We’re always happy to hear about young West Seattleites’ achievements – whether the news comes from proud parents, coaches, teachers, or from the youth themselves. This announcement might be a first – a news release about a trio of Denny International Middle School students who are performing on the Skylark Club and Café calendar this Sunday, written by a proud dad who happens to work in PR. What really sells the story is the video – that’s Jet City Metro performing the Nirvana classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in their only previous onstage performance, the Denny 6th-grade talent show. And they rocked! Here’s their news release:
Twelve-year-old Jackson Spenser, a student at Denny International Middle School, founded a garage grunge band, Jet City Metro, earlier this year with two 12-year-old friends and fellow students. Their band has never performed in public, or even had an audition, but already they’ve landed a spot on the bill of an Americana-themed “All Ages Solo Show” this coming Sunday afternoon, September 15, at West Seattle’s Skylark Café and Club (3803 Delridge Way SW). [See details at end.]
Formed in April 2013, Jet City Metro has only performed together onstage once. As the closing act, they rocked the Denny 6th Grade Talent Show, on the last day of school this past June, with their hard-charging rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
During the performance, one Denny teacher danced along to the song onstage — throwing her arms up in the air with abandon — while the panel of teacher-judges started doing the Wave.
In a scene Jackson will never forget, the Denny students in the Chief Sealth H.S. auditorium began screaming, and stood up to dance in their seats (as well as in the aisles). Dozens of kids waved their smartphones (lit with bright screens) over their heads, in the digital equivalent of butane lighters at an arena. The boys finished to thunderous applause and wild cheers, and became instant mini-celebrities at Denny.
Jackson was amazed and pleased to have students he didn’t know crowd close to him after the show, slapping his shoulder and back while praising the band’s performance. Upon starting the 7th Grade at Denny this month, the three boys enjoyed the novel experience of having fans come up to them in classes or the lunch room and enthusiastically recalling the band’s indelible performance months ago.
Following their initial taste of acclamation in June, this summer the boys went on to secure their first public gig through the auspices of Benjamin Guernsey, a singer and musician with the local, garage-rock Americana band “Tugboat Country.”
Guernsey, the opening act this Sunday at the Skylark, is friends with the father of the band’s drummer. After hearing about the crowd reaction at the talent show, and viewing the boys’ YouTube video, Guernsey recommended them this summer to fill the remaining spot in Sunday’s three-act, all-ages show at the Skylark Café. On the strength of his generous recommendation, Jet City Metro was added to the bill —without any audition — by the Skylark’s former management.
The boys were thrilled to have scored an engagement so early in their nascent career, and one at such a well-known local venue. They promptly began twice-a-week rehearsals (interspersed with backyard trampoline breaks) throughout the summer to build a full set of new songs for the show.
The Skylark’s new management kept all previously booked acts scheduled by the former owners, but didn’t meet any of the boys until last week. That’s when Jackson, the guitarist/lead vocalist, dropped by and met the new owners, on their second day in the club, to discuss the show and check out the venue for himself.
He received a very warm and gracious welcome from Matt, Janna, and Gary, who hadn’t known that Jack and his bandmates were only 12. Jackson, an honors student at Denny, is tall for his age and very articulate, so upon meeting him, the new owners assumed he was at least 14 or 15. After learning the boys’ ages, the owners without hesitation confirmed the band for the show, and weren’t concerned that the middle act of their Americana show was a grunge-rock band.
During his visit, Jackson got a chance to get up onto the Skylark’s stage and imagine the thrill of playing to a full house. He was elated to learn that, if the show attracts a large-enough crowd, his band and the other two acts will split any profit left over from the door proceeds (after the Skylark’s sound technician is paid).
Jackson got his first electric guitar at age 10 and immediately began teaching himself grunge songs such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” He started taking acoustic, blues-guitar lessons this year from Mark Holt (who has played with some of Heart’s band members), and was accepted into Denny’s jazz band this week.
In preparation for the Skylark show, Jack’s parents bought him a “honkin’ big” Peavey amplifier (the brand endorsed by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, as Jack proudly points out) to replace his tiny rehearsal amp. Unfortunately, the new amp is so huge and heavy — even Jack’s father has trouble moving it very far — that the band will need to use a furniture dolly to roll it up the Skylark’s back-door ramp. Jack’s father, Steven, will act as one of the band’s roadies — which mostly means he gets to manhandle the amp into the club through the back entrance and onto the stage. (“At least,” he joked, “I’ll get into the show for free.”)
Aside from the Denny talent show, Jackson has never sung anywhere in public. To improve his performance and confidence, Jack’s parents found him a vocal coach at West Seattle’s Erin Rubin Piano Studios, Nouela Johnston, who worked with Jack on his technique, style and delivery. Owner Erin Rubin-Tate (formerly of the West Side Music Academy) runs summer rock-band camps for teens, many of whom have gone on to perform at the Skylark. She said that the Skylark’s all-ages shows for young musicians typically feature students of high-school age, and that she can’t recall musicians as young as 12 ever playing at the Skylark — so Jet City Metro’s performance may be a first for the club.
Jackson’s proud mom is Tracey Spenser, editor-in-chief and owner of Way With Words, which provides editing services to clients including Microsoft and local nonprofits. His father, Steven Spenser, runs Praxis Communication, a Seattle PR and public-affairs consultancy whose clients have included the Russian Government and Seattle’s original E. coli victims organizing against Jack in the Box.
Jet City Metro also stars drummer Stone Machel and bassist Reuben Rosenblatt, accomplished musicians who were talented enough to earn rare spots as 6th-graders in the Denny Jazz Band. Just for fun, the two have lately taken to trading instrumental duties in the band.
Stone’s drum instructor, Ethan Cudaback, of Cudaback Music in West Seattle, has coached the boys on their stage presentation and delivery, and has helped them fix songs that weren’t coming together properly. Darren Machel, Stone’s dad, used his connections in New York City to get an award-winning graphic artist to create a logo for the band. The colorful design now adorns Stone’s drum and appears on decals which the boys enjoy passing out at school.
What’s ahead for Jackson after Sunday’s show? Once he’s 13, Jack is looking forward to creating a YouTube channel, Facebook page and Twitter account for the group. He’s begun writing songs of his own, and he knows, with absolute certainty, that he will be playing in rock bands throughout high school. With that planned experience under his belt, added to his time ahead with Jet City Metro, Jack hopes to establish a part-time career as a guitarist to earn money while attending the UW.
The boys have been single-mindedly focused all summer on rehearsing for Sunday’s performance, and don’t have anything else lined up yet. Once the show is behind them, they’ll have time to savor the memory of the experience, and make new plans. But no matter how long finding another public engagement may take, the members of Jet City Metro can count on at least one future benchmark performance — at Denny’s 7th Grade Talent Show next June. It may be just a school event, but the band now has a reputation to maintain and grow at Denny.
And besides, as Jackson says with anticipatory relish, “chicks dig guys in bands.”
The other solo acts on Sunday’s Americana show are Ben Guernsey (of Tugboat Country) and local pianist-guitarist Ian Jones. Doors open at 3 p.m., and the 90-minute show starts at 4 p.m. Tickets for all ages are $5 at the door.
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