Summer Music Knockout
Everyone in the room bursts into laughter as Schoolyard Heroes' Jonah Bergman tells the story about the time he had to take out the garbage. "It had piled up so high, we had to go get the van and renegade a garbage-disposal mission," he exclaims through fits of hysterics. "Me and Steve [Bonnell] filled up the van with a ton of trash and we were goin' around town opening up dumpsters and driving off, 'Quick, fuckin' go!'"
Dig, if you will, the picture: a masked 6'3" lanky Bergman, with his signature curly mop flopping around on top his head, and roommate Steve Bonnell, who sports an afro at least five inches high himself, charging through the University District with bags of well-aged garbage. The boys are a little awkward and charmingly nerdy, and trust me, if you knew 'em, you'd be in tears hearing this story, too.
"But, wait, let's talk about this for a second," says Ryann Donnelly, calming down and settling back into her seat. "We're talking about being excited about throwing away trash!"
If there's one thing Schoolyard Heroes, consisting of Bergman (bass), Bonnell (guitar), Donnelly (vocals), and drummer Brian Turner can do, it's turn nearly anything into a good time. Their local rock shows are apocalyptic dance parties, fueled by the fire of hundreds of hip-shaking kids all clamoring to make contact with the vivacious frontwoman. Donnelly boasts a blistering vocal range that impressively stands up to Bonnell's flawless metal-meets-math-rock shredding, Bergman's pounding bass and bruising howls, and Turner's deafening and sturdy drum beats.
Their music has earned them a few moments in the spotlight, including a finalist spot in The Stranger's Big Shot battle and a six-week tour with Vendetta Red.
That's why, upon discovering that the band all lives in the same University District house (excluding Turner, who resides in Bellevue), I moved in for a weekend, to get a dose of Schoolyard's daily life as the June 21 release of their second album, Fantastic Wounds, draws near.
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"This is a house full of crazy, enthusiastic, and hilarious people," explains Donnelly while petting Princess Mayhem, the house's feline mascot. "The comedy of it all is [we're all] in a rock band and yet all we do on Saturday nights is play our shows and then play arcade games. Maybe, if things are going really well, we'll go get a sub. We don't drink, we don't do drugs... our habits are video games and fast food!"
The Schoolyard clan loves food. Every tour story I've heard from them revolves around what they ate on the road-Roscoe's in L.A., the Bellagio buffet in Vegas, some truck stop in Idaho... the list goes on. Even when they're not touring, there are a lot of late-night runs to whatever open eatery they can find. "There's a lot of late-night eating," says Bergman. "Driving around and playing shows really just breaks your life down to the lowest common denominators-eating, sleeping, and rocking."
Another thing the Schoolyard Heroes do is rock. Though you wouldn't know it by the clean kitchen completely lacking in empty beer cans, they are a rock band in full effect. Schoolyard can sell out the Vera Project and hold their own on a capacity bill at the Showbox (which they did last year, opening for the Presidents of the United States of America).
And since Schoolyard's release of their first record, The Funeral Sciences, in 2003, kids across the Puget Sound area have continued to grow fanatically loyal to the quartet; they post loving messages on the band's website, and give the boys handmade ties to wear onstage. A handful of young women have even been sewing their own dresses in Home Economics class, trying to emulate Donnelly's feisty punk-rock/prom-queen style.
"I always had an interest in fashion, but [dressing up] never seemed appropriate until there were people there to look at it," Donnelly says of her fashion evolution. "It was a matter of getting comfortable, so first it was jeans and then skirts with stretch pants and then it was like, 'Well, maybe if I just wear underwear and tights over the underwear they won't see anything,' you know? And if my dress is poofy enough, I can roll around on the ground in a bunch of layers of taffeta!"
Hanging out in Donnelly's bedroom, one can only imagine how those dress-making girls would love just five minutes to invade the tornado of clothes Donnelly's collected over the years. It's an assemblage including dozens of dresses, many by designer Betsey Johnson, that could probably even make Carrie Bradshaw a little green.
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Assembling in the spacious living room, we start talking about Schoolyard's new record, Fantastic Wounds, and I ask if they're nervous about it at all.
"Honestly, these are 10 of the most fucking killer songs I've ever heard in my life," Bergman says with a confident grin,
Everyone laughs as he continues to explain, in order to avoid sounding cocky, "I think that these songs embody a lot of cool stuff from a lot of different types of music."
The record veers away from the pop influence the band flaunted on Funeral Sciences. Fantastic Wounds is heavier, thicker, and a hell of a lot more merciless, but it won't scare away current fans who crave something with a little more sugar. Though it is a bit more diverse and experimental for the band, Fantastic Wounds does a, uh, fantastic job staying true to everything the Heroes are about-horror, sci-fi, and fun. And that formula's worked well for these housemates so far. "I think we all just learned a lot more about music," Bergman says, explaining the band's development. "The more you devote your life to being in a band, the more time you end up spending on it and thinking about it."