After winning Bogart's High School Band Challenge in 2001, Premium became the youngest band to play Pepsi Jammin' on Main in 2002 and 2003. The group signed with management before most of its band members could drive. Now, more than two years after their inception, these boyz-to-men have released a musically mature debut disc, Head Start, before packing off to college this fall.
Vocalist Matt Hagerty acknowledges the "high school tag" has successfully grabbed attention for the band but has also been a bit of a hindrance.
"Everyone loves to point out the fact that we're young, and that's great," he says. "But we want to be taken as 'Wow these guys are so young and look at what they're doing,' not 'Aw, these guys are young and just so cute.' "
Hagerty, along with guitarists Jerry Rouse and Chris Hellmann, bassist Ben Kubicki and drummer Jesse Feister, have been performing together since they were sophomores in high school. Duly christened after a late night fridge raid by Rouse, who happily stumbled on a carton of Kroger's Premium Orange Juice, the band cut its baby teeth at the popular High School Band Challenge, playing to a sold-out crowd. After months of playing together, Hellmann agrees it was the contest that jump-started guitarist Rouse to write original tunes for the band.
"In the band challenge, you are given 20 minutes to play, so we basically only had about four minutes covered," he says, laughing.
"Jerry started to put together some songs to cover us for the first round, accompanied by playing our favorite cover, Hendrix's 'Voodoo Chile/Slight Return.' "
Premium ended up with the top prize, which included recording time at Ultrasuede Studios. Work on Head Start commenced there in 2002, but it wasn't without its challenges.
Production at Ultrasuede and Group Effort Studios during this past winter left the band with solid backing tracks but neither the experience nor the cash to finish and shape a complete disc. Enter local production guru Ed O'Donnell, a neighbor of Hellmann's family who helped the band find focus and bring the project to completion.
"Probably the biggest break we ever caught is having Ed O'Donnell work with us," Hellmann notes. "I've known him as my neighbor two doors down for about eight or so years but never knew he would someday save us from becoming recording studio burn-outs."
O'Donnell, whose production work for daytime television's Passions earned him Emmy nominations, took the fledgling band under his wing and finished vocal overdubs and arrangements with the band in his home based studio. The resulting nine-song debut disc showcases a musical maturity not typically associated with a group of teenagers and includes a variety of vintage influences like Blues, Soul and '70s-era Guitar Rock that predate a band whose members were born when Lionel Richie and Cyndi Lauper ruled the airwaves.
Feister acknowledges that in addition to O'Donnell the band has had a number of mentors who have helped keep them on track. The list includes Hagerty's father, an accomplished guitar player, as well as Feister's drum teacher Tom Huesman, venerable local guitarist George Cunningham (of Pike 27 and the Graveblankets) and local music vet David Rhodes Brown, who invited Feister to play with his band the Hollowbodies last year.
Still, the group feels its age has kept them from interacting with many of the local musicians who regularly play the age-restrictive bar circuit.
"I don't think we're really completely a part of the 'scene' yet because we're so young," Feister says. "The people who come to our shows are usually teenage kids from the suburbs who might never have been to any part of Northern Kentucky besides Newport on the Levee."
Even though Kubicki is leaving the group to head off to college in Colorado this fall, the remaining band members will set up camp in Oxford at Miami University. There, Rouse hopes they'll continue to broaden their fan base and take the show on the road.
"We're confident that Miami will embrace our music and help us move on to bigger and better things," he says.
PREMIUM next plays Aug. 16 at the Mad Frog. For more on the band, check out premiumrock.net.