Listening to the first few chords of the A+ Dropouts’ cover of “Helter Skelter” won’t necessarily produce any raised eyebrows. Just wait.
Wait until lead singer Cheska Zaide wails out the opening lyrics, echoing McCartney in all the best ways. With her band mates quickly reaching their apex, the song becomes instantly enjoyable.
Once you remember that these Dropouts are only kids, teenagers in middle and high school, it’s hard not to be impressed.
Cheska formed the A+ Dropouts in an effort to find others her age who shared her interests of making and playing music. A year later, the A+ Dropouts, made up of of lead singer and guitarist Cheska, bassist and guitarist Mike Hintze, drummer