Zachary Frost steps up to the microphone, adjusts its height, steps back, checks his guitar, and steps forward one more time.
He’s nervous. He has forgotten the lyrics before and had to make them up on stage. He doesn’t want that to happen again. “But,” he thinks, “the music is what matters.”
His band, Dead Metro, waits anxiously behind him. He strums the first chord, and the show begins. As he looks around, he sees a small but enthusiastic crowd swaying and clapping to the beat.
He relaxes, smiles, and begins to sing.
Every year, dozens of bands from across Utah County play live shows and compete in battle of the band competitions. Some of them, like the Neon Trees and Imagine Dragons, have gone on to achieve great success, while others struggle to find their sound—and audience.
So what’s it like trying to cut it in the local music scene? Young, upcoming bands like Dead Metro have the answer.
“I remember I was on a Boy Scout camping trip. I saw one of the leaders with a guitar, so I asked him to teach me something,” Zachary said. “He taught me to play ‘Horse with no Name,’ by America. After that, I convinced him to start giving me lessons every Saturday. I’ve been playing ever since.”
Now, at age 21, Zachary has engulfed himself in music, and has learned to play several instruments. “It’s a way for me to express my emotions in a way that I can’t really verbalize,” he said.
Dead Metro has been around officially for only a few years, with members coming and going—something typical of the local music scene. But the current lineup has been together for over a year. With close to 20 live performances together, the band is starting to find its groove.
“What it comes down to is spreading the good noise,” said Dominic Verde, Dead Metro’s bassist. For Dominic, the best part about being in a band is how much it has forced him to improve his musical ability—that, and the live performances, of course.
“Playing music with a band is amazing,” he said. “It forces you to get better.”
Dominic, who said he’s always hoped to make it in the music industry in one way or another, said he learned to play the bass simply because the band needed him to play.
“I originally played the guitar, but that’s not what they needed,” he said. “Besides, it’s more or less the same thing, and the bass adds volumes to the music, so I just did it.”
Like the other two members of the band, Jeremy Thorn, the band’s drummer, grew up playing multiple instruments too.
“I play a little guitar and some bass, but I always wanted to be a drummer,” he said. “Ever since I was a kid, I would bang on the car dashboard and try to play along with the drums in the music playing on the radio.”
Jeremy said it wasn’t until he was 13 and heard John Bonham playing the drums to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” that he decided to buy a drum set of his own.
“I love playing music and performing,” he said. “My ultimate goal is to share our music with other people and build relationships with bands and venues.”
Like most local bands, Zachary, Dominic, and Jeremy are familiar with the difficulty of making it big in the music scene, but that doesn’t dissuade them. For now, they just focus on finding time to get together and practice.
With all three of them working different jobs with varying schedules, it’s sometimes difficult to practice as much as they would like. But, Zachary explained, they still average three sessions a week. With an album on the way, Dead Metro is focusing on polishing their music. After that, they’ll just take one day at a time.
Close to midnight at a dry bar comedy club not far from where Dead Metro plays, the band Motion Coaster cranks out its music. As the night winds down, the band puts the finishing touches on a set of upbeat dance songs that leaves fans still swaying after the music has ended.
The dancing lights above them begin to fade as people wander from the club to their cars and head home. With another show finished, band members turn their focus from music to school. Music is fun, but not all of them want to pursue a career in it.
“One of our biggest challenges is that we all come from different backgrounds,” said Bao Ha, the band’s trombone player. “Justin is in the communications program, McKay is studying economics. We each have a different focus.”
Bao said the band has reached a point where each member has to decide how committed he is—pursue music or start a career in another area?
Dee Kei Waddell, the band’s lead singer, says that while he was serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he felt inspired to pursue music after finishing his mission.
“I felt that it was selfish for me to pursue a career solely for the purpose of making money because it’s selfish to want money,” he said. “So I decided I’d rather just do something because I love it.”
No one knows how far the eight-member band will go, but they’ve already risen in the ranks of local entertainment.
Originally playing in front of small groups of only 10 to 20 people, Motion Coaster now regularly plays in front of hundreds, including at locations like the Velour. Kamen Myers, the band’s trumpet player, reminisced about their growing success.
“We have won a few battle of the bands at Liberty Square, we’ve been finalists in battle of the bands at the Velour, and we won a battle of the bands for iHeart Radio,” he said.
Despite the accolades, the band fell short of signing a record deal with Republic Records, which flew them to Los Angeles for interviews.
So what is it like to be a popular Provo band?
But between shows, the life of each band member is fairly normal. They go to class, they work part time and they worry about life’s big decisions, including future career choices.
How much longer the band will remain together may depend on how soon its members begin to graduate from college. But for the foreseeable future, Motion Coaster will continue to fill venues and make people dance and sing.
On the other side of Utah County, in an overpacked garage with just enough space for a drum set and a microphone stand, another band begins to practice. The sounds of a solid set of drum chops, a heavy bass beat and a steady synthesized keyboard track fills the air.
Kelly Nash, a band whose name originated in a Lynyrd Skynyrd fashion but whose music resembles nothing of the sort, is preparing a set for their next show.
Hyrum Miller, the band’s lead singer, guitarist, and keyboardist, classifies their music as a broad mix of emo, dance, jazz and funk with a rock influence stemming from the band Radiohead. Hyrum, who dropped out of high school, said there was a time when he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.
“I used to worry a lot about the future,” he said, “but I learned that the more you worry, the less you accomplish. As long as you’re doing something, it will lead you to new things. Music is a good way to channel emotion.”
Hyrum, now 21, has been playing music since he was 12. He formed Kelly Nash when he was 19.
Justin Guymon, the band’s drummer, said that of the three bands he’s played in, Kelly Nash in his favorite.
