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by Linda Spielman

For this edition of Unsigned Heroes we take a bit of a departure from the regular format. This time around Linda Spielman gives us the good word on a band that is burning up her home base of Pittsburgh—School of Athens. - ed 

Anywhere on the planet seems warmer than Pittsburgh over the last few weeks. I was hoping that sitting down recently with one of the area’s newest, up & coming bands School Of Athens would help transport me to a warmer place because of their name; maybe a Grecian Isle? Well, in a futile attempt to wish for a warmer climate, I did discover band members Drew Fogle, Neal Rosenblat, & Chris Wasel eager to talk about their music, aspirations & upcoming projects which in itself can generate enough heat and noteworthy buzz within the current stagnant local music scene.

 
The band started roughly about six years ago when Fogle & Wasel met after high school graduation. Although Fogle went away to college and Wasel opted to stay local, they remained close friends over the years. After college, the two sat down and discussed the prospects of pursuing music full-time with the intention of putting together a band. Remembering a mutual friend from his high school days, Fogle tracked down Rosenblat, who he knew would be a perfect fit for the band. With the common thread of influence via the highly melodic and lyrically charged Radiohead on the part of all three guys,  School Of Athens was born.
 
Fogle elaborates on the decision for the band’s namesake, "School of Athens is the name of a painting by Raphael. Chris had an art class in college, studied the painting and was inspired by the meaning and the name. The short version of what them meaning is: Bringing more than one idea and converting it into one.... Which makes sense, because every member in the band has an idea, and we form it into one.....kind of like 3 of us creating the same song.... like, taking our three minds and inspirations and working our melodies and chord progressions and making one song out of it."  
 
Call it Kismet, Fate or beginners luck that the three band members found each other to form not only a solid sounding rock band, but also more or a brotherhood. As Wasel notes, "We spend so much time together rehearsing, writing and playing live not only do we connect in every way musically, but we’re also best friends & almost like brothers."
 
Fogle, Wasel & Rosenblat all come from classically trained backgrounds. Fogle and Wasel both took up piano as young as four & six years-old, while Rosenblat was already playing guitar both via professional lessons & learning on his own at six years of age. As each of the band members grew up, each continued with their musical training.  Fogle performed in various youth choirs, and went onto Mercyhurst College as a voice major. Rosenblat continued teaching himself guitar, while Wasel gave up piano but started teaching himself guitar and drums. As similar as their backgrounds are, so are the
band’s musical influences citing Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers & even Counting Crows which add yet another element to perfect fit of these band members.
 
The obvious enthusiasm & genuine commitment they have for music in general as well as the music they create seems to be paying off (they’ve only been playing out live for a little over 4 months). "As a kid, I hated playing piano because I hated playing other people’s music. I haven’t felt so strongly about any other music I’ve played up to this point, "Wasel admits. Fogle rediscovered & mastered the piano after college and developed his singer/instrumental front man skills. And Rosenblat incorporates strong melodic chords along with backing vocals to the group’s songs. Although
there are three distinctive personalities and musical perspectives in the band, they come off as one musical entity. Rosenblat elaborates, "Between all of us there is such a strong & rooted musical core. We all know what we want and can see the big picture. The fact that because of our background we are able to see all the different aspects of being in a band."

 
Writing all the group’s material is a collective effort by all three guys from the very beginning. In many ways as Fogle describes it, the inception of most all of their songs starts off as an impromptu jam session. "I will usually bring an element or melody for a song out on the piano. Neal will then come in with a guitar part, and Chris will add a percussion arrangement." Although the structure of writing and arranging their music seems a bit "unstructured", it works very well for the group. "Within five minutes we usually know if it’s going to work or not," As Fogle is quick to point out. As powerful as Fogle’s voice is as front man for the band, all the members are quick to defend that their instrumental core and note that is where their primary focus lies; lyrics are always last in the musical equation.
 
The energy and melodic driven music the band plays live is proof to the commitment they have all made to the group and to each other. They pull much of the inspiration from the people who have touched their lives and the joys & sadness which all people go through. However, the channeling of all those experiences into the music School Of Athens creates is a melting pot of their influences like Radiohead, yet enabling them to carve out a niche & musical identity all their own.
 
Being as close-knit as the three members are, they do freely rely on complete honesty in the writing process. Both Rosenblat & Fogle agree, "It was hard at first. We had to learn that it was OK to be so honest with each other. We are now brutally honest with everything every step of the way; the writing, rehearsing & performing. When we write, if there is something that just isn’t clicking we are pretty clear up front, so we don’t hang on to it." 
 
Preparing to start playing the local music scene involved about eight months of rehearsing before their first gig was played. Almost right out of the gate, School Of Athens cemented a spot as a finalist in the 2003 Hard Rock Challenge in early December. Despite only a two-vote margin between them and the first place winners, it was obvious by the all at the event the band was making a good first impression on the local music scene  & immediately respected for their music (having performed less than a dozen shows under their belt at that point). January & February find School Of Athens heading to Erie, PA, to start production on their first demo release. Between day jobs and recording, the band plays out at least twice a week if not more around the Greater Pittsburgh area and at many of the clubs on the famed Carson Street, Southside.
 
Looking ahead to the future for the band, all three members are confident & content. To no one’s surprise their pursuit of writing and playing good music is their foremost concern and mission. Everything else is icing on the cake. In a refreshing outlook to success, the group has no altruistic expectations of the industry and success as a whole. Within the next year they want to broaden their fan base into a more regional direction, start shopping their demo to the labels, and play live as much as their schedules allow; while continually writing new material. It appears that a overall consensus is to establish School Of Athens as a respected and successful band, compared to flavor of the week or superstar bands that come and go so quickly in today’s music industry.
 
In the same respect, the band isn’t willing to sell their souls to the industry. However, they understand, acknowledge & accept the art of compromise the industry as a whole. Knowing that realistic aspect of the business and yet holding from their beliefs in the group give them an edge over many of the up & coming bands noteworthy of attention. Fogle, Rosenblat & Wasel all agree that this is the first "real" band they’ve been in and will be their last. The musical & personal relationship they’ve built through the band has made them feel and believe that it truly doesn’t get any better than what
they have. 
 
The work hard, play hard and play often mentality of School Of Athens is something that will bring the band success in whatever level, and whatever level that holds for their future is fine by them. Whether making a living doing this full-time, being commissioned artists for TV or movies, or a top-selling band is all approached with the same dedication, commitment and intensity from Fogle, Rosen blat & Wasel. 
 
To see & hear more on School Of Athens go to www.schoolofathens.com
 


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