been together less than two years. But the closeness of these five guys — Barron, Stretch, guitarist Mike Saunders, bassist Jacob Rieger and saxophonist (yes, saxophonist) Tyler Handyside — is indicative of the amount of time they spend together, not just working on music, but also living their lives. The band grew organically out of necessity and friendships. Stretch was helping Barron record a solo record, when Rieger, who knew Stretch from when he answered Stretch’s Craigslist ad looking for a bassist on an earlier project, was brought in to play bass. Rieger and Stretch knew Saunders from playing in another band together, and when the decision was made to add a saxophonist, Rieger knew Handyside from high school.
In fact, on the day CP sat down with the band at Rum Runners in Ross Township, the quintet walked to the bar together from a nearby house where Rieger and Saunders live with Stretch and his fiancée. The band members share a closeness and a love of music that has helped them greatly as they embark on what they hope will soon be a full-time musical career.
“It’s actually ridiculous how well the five of us get along,” says Handyside, a guy that his bandmates say can play the sax “like a lead guitar.” “The worst thing anyone ever does,” he continues, “is being almost late for rehearsal.”
The guys played their first gig together on New Year’s Eve 2015 at a house party in a friend’s basement.
“In order to play, we had to renovate the basement of this house in Oakland,” Barron says. “To the point of ripping cobwebs off the walls for an hour and then pouring cement to fix the floor.”
“But when you’re starting out at our age, the only way to get your name out there and grow a fan base is to play in people’s basements,” he adds.
These days, however, the band is working more than ever. In 2016, Chase and the Barons played 25 shows. This year, the group will play its 100th show on New Year’s Eve. The members are currently working on a full-length release that is due out April 20; they are also planning a tour around that record to move beyond the friendly confines of the Three Rivers area.
Currently, all five have day jobs, and Barron and Handyside are finishing up college. But the band just started making enough money in the past month to begin paying its members and they are hoping to continue that momentum.
“I think it’s the goal of everyone here to make this our living,” Rieger says.
Adds Stretch: “I think we’re all now on the same page about where we want this band to go. To make our living doing this, we need to make $130,000 a year as a band, and right now, we’re taking it a year a time. The current goal is to finish the new record, promote it, get some hype around it, and then tour behind it.”
After seeing Chase and the Barons play live, and learning about the work they’ve put in as musicians to get good, it’s hard to imagine them not being able to make it happen. Barron, for example, began playing piano at an early age, and at 8, “got my first serious instrument, Guitar Hero II.” He practiced incessantly and became so good that he says he won thousands of dollars in gaming contests before the age of 12. He gave up the game and began working more as a songwriter. Stretch got a drum set, and by age 10, he was playing Led Zeppelin at a school talent show. Saunders, the band’s lead guitarist, was heavy into martial arts as a youngster, but when his teacher moved back to Korea, he began to focus on guitar and on the music of “nu metal” bands like Disturbed (“once I started playing guitar, that was the end of my good grades in school,” he says). Rieger grew up in a musical family and started off playing his dad’s drums. When his dad got rid of the drums, he picked up an old bass guitar thinking, “it was better than nothing, but that’s when I really started expressing myself.” And Handyside started playing saxophone in grade school, but thought of it as little more than a hobby until he started playing in a jazz band. Now he teaches music and is working on a master’s degree in musical performance at Duquesne University.
“The dream is to be that awesome band that can make a difference, and be big and sell a bunch of records and make money to support yourselves off original music,” Barron says.
Adds Saunders: “But most importantly, the way that this could turn out doesn’t affect how hard we’re working now. We’re putting everything we have into this band, because the one thing we don’t want to do, is look back and think, ‘Oh, we should have worked harder.’ This is the best time in our lives to make a run at something like this. We’re putting everything we have into it now, because there’s no going backward for us.”