“This band doesn’t follow the same old groove as other bands,” he said.
Justin said he didn’t enjoy playing with the other bands as much because he felt his job as a drummer could be done by a computer, due to the lack of originality required by the music. But playing with Kelly Nash has been more a challenge because of the uniqueness of the band’s style. Now feels like an active contributor to the creation of their sound.
“Sometimes I’ll have to go home, set up a metronome and hash out a part because something doesn’t line up,” he said, adding that the band requires more effort from him. Kelly Nash has allowed him to experiment, have fun and be himself.
“I feel like I have real input with this band,” he said.
Zach Deem, the band’s bassist, agrees.
“This band is a good fit,” he said. “These are my friends, not just random strangers like other bands I’ve been in.”
Zach, who draws inspiration from bassist’s like Geddy Lee (Rush), Chris Squire (Yes), and Steve Harris (Iron Maiden), said he is planning on going wherever the music takes him.
“Being able to make a living off of it would be the ultimate dream,” he said. “But for now it’s just about having fun and playing around. As long as we get to do that, that’s good enough.”
Zach said he’d love to make a career in music, whether through becoming a producer, working at a venue, or even settling down in a professional setting, like teaching, after getting a college degree in musical theory.
Hyrum agrees with Zach and admits that the ultimate goal for Kelly Nash would be to make it big, but he’s not banking on it.
“For the most part,” said Hyrum, “as long as you’re trying, it doesn’t matter if you fail. Just follow your instincts.”
Justin, who goes to school part time, said he’d like to make a career in music using a degree he hopes to earn in audio engineering. But he echoed the Dead Metro drummer’s sentiment in relation to continued playing: “I just wouldn’t be Justin anymore if I had to drop music,” he said.
For now, Kelly Nash’s earnings are meager, but they still have enough to go out to McDonald’s after every show and organized practice—something that has been a band ritual since the beginning.
“We could live off dollar-menu hamburgers if we had to,” said Justin.
Money isn’t the biggest issue for them right now, though. Their biggest challenge so far, Hyrum admits, has been his own ego.
“Sometimes I get lead-singer-itis,” he joked, adding that as with other bands, big and small, sometimes the headman’s big head can get in the way of his own band.
But Hyrum, Justin and Zach want to avoid that kind of pitfall, so they are learning to appreciate each other’s ideas and input. They push forward and continue to work on their first EP record, which they hope to have out at the beginning of 2019. After that, they’ll have to see where the music takes them.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” said Zach. “And if we can go somewhere with it, that’s great. But if we can’t, then that’s also great because at the end of the day, it’s just about enjoying yourself. I think that’s kind of the whole point.”
So, if you’re hoping to see Kelly Nash live, check your local venues. And if you’re hoping to meet them in person, check your local McDonald’s.
As the opening act for a local show at the Rad Shack in south Provo, the band Emma Park performs under an array of colored lights. Members of the small audience wrap their coats around them as they listen to the music. People shuffle in and out of the venue, the open door constantly letting in the cold, winter air.
But the cold doesn’t seem to bother band members as they play their short but highly energized set.
“I would classify the music we play as emo progressive,” said Chas Hollingshead, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist.
Like other local bands, Emma Park’s members spend their days working different jobs, but they look forward to getting together at night to practice for upcoming shows.
“The best part about being in a band is fulfilling curiosities and just seeing things come alive that you couldn’t have anticipated,” said Fae Thayne, lead guitarist.
Performing is fun, but for Emma Park, the music also has personal meaning. According to Jared Montgomery, the band’s bassist and backup vocalist, one of the main purposes of their music is to give a voice to those who are often left voiceless—namely, members of the queer community and those who suffer from mental illnesses. In fact, Emma Park recently played a show as part of a fundraiser to spread awareness.
Courtney Shane, Emma Park’s drummer, said that as a band, they hope they can offer support, specifically to those struggling with depression,
“Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk about it. Seek help,” said Courtney. “Don’t think you’re weak for doing so. Find a support group. Find an outlet like music, and just keep your mind focused on the positive.”
According to Chas, the members of Emma Park also work as a support group for each other, helping one another when someone is feeling down. Jared said this support helps a lot, especially when they deal with the stresses that come with being in a band.
For example, when the band was starting out and doing everything they could to get gigs, they found themselves in a unique situation. A spot had opened for them to play at the Loading Dock in Salt Lake City. They were told to be there at 5 p.m., something they found both odd, because most shows usually start around 7:30 p.m., and stressful, because not all band members were normally off work that early.
Nevertheless, they all managed to get off work and piled into Jared’s sedan. His car was the only one available that was big enough to carry all their gear. Off they went to Salt Lake City, arriving at 5 p.m., as requested. Out of breath, sweaty, and tired, they found themselves alone at the venue. And there they waited for the next hour before anyone else showed up.
“Looking back,” said Jared, “ I guess it was kind of funny. We still don’t know why they told us to show up so early.”
But that’s how it goes when you’re on the hunt for shows. So, Emma Park continues to play, search for local gigs, offer support to as many people as possible, and do the best they can to get off work in time for their next gig.
Bands come and go and it’s hard to know who will make it big, but one thing is for certain—the music is what matters. There’s no guarantee of success when it comes to the entertainment world, but whether it drives you, makes people dance, pays for dinner, or helps others get through hard times, music can change your life. And in the end, at least according to several bands in Provo, that’s the whole point.
Visit the bands’ Facebook pages/websites here:
Dead Metro: https://www.facebook.com/thedeadmetro/
Motion Coaster: https://www.facebook.com/Motioncoaster/ and https://www.motioncoaster.com/
Kelly Nash: https://www.facebook.com/kelleynash11/
Emma Park: https://www.facebook.com/emmaparkmusic/
For upcoming local shows, visit the following websites: