In the 1990s, bluesman John "Fat John" Nemeth couldn't belly up for a beer after a gig in downtown Boise--he wasn't even old enough to vote. But he not only sounded like an adult, he had to act like one. He had to be a professional.
Boise pop-punk trio Workin' On Fire has also found that professionalism can be as important a virtue for success as musicality.
Zach Bonaminio, Peter Naguire and Austin Williamson---all 17 years old--have been together since 2009 and seen the fruits of a seven-days-a-week rehearsal schedule. WOF has received a slew of media attention and so far this summer, has played 24 shows. But the teens have also learned from mistakes that even seasoned musicians still make.
"[Our fan base] is made up of mostly teen girls," said Williamson, WOF's vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, at whom drummer Bonaminio and bassist Naguire chuckled before Naguire said that early on, they went about cultivating that base the wrong way.
"In our first couple months, we called and called [our friends] and told them, 'Hey, we have a show. Do you want to come?' We were basically asking for money because they had to pay for tickets. Eventually people stopped answering their phones."
"People don't like over-promotion," Williamson said somberly.
That kind of insight spilled over into how the band approached its music--WOF played acoustic shows whenever possible, which allowed the teens to refine their sound. And before they even stepped into Tonic Room Studios to record their first "real" full-length (it is technically WOF's third release), Williamson began taking a more writerly approach to songwriting. WOF's 12-track release Metaphoria (due out mid-September) will include six acoustic songs and showcase the band's development.
"Having a lot of acoustic gigs has matured our sound," Williamson said. "We couldn't have done this two years ago."
Jason Ringelstetter, co-owner of Tonic Room, said that the trio was full of energy--and Red Bull--but they came in to the studio well-prepared. And they revealed another adult trait: They listened.
"I could tell they had been rehearsing," said Ringelstetter. "And when I offered critiques, they responded to my advice really well."
Before his 21st birthday, Nemeth, too, had grown, and he is now an award-winning musician. As Bonaminio, Naguire and Williamson head into their last year of high school, they still want to play music but have other future plans, too. Williamson wants to be a writer, Naguire is interested in psychology and Bonaminio is keeping his options open. And they have some sage advice for other young people thinking of starting a band.
"Be a gigging band, get out and play and start a band with your friends."