The Last Gatsby: Chasing down dreams through punk music

The Last Gatsby is a Provo-based pop-punk band with BYU origins that just released its first album. (Photo courtesy of Paint the Sun Photography.)
The Last Gatsby is a Provo-based pop-punk band with BYU origins that just released its first album. (Photo courtesy of Paint the Sun Photography.)

One thing Provo isn’t known for is punk bands; that’s because there aren’t many here.

One band, however, is going against the grain and pursuing the music it was created to make. The Last Gatsby, a four-piece pop-punk band formed in August 2012, has played over 50 shows and has just finished recording its first album, “Hearts and Machines,” which was released Nov. 15.

“When we formed the band we didn’t see it growing as much as it has,” said Jonathan Hoopes, the band’s drummer. “Back in May we only had 200 (Facebook) fans. Now we’ve got just over 2,700.”

With its first album released, the band is beginning to see all that hard work validated. Hoopes’ wife Natalie said the band has undergone tremendous growth as part of the journey.

“They’re learning what works and what doesn’t,” Natalie Hoopes said. “Jonathan has gotten really good. Josh has become a lot more determined. … Patrick and Gary are more invested than they were. It’s become a very real thing for everybody.”

The band’s journey has been filled with hard work and a sense of guidance that comes from the band’s faith. Currently, the band members don’t live in close proximity to each other, but their inability to be able to practice together hasn’t hindered their performance and music scene. The Last Gatsby is proving it is here to stay.

According to member Patrick Duff’s wife, Tamsin, the band’s experience with long-distance separation has not only helped shape it but sets it apart from would-be similar groups.

“It’s an interesting spin on everything because they can’t just get together and practice like any other band would,” Tamsin Duff said. “As far as the creative juices go, they’re used differently and uniquely because long-distance bands don’t usually work out.”

When frontman and part-time BYU student Josh Paul formed the band, Jonathan Hoopes was living in Arizona and had to fly out for concerts.

Later, Jonathan Hoopes and Patrick Duff moved to Idaho for school and still had to travel. According to Hoopes, however, being in different places hasn’t prevented the band from doing what needs to be done.

“Up until about a month ago the only time we ever played together as a full band was at concerts,” Jonathan Hoopes said. “Josh would send me songs, Patrick and I would study the songs, and we lived in an apartment complex so we couldn’t practice (out loud). We’d just play what we memorized in our heads, and it worked. We just had to memorize.”

If that’s not enough of a challenge, the band also had to battle its way upstream in a river of primarily indie music that tends to drown out other genres. That river is the Provo music scene. To hear Paul put it, however, it’s offered affirmation.

“I love it, because we stand out so much. Half of punk rock is upsetting a large group of people. The people that do like us love us, and we’re a breath of fresh air,” Paul said.

It has also proven to be a bit of a struggle. According to Jonathan Hoopes, the band has to work twice as hard to get noticed.

“(Our style of music) is really not that appealing to a ton of people in Provo. We really have to do our job at sticking out and being well known, at least (in the Provo) area.”

That has resulted in increased determination and an affirmation that the band is on the right track. Tamsin Duff said faith has always been a primary driver of the band, and those blessings are a large part of today’s successes.

“They prioritize God, and God comes first,” Tamsin Duff said. “In the album, they all made a thank-you statement, what they were grateful for. They all replied, and it happened that everyone was grateful and so happy that Heavenly Father has blessed them so much.”

The band’s songs are not overtly Christian, but according to Tamsin Duff, they deal with real-life matters — the struggles and trials of life. The band’s faith has helped everyone realize the potential influence songs could have on listeners and has inspired the group to keep its lyrics clean and appropriate. This has also helped influence the band’s inspirational philosophy.

“The world will be a better place when everyone’s doing what they want to do, not what they feel forced to do,” Paul said. “We want kids to know they can do what they want to do.”

Paul explained that people often feel pressured by outside sources, even well-meaning ones, to put dreams on hold and instead pursue things that are personally unfulfilling.

The band members have personal experience with following dreams while being told not to. Guitarist Gary Samuelson explained that the band has been perceived more than once as a dead-end street.

“To be totally honest, I want to look into my mom’s eyes and say that this wasn’t a waste of time,” Samuelson said. “I decided that music is something that helps people. I want more people to start knowing that.”

Now that its first album has been released, the band hopes to do small-scale tours while saving up enough money for a van to enable more touring.

“We’re trying to prove ourselves as more than a hobby,” Samuelson said. “We’re definitely following some kind of divine direction. It’s not us following a dream; it’s us being pushed into our dreams.”

Whatever may happen, The Last Gatsby isn’t going to stop any time soon. The band will continue to make its way with the help of very determined band members and dedicated supporters.

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