Tonight, we rock
Photos and story By Keegan Prosser
It started as a series of secret shows in the back of a warehouse just off of Bel-Red Road.
Drum instructor Chase Culp was teaching lessons in a rented space next to Donn Bennett Drum Studio and was asked to help a new band practice for some upcoming performances.
When word got out, one band grew to a few – and what started as impromptu jams at the back of his studio, turned in to a series of weekly shows. Eventually, the acts outgrew the back room, and Culp was left with a new opportunity.
“We had the idea of taking kids and forming rock bands,” says Eric Snyder, Culp’s band mate and business partner. “At the time, there was really no one else in the Northwest doing that.”
Twelve years, and many musicians later, the rock camps are still going strong.
School of Rock
The camps – recently deemed Rock-It Music Academy – have become a sort of breeding ground for musicians on the Eastside, with past students including members of former Eastside bands Daphne Loves Derby, This Providence and Gatsby’s American Dream (which has morphed into a new project called Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground).
Culp and Snyder currently operate three, eight-week long rock camps each year. The classes, offered to both beginner and advanced students, take place every Sunday. They also offer a series of one-week long summer camps.
“When I was 12, I was in a rock band, but we were terrible,” Snyder says.
He and Culp agree that the camps are a great opportunity for budding musicians to learn both the art, and business of playing music – from people who are actually live and breath it.
“It’s cool to be able to help these kids. And talk to them about what we’ve learned,” Snyder says.
In addition to doing regular lessons and running the camps, Culp and Snyder are working musicians, playing drums and guitar, respectively, in Seattle-based post-grunge band the Crying Spell. Collectively, the pair have toured throughout the United States, Australia, Caribbean, and South America.
Approximately 65 percent of the students currently enrolled in the fall session also take lessons with either Culp or Snyder – but it’s not a prerequisite for signing up. Additionally, while some bands enroll in the camp as a group, there is also the option to sign up as an individual.
“On the first day, we listen to everyone play a song and kind of figure out their level – and ask them what kind of music they like,” Snyder says.
From there, the teachers break the kids up in to groups they believe will play well together.
“We try to find a good balance and keep the kids happy,” Snyder says.
And although rock ‘n’ roll is the standard genre of choice, there is the opportunity to explore genres outside of the rock spectrum. This fall, a jazz trio consisting of Interlake High School students Andrew Spearman, 17, Zach Sweetser, 17, and Stanley Ruvinov, 16 signed up for the camp.
Spearman heard about the camp from Culp during one of his regular drum lessons, and saw it as a great opportunity to practice with Sweetser and Ruvinov. The group first participated in the camp over the summer and while they dabbled playing Iron Maiden covers the first time around, this fall they’ve been focusing solely on jazz and blues.
Each week, Culp and Snyder cover a range of topics – including rhythm section, dynamics and soloing. Beginners students focus first on learning the their instrument and progress to taking on cover songs.
“Some of the students in the beginners class are really good players, but have never played with other musicians,” Culp says. “And playing with other people is completely different than playing by yourself.”
The advanced students, who’ve either participated in the camp before or have experience playing in a band, work on performance and creating their own material.
Culp also tries to bring in working musicians to come and work with the students at the rock camps. Past guests have included Scott Rockenfield (Queensryche), Michael Shrieve (Spellbinder) and Kenny Aronoff.
The show must go on
Culp says one of the most rewarding things about teaching these classes is seeing how drastically the young musicians can improve in just two months.
“By the end of the camp I want them to get on stage and perform a complete song,” Culp says. “I want to make sure they can perform it – and not just play it.”
As such, the culmination of each session is a finale concert, which offers campers the chance to perform live onstage in a concert for their friends and families. The public concert for the fall session will take place Sunday, Nov. 11 at Studio 7 in Seattle and costs $10.
Up next for Culp is expanding the rock camp, something he and Snyder have already started to do through their connections with Donn Bennett and Evolution Studios.
Culp has also begun to partner with local record labels and bands to get rock camp participants in to local shows. This January, Culp will also introduce a new audio-recording course led by producer Kelly Gray.
“It’s a whole different world. When I was a young musician, I didn’t have access to that,” Culp says.
The next Rock-It Music Academy session begins in January, but registration is open now through Donn Bennett Drum Studio. The cost is $300 per person for 8 sessions (billable @ $150 per four classes). If you sign up with a friend you receive $25 discount!