School of Athens
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School of Athens

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


When City Paper readers voted School of Athens Pittsburgh's Best Indie Rock Band of 2006, I figured I should give these guys a listen. I checked out its live set on WYEP, caught some free tracks on MySpace. With a little taste of its seemingly incongruous blend of metal and piano-centered pop melodies to whet my appetite, I knew I had to see this act live. Where does one go to see a band so forward-thinking, so ambitious, so avant?

This particular week, you'd head over to a little bar on the South Side where, one night a week, a midget runs up and down the bar, snatching wadded-up bills from patrons' hands while pouring shots into their thirsty, waiting mouths.

Everything about School of Athens, it would seem, is a contradiction.

The band consists of lead singer and pianist Drew Fogle and drummer Mike Rush, both of McKees Rocks. They're joined by bassist Johnny Naples and guitarist Neal Rosenblat, both of Sheraden. That geographical diversity, band members say, is itself something of an oddity.

"Normally, people from Sheraden and McKees Rocks don't really get along," explains Naples. "All through high school, it was like we fought kids from Crafton and Sheraden. So we're bridging the gap. It's humanitarian."

While the guys in School of Athens may have seen each other at a rumble or two back in high school, it wasn't until Fogle returned from Mercyhurst College with four years of vocal training under his belt that the band began to take shape.

There were some minor lineup changes in the beginning, but the current incarnation has been together for just under two years, and it seems to be the magic combination the band was looking for.

"It's amazing how well we play together," says Fogle. "Anytime Johnny plays a bass line, Neal plays a guitar part or Mike plays a drum part, it's like they're somehow playing the best part that I've ever heard in my life. And it just works."

It's the way those parts come together that may just be the most interesting contradiction in the School of Athens experience.

Rush's drum-clobbering and Naples' bass lines provide a solid, driving rhythm beneath Fogle's rollicking piano work and dying-to-be-Rufus-Wainright vocals. Rosenblat's atmospheric, effect-heavy leads create a moodiness in each song, making the sound as schizophrenic as possible. But it does work.

Songwriting duties are shared equally by all four band members, which could explain the broad shifts of sound and structure from one song to the next. The stutter-step beat of crowd favorite "Blues in D Minus," for example, is a vast departure from the straight-ahead, frantic pace of songs like "Manuscript." If it weren't for Fogle's vocals soaring through each song, you'd swear you were listening to two different bands.

"The songs sound different depending on who came up with the root idea," says Naples. "It's kind of a tell. The instrument that starts off the song is usually the guy who came up with the idea."

What it all amounts to is an ambitious attempt to blend the band's more inaccessible indie-rock tendencies with various radio-pop influences like System of a Down or Coldplay. And the resulting hybrid puts School of Athens at an interesting point on Pittsburgh's musical landscape.

"I don't think we sound like anyone else around here, and to go into a bar and say, 'Hey, you want to listen to us play piano and sing real pretty?' That can be a little tricky," says Naples.

As tricky as that question may seem for School of Athens — judging by the fans singing along at the shows and the opinion of CP readers — the answer is "yes." - Pittsburgh City Paper


POSTED ON MARCH 1, 2007:

More-is-more on School of Athens

By Aaron Jentzen


The Manuscript
self-released

As has often been remarked, even by the band itself, the ingredients that go into School of Athens' sound can seem a bit incongruous: modern-rock riffing, a little ivory-tinkling, proggy breaks and the dramatic bombast of Drew Fogle's musical-theater-style vocals. It's overwrought, overdone and in all ways excessive. In other words, quite a bit like an indie-rock Queen -- and who wouldn't do that if they could?

Surely, My Chemical Romance doesn't have that one sewn up yet.

The Manuscript, School of Athens' new CD, kicks off with Fogle singing, "My empty soul, so dirty / will soon be tempered by the fires of hell." The band's slightly campy sense of humor makes this sentiment hard to read, especially when the song is bizarrely derailed halfway through by a kind of cabaret-ska interlude. In a similar narrative style, fan favorite "Blues in D Minus" tells a lust-for-fame story that again suggests an almost compulsive ironic distance.

But if the first few songs are an introduction to School of Athens' more-is-more, no-holds-barred style, the second half of the CD contains the superior material. "Kids With Guns" and "Chameleon" contain some intriguing musical ideas, particularly in Neal Rosenblat's atmospheric guitar lines. And "Aftermath," the disc's most Ben Foldsy piano number, packs loads of genuine melodic pleasure, punctuated by good-vibrations guitar and sun-drenched '70s vocal harmonies. - Pittsburgh City Paper


Discography

2003 - Apple EP
2006 - The Manuscript
Tracks are available for listening at http://www.myspace.com/schoolofathens

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Since 2003 School of Athens have been playing their own brand of hard-charging, infectious, piano-driven rock for their rapidly growing young fan base in Pittsburgh. The sound has been compared to very popular groups ranging in intensity from Ben Folds to Coldplay, all the way to System of a Down, to Bowie, to an indie-rock version of Queen.

They have been steadily winning people over by performing all their own original material, noteworthy considering Pittsburgh’s penchant for shouted “Free Bird� requests and drunken audience apathy/psychopathy. What is even more noteworthy is the fact they were voted “Best Indie Rock Band� in the Pittsburgh City Paper’s “Best Of 2006� issue, (Dec 14, 2006), and have a host of critical acclaim to back the title up.

They have accomplished all the goals a totally D.I.Y. band on a shoestring budget with 9-to-5’s could realistically hope for, and then some: Played many out-of-state shows (on their own buck), including weekend slots at The Good Hurt in Los Angeles and Arlene’s Grocery and Piano’s in New York’s Lower East Side; recorded, pressed and released two EP’s (also on their own buck); managed to continue to write an average of two songs a month while performing three to five times a month.

They also maintain their own band website (schoolofathens.com), Myspace page (myspace.com/schoolofathens), host assorted blogs and promotional websites, pay their room rent on time (mostly), and mercilessly beat up their own vehicles loading and unloading their own gear.

These boys work hard. Check out some press:

“…quite a bit like an indie-rock Queen -- and who wouldn't do that if they could?�

“ “Aftermath,� the disc's most Ben Foldsy piano number, packs loads of genuine melodic pleasure, punctuated by good-vibrations guitar and sun-drenched '70s vocal harmonies.�

~Aaron Jentzen, Pittsburgh City Paper

“School of Athens has earned their place as one of the new “must see� bands in The Northeast. Their diverse and eclectic sound leaves many who see and hear School of Athens astonished by their original sonic identity.�

~thisishappening.com

“Where does one go to see a band so forward-thinking, so ambitious, so avant?�

“What it all amounts to is an ambitious attempt to blend the band's … indie-rock tendencies with various radio-pop influences like System of a Down or Coldplay. And the resulting hybrid puts School of Athens at an interesting point on Pittsburgh's musical landscape.�

~Erik Price, Pittsburgh City Paper

“They are one of those rare groups that you watch and can see elements of all their myriad influences – from glam rock to death metal to musical theater - but have somehow managed to achieve something truly unique and totally rocking, but really beautiful at the same time. Pittsburgh should enjoy them while they can, because they're not going to stay the well-kept secret they are much longer.�

~Autumn Ayers, mattressfactory.com

“They dress like a bunch of school boys, but inside they're as dangerous
as a gang of hell's angels.�

~emayhem.com

“Since forming in 2002 they have performed all over the country and have come close to perfecting a sound at once reminiscent not just of rock classics David Bowie and Queen, but contemporary favorites Coldplay and Radiohead.

~mattressfactory.com

“Everyone agrees there’s no shortage of homegrown talent waiting to be discovered, either by more Pittsburghers or by a national audience. Rinaldo is quick to mention the Boogie Hustlers, Ennui, School of Athens, Like Summer and the Poogie Bell Band…�

~Eric Seiverling, quoting John Rinaldo of Joker Productions, in The Front Magazine

“these guys are awesome�

“…really dynamic. It was a very good inter-mixing of genres."

~students quoted in the Slippery Rock University Online Rocket