Hope for Tomorrow
Is this the year an award-winning local rock group releases a hit? Just maybe.
|There For Tomorrow band members, from left: Jay Enriquez, Christian |
Climer, Maika Maile and Chris Kamrada, all of Orlando
Foot traffic is heavy on Orange Avenue this evening as legions of Cheap Trick fans make their way down to City Hall Plaza for a free concert by the wry ’70s rockers.
Oblivious to the relentless march of those Trickies is a passionate contingent of adolescents, mostly female, that has crammed itself into BackBooth, a hot (in both senses), funky club just off Orange, on West Pine. These 400 elbow-to-elbow fans are here to check out four lesser-known bands including the evening’s headliner, Orlando’s own There For Tomorrow.
The sound system is cranked up to at least 10½ as each group in turn hurls its musical message into an atmosphere redolent of cigarette smoke, starter perfume and underage perspiration. When the headliner act at last takes the stage, the girls go bananas.
“How’re we doin’ tonight, O-Town?” shouts Maika Maile, the hometown quartet’s front man, lead singer and songwriter, whose broad face and spacey eyes lend him the look of a mystic owl. His rhetorical question is greeted by an unsurprisingly riotous response.
Then he commands, “I wanna see every single one of you jumpin’ up and down!” And as the band starts to play, the audience happily complies.
The songs are the essence of adolescent angst—plaintive rock ballads that speak of disappointments, dead ends and the ordinary agonies of growing up. The term emo (i.e., emotional) may apply, although this group’s sound possesses both pop appeal and heavy-metal overtones.
“They’re almost like a metal band with a new feel to them,” J.R. Wasilewski, the group’s manager, later says. (For the record, Billboard files There For Tomorrow under “punk-pop” and “alternative pop/rock.”)
“It speaks to all teenagers,” offers Felicia Cowan, a fervent 15-year-old fan from Deltona, who is here this evening, the Sunday after Christmas.
“And they’re, like, really nice guys,” adds Samantha Tolentino, also 15, from Oviedo. “They’ll meet with you and take pictures with you and hang out.”
Sometimes, the girls in attendance appear to be screaming to acknowledge a personal resonance with the tragically hip music. Sometimes they’re obviously trying to catch the eye of one of these “really nice guys.” And sometimes, an alert observer might reasonably conclude, the girls are sounding off simply to affirm their own newfound and apparently limitless capacity to become all hot and bothered.
|For Maika Maile, music is an emotional journey|
As the band starts to wrap up its high-energy set, Maika, sweat now rolling down his jet-black mop of hair, once again addresses the crowd.
“So did anybody vote for us in the Woodie Awards?” he asks with a puckish sangfroid. And as the predictable piercing squeals fade, he adds, grinning, “Next time we come back, we’ll be on to bigger and better things—just maybe.”
The Woodie Awards, in case you hadn’t heard, are voted on by fans and presented by MTV’s college network, mtvU, which is distributed to campuses by broadband. The awards’ curious name stems “from the indie tradition of awarding a wooden record [as opposed to a gold or platinum one] to bands that don’t care about record sales, but instead focus on the music and fans,” explains mtvU’s Janice Gatti.
This past November, There For Tomorrow conjured an upset when its video for the song “No More Room to Breathe” snagged the prize for “best emerging artist,” better known as the Breaking Woodie.
“That was more than just a surprise,” recalls Christian Climer, the group’s lead guitarist, whose rapid metabolism and slight stammer convey a rabbity vibe. “We didn’t have any speech planned. We didn’t even know how to get to the stage.”
“It was, like, so shocking, it was ridiculous,” adds bassist Jay Enriquez, whose puppy-dog eyes, under luxurious lashes, widen at the memory. “It was awesome!”
“2009 and 2010 are going to be very significant years for this band, defining years for this band,” says drummer Chris Kamrada, a beanpole with a shoulder-length mane and the sort of angelic face that drives girls crazy. “Our first record, I feel, is going to really be a solid base for what the rest of our career does.”
As he speaks, it’s about a month after the gig at BackBooth and the band has assembled at a modern-looking chalk-white house in a remote stretch of St. Cloud to record that new album.
While ducks and gray herons roam the neighborhood on this bone-chilling January afternoon, the guys wedge themselves into a small back room with James Paul Wisner, the CD’s producer, who is seated behind a large computer that’s hooked up to recording equipment. Just behind him, Maika (pronounced MY-kuh) lays down some raw guitar takes as the others chime in with suggestions.
“Honestly, dude, I would say keep it more simple,” insists Chris when Maika completes a riff. They all pause to consider this advice.
|Maika Maile and bis bandmates chill out during a recording |
session. The group expects to release a full-length CD, entitled
A Little Faster, in June
The Kick Off
At 22, Jay is the group’s oldest member, although his 5-foot-2 stature makes him seem more like its youngest. Both Maika and Christian are just 19, while Chris is a year older.
Though these guys are young, they’re hardly a new band. They’ve all been making the music scene since their early teens.
In the beginning, there were Maika and Chris, who knew each other from Pop Warner football. There were also Jay and the group’s original guitarist, James Flaherty, who were in cheerleading together. Chris’ mother knew James’ mother and eventually all the boys got together.
At first, the guys were just hanging out and jamming for fun, which, muses Maika, is “the best way to start.” But before long, they were gigging at Pointe Orlando.
“Those were kind of our stomping grounds at the time,” remembers Maika. “Even socially, for kids our age, that was just the place to be.”
