Click the audio player below to listen to “Lifeguard,” one of the songs performed by Special Explosion while I sketched the band:
Sketched Dec. 14, 2011
In a city so in sync with music, I’m not surprised that 145 bands applied for the Experience Music Project’s Sound Off!, the largest battle-of-the-bands contest in the Pacific Northwest for groups under age 21. But I wondered where all that talent comes from.
For Bellevue indie rock band Special Explosion, one of 12 Sound Off! finalists announced Thursday, the path to a performance at EMP and a shot at Bumbershoot started 18 months ago at Seattle’s School of Rock. That’s where siblings Andy and Lizzy Costello met Jacob Whinihan, Sebastien Deramat and Jackson Main. As they rehearsed in Seabastien’s living room this week, the band told me they’ve been through a lot. The bass player who came up with the band’s name quit, they broke up with their producer and almost went their separate ways.
But a songwriting breakthrough came last summer with a tune called “Lifeguard,” which they submitted to Sound Off!, making them happy they stuck together. When EMP called to tell them they were among the finalists, they couldn’t believe it. “Is this a joke?” Andy asked his sister Lizzy when she broke the news. Lizzy said their mom just started crying.
Special Explosion faces other bands at EMP on Feb. 25.
Meet the band
They may be a young band, but they don’t lack experience. In just a year-and-a-half, Special Explosion has performed more than 30 concerts at venues such as Neumos, The Sunset Tavern, Healthy Times Fun Club, The High Dive, Ground Zero and The Old Redmond Firehouse. Next on their agenda is The Crocodile Back Bar, where they’ll play on Dec. 28.
Below are some more drawings I made and observations I wrote down as I talked to each band member in Sebastien’s dining room, where they munched on potato chips during a break from their rehearsal.
Andy said he “was just jamming,” when the idea behind “Lifeguard,” started to develop. He said the lyrics were inspired by a specific person but anyone can relate to them: look out / no lifeguard / be careful If you swim / every million years or so / the tide pulls you in. Andy said he was 11 when he bought his first album, by Led Zeppelin.
Lizzy said Special Explosion will win the crowds at Sound Off! because “we have really good personalities.” She said she likes to make eye contact with the audience and get close so she can touch a person’s face. The first album Lizzy bought with her own money was by David Bowie.
Besides mad drumming skills, Jacob has a few more talents up his sleeve. He’s a black belt in karate and also works as a model. He said Sound Off! is a great opportunity for the band, as they’ll get one-on-one advice from industry professionals. The first album Jacob bought with his own money was Will Smith’s greatest hits, when he was in the fourth grade.
Sebastien said his mom was so excited when he told her that they made it into Sound Off! that she stumbled over her words and said something that made him laugh: “You guys are going to get a lot of explosure!” Jokes and parental support aside, Sebastien said being chosen as a Sound Off! finalist is a huge validation that their music has quality. Although his parents have told him that many times, “it’s different to hear it from someone who doesn’t know you,” he said.
Sebastien said he was 10 when he bought his first album. “I’m pretty sure it was Radiohead.”
Like his fellow band members, Jackson also juggles school obligations with his passion for music. But he doesn’t mind. He even plays the guitar and sings for another band, Los Gentlemen.
Jackson said he started purchasing music with his own money at age 11. His first choices: Backstreet Boys and Guns ‘n Roses.
More on EMP’s Sound Off!
Find more information about the Sound Off competition, including a list of other finalists, at empmuseum.org/soundoff.