Jaci and Those Guys Battle It Out at Five-Week
Seeing Jaci Butler's charisma as she performs, one would never guess that the singer is only 14 years old. In fact, none of the members of the band Jaci and Those Guys are old enough to vote. They're at Berklee's Five-Week Summer Performance Program after winning Berklee and Sonicbids' Battle for Five-Week. Out of 379 bands who submitted music to the competition, just four were flown to Berklee for a final Battle of the Bands at Cafe 939. Of those four, Jaci and Those Guys were awarded a $22,000 scholarship to Berklee's summer program.
Jaci's parents rented an apartment for the group in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood—with help from a $3,000 housing stipend from Sonicbids—and are running their Rowlett, Texas plumbing business remotely for the length of the program. "Jaci's mom and I have been into this from the beginning, and we've been putting things in place, thinking they'd have to go on a small tour," says David Butler, Jaci's father.
Most people who come to Five-Week do so individually, but there's a real benefit to experiencing it as a group, Jaci says. In general, the members have split off to explore their own styles and interests, but "we all come home and talk about what we've learned," says Jaci. "Since we're taking different classes, we collaborate on it, and we all learn what everyone's learning."
Their favorite classes reflect their different interests.
Jaci Butler (vocals): "My favorite class is Musicianship. Omar Thomas will have us learn the song by ear, then he'll have us write the song down on sheet music, then he'll have us do the rhythm of it, and then solfège it, so it's helping me learn how to write music on paper and not just hear it."
Matt Venhaus (lead guitar): "I really like the ensemble class. It's a little different because they're pairing you up with other musicians. I'm with other players that are at the same level or have different interests. It's a different way to look at it."
Trevor Quiett (drums): "Technique for Drum Set. I got lucky enough that my teacher is John Blackwell, the drummer for Prince. He's my private teacher, as well, so I have two classes with him."
Jason Savage (bass): "My ensemble. It's jazz. Everybody was choosing prog rock, so I thought I'd do something different. Jazz is really technical—it's hard."
Chad Ragsdale (rhythm guitar): "I really like my private lesson with Jim Peterson. He plays funk guitar and fusion—really cool. When I got in there for the first half hour, he showed me a lot and asked questions and went on for another hour. It backed up to his office hour, so I got an hour-and-a-half lesson."
It's a big change for musicians who were mostly self-taught. "You pick up on things. You don't really know what's going on, but for some reason that works," says Matt. "And then when you come to something like this. . . . I was at one of my classes and all of a sudden everything clicked. That's why it works. It's kind of like walking into a dark room and flipping on the light."
Unlike most students at Five-Week, in addition to their regular classes and ensembles, Jaci and Those Guys also meet together once a week for an ensemble with Marty Walsh, where they work on their own music. For the first meeting they played through all the songs on their new CD, for which they had a release party at Berklee's Cafe 939 on July 24. With Marty's help, they plan on completing three new songs by the end of Five-Week, performing them in concert at the Berklee Performance Center, and recording them in one of Berklee's studios. "They're really hard workers," says Walsh. "They take everything I suggest and come back the next week with it all worked up and with their ideas added to it."
"I'm really excited after the five weeks, once we've been through it all, to start writing music," says Matt. "I think that's going to be where a lot of our material will come from."
Jaci adds, "I think we're going to keep our sound, but we're going to bring it up a notch and make it a little more..."
"...awesome," finishes Trevor.