In those days, they were known by various names including TKO, which, Jay notes with a chuckle, “had a ‘cool’ double meaning.” It stood for “The Kick Off” as well as evoking the more conventional phrase, “technical knockout.”
“We laugh about it now, but kids liked it at the time,” insists the bassist, who dreamed up the band’s current handle. That name, he explains, “kind of represented what we wanted to do with our music career. I guess, you know, be ‘there for tomorrow,’ in a sense. We want our music to last . . . and grow, even.”
Those early days were exciting, but they weren’t always easy. About three and a half years ago the guys replaced their original guitarist with Christian, who Jay knew from high school and who was in a different band at the time.
“Personal and creative issues” is how Jay describes the situation, choosing his words carefully. “It was hard, but we had to do what we had to do for the band.” And was it hard for the new member to find his footing?
“It was probably only weird the first two days,” Christian reflects, absently brushing back his long, blond hair.
As they branched out from Pointe Orlando to other local venues, the guys discovered that balancing school with a heavy schedule of weekend concerts could be tricky.
“I’ve been playing since 13, and some teachers didn’t understand the seriousness of it,” says Maika who, like Chris, attended Dr. Phillips High School for a time. “It was very stressful.”
“All the parents wanted all the kids to have a normal high-school life, as much as possible, and allow them to develop their talent,” says Chris’ mother, Sally Kamrada, an Orlando real estate agent.
Now, with all the guys out of high school, college is not a priority. They feel like they’re already on their way.
Like a Dream
“We’ve been together so long that our chemistry’s pretty strong,” says Maika. And it’s certainly true that, onstage, There For Tomorrow functions like a well-oiled, fan-rousing machine.
But while the effect of the guys’ deftly coordinated performances on their admirers can be electric, they are careful to exercise some restraint. They may tease, taunt and flirt with their devotees, but they always keep in mind that many of their fans are very young.
Some bands, Chris points out, go too far.
|When Chris Kamrada isn’t playing the |
drums at gigs, he is talking with fans
while promoting the band
“They’re doing it to get attention,” he says of those other groups. “It’s a quick, cheap thing.”
“This is the band, just like with the boy bands [of the 1990s], that moms don’t mind taking their kids to see,” notes Tyler Gray, a senior editor at the New York-based music magazine Blender. A former nightlife columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, Gray wrote the recent book The Hit Charade: Lou Pearlman, Boy Bands, and the Biggest Ponzi Scheme in U.S. History.
“They’re absolutely descendants of the big boy bands like Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC,” adds Gray, even though There For Tomorrow evolved organically, unlike those earlier bands, which were concocted by a mastermind entrepreneur. “This is where boy bands have gone. It bled into emo, it became guitar-driven instead of pop- and dance-driven, but it’s still the same sensibility.”
Offstage, the group also works as a team, with each member filling a niche.
As the band’s songwriter, Maika is its natural artistic leader. (And in fact, he always seems just slightly distracted, as if a part of his brain were constantly composing music.) Jay, meanwhile, assumes the role of Mr. Congeniality.
“I like to think that I just bring a good mood to everything,” he says shyly.
Christian takes an interest in the business side of things and works closely with the group’s manager.
“It’s almost like a hobby,” Christian reflects. “Numbers and things like that are just things that I’m interested in.”
“He’s a very smart kid when it comes to the business side of things,” says manager Wasilewski. “We’ll talk it through.”
Chris, too, has an interest in business, especially in the business of promotion. It’s a fascination that dates back to the group’s beginnings.
“Promotion has been my big thing with that band,” he says with an earnest intensity, between sips of black iced coffee. “I would go to every big show in town and I would stand out there with flyers and I would have an intimate moment with every kid—every single kid.”
During the last year or so, There For Tomorrow has moved well beyond Orlando, performing in nearly every state, often for crowds of 1,000 or more, although not necessarily as the headline act. The guys are now on the road about 80 percent of the time, and for most of the summer they’ll be part of the prestigious Vans Warped Tour.
When they do get a break, they often come home to visit friends and family. (On March 12, they’ll be back at BackBooth to play a benefit show for Rock for Hunger.)
“It was a dream for me, when I was even 14, to be where our band is now,” recalls Chris. “Like a dream to be in the touring circuit and to be a band that’s talked about.”
Thinking About Tomorrow
The question now, of course, is: How long can the dream last? Will these guys, in fact, be there for tomorrow? Blender’s Gray allows that their work is “polished” and “super-catchy,” but adds that they’re long shots to make it big.
“The type of music that they are putting out is a crowded field,” he cautions. “Their story doesn’t seem incredibly unique and their sound doesn’t stand out enough that it challenges anyone, so it could be easily forgettable.”
On the other hand, the group is following in the footsteps of The Killers, a successful band that has also won a Breaking Woodie. And, naturally, some teenage fans disagree with Gray’s measured assessment.
“Their sound is different from everybody else’s,” proclaims Samantha Tolentino, who attended the BackBooth concert. Amid all the hype, the guys’ parents and manager have worked hard to help them maintain some perspective.
“As parents,” says Chris’ mother, “all we’ve done is try to keep them grounded in the real world while they were growing up.”
Their manager recalls that after congratulating them on the Breaking Woodie, he immediately warned, “You just won a piece of wood. It really doesn’t mean anything. Now you guys gotta focus on this record.” And to their credit, the members of There For Tomorrow have taken his words to heart.
“Last year was the year when things started to happen for us, but this is the year where it’s all going to be tested,” says Christian. “This year, a lot of people are expecting things of us, and if we don’t live up to it, maybe we’ll have another chance.
“But maybe not.”