Finding the groove that leads to success

Muffled sounds of guitar, bass and drums are barely audible outside the garage of a house in suburban South San Francisco. Inside, Midnight Drive is working out the kinks of a new song. Upstairs, books with titles like “Contemporary Metaphysics” lie on the dining room table, waiting to enlighten studious readers. Yes, it is a school night, but imminent homework deadlines will have to wait. After all, the creative process is in full swing.

Local band Midnight Drive’s guitar player, Thomas Patrick, and bass player, Ansgar Lorenz, are just two of numerous musically-inclined people that also happen to be full-time students at Skyline College, a school brimming with musical talent. As a matter of fact, Skyline’s sizeable music department is one of its five largest. It is no wonder that music is a significant part of the lives of many local students.

“Music is the bomb,” said Cameron Moberg in the most sincere, heartfelt tone of voice imaginable.

Moberg, 22 and working toward a teaching credential, said hip-hop has always been a part of his life. Growing up in the ethnically diverse town of Santa Maria, CA, he was surrounded by the music and culture from an early age.

“When I was eight, I found out I wasn’t Mexican,” Moberg said, laughing. “I was crushed.”

Being white, however, has not deterred the rapper from his goals. Six months ago, he started a hip-hop group called Soul Fundamentals Crew with two other local men. Moberg, a.k.a. Chef, “cooks up” most of the music for the group. Attending the “Introduction to MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) Music” course at Skyline has allowed Chef to hone his creative skills and collect school credits at the same time.

“It trips me out that I’m making beats,” the MC said. “I’ve wanted to do this since junior high.”

Moberg is also taking literary composition classes, which he finds useful for lyrical inspiration. He admitted that he frequently writes lyrics in class in his rhyming notebook, but he also revealed that he loves writing essays when he feels like he has something to say.

“School is good because there’s so much information being presented,” Moberg said, but there is no question as to where his heart is. Referring back to the delicate balance between obtaining a higher-level education and expressing himself through music, he is transparent: “I won’t lie; music is on top.”

Nevertheless, finding energy, time, money and all the other elements required by a lifestyle in which creating and performing music is an integral part can be quite challenging, especially for full-time students. This delicate balance will require even more of Moberg’s energy in the near future. His wife Crystal, also a student at Skyline, is due to give birth to their son in January. Fortunately for Chef and the rest of Soul Fundamentals Crew, they receive a great deal of support through their faith, families and friends. Moberg’s job is a source of support as well; he works at his church with at-risk kids who are some of his most loyal fans.

In the case of Midnight Drive, the band’s guitarist and bassist have also been fortunate enough to have support, especially from their families. Patrick, a music major, got his electric guitar and amplifier as graduation gifts from his parents, and Lorenz crafted his own bass guitar using his father’s cabinet-making tools.

So far, getting a college education seems to have paid off for the band. Drummer Erik Boumeester, a math major at San Francisco State University, said he was able to buy a drumset with a little “help” from the SFSU financial aid office. A geometrically-minded collegian (he admits to pondering mathematical concepts such as the irrational number pi while playing), he built a small room in the basement of his house one day when he was bored. The “band room” has been Midnight Drive’s main creative environment ever since.

Of course, reconciling schoolwork with creative work has at times been difficult for the band. The scant amount of information on the “calendar” page of the band’s website is a telling sign: “There are no events scheduled. . . school is in session, give us a month.”

However, the four-piece band still manages to find time between different school and job schedules to practice or play at house parties, although not without some reshuffling of priorities.

Talking about homework after a recent practice session, Lorenz admitted, “Sometimes you end up ignoring it.”

“It’s tough,” added Patrick. “The hardest part is playing a lot and getting a fanbase with things like work and school going on at the same time.”

When asked if they would drop school to take their brand of punk rock to a larger audience and get paid for doing so, the band’s answer was positively unanimous.

“If it meant being set,” said Patrick, and then paused before quickly snapping his fingers and saying, “…like that.”

That desire to take one’s art to a professional level is a far-off dream for countless musicians. Sabrina “Brie” Patton, 18, a gospel music and hip-hop artist, is currently taking a full load of classes at Skyline. She also expresses a desire to “go pro.”

Citing successful, but relatively rare, artists like Queen Latifah, Lil’ Kim, and Missy Elliott as inspiration, Brie said that there are not many female African-American MCs, like herself, who are that successful. Patton said this fact gives her a sense of determination to get her music into the public sphere.

Inescapably though, she must deal with responsibilities at school. Her classes at Skyline include a voice class and the same Introduction to MIDI Music class that Moberg attends. These classes allow her to focus energy on expanding her musical skills and preparing for live performances, such as the Spoken Word Slamma Jamma periodically held at the Bayhill Shopping Center Starbucks in San Bruno.

Brie hopes to find a manager to help her with promotion and finding places to perform her music.

“Venues don’t have to be really big,” she said. “Whatever I get, I’m grateful.”

Certainly no stranger to promotion and live performance is the local band Karate High School. The band has been fairly successful in promoting themselves through fans, word of mouth, and their ubiquitous stickers, which have been seen as far away as New York.

“They’re everywhere,” said bass player Paul Kriz, a Skyline Computer Applications and Office Technology student. “It’s like a disease,” he added, tongue-in-cheek.

Kriz said the band has given out more than 10,000 stickers to fans at shows. Some of these stickers have ended up in various places around the Skyline campus. This prompted the school’s Buildings and Grounds Department to write to the band, asking them to do something to prevent further stickering of school property. Kriz maintains that the band urges fans not to vandalize with the stickers, but he also said that the situation is out of their control.

More in control of their musical goals than their rabid fans, KHS has experienced a good amount of local success since they played their first show in November 2001. They have been featured repeatedly on Home Grown, a weekly local band showcase on San Jose radio station KSJO. According to Kriz, they have also opened a concert for the internationally-famous band Trapt.

The four guys in KHS have played their music in venues from Seattle to Los Angeles, and Kriz said they would love to make the band a full-time touring venture. Kriz is the only band member with future plans that include school, and he finds his education, along with music, personally fulfilling.

“I’m doing school for myself, to learn,” he said.

However, he said that, if given the chance to play music full-time, there would be nothing holding the band back.

“All of us are on the same page,” said Kriz. “Everybody’s really dedicated.”

The bassist concedes that going to school and being dedicated to a band sometimes involves personal sacrifice. But, he said of the band, “We a
ll love what we do so much that it’s not even an issue.”

Kriz’ words reflect a valuable positive attitude that is prevalent among amateur musicians who live with the constant struggle of balancing school, work and art.

“Even if this doesn’t work out, I can look back on being in the band with good memories, and I won’t regret it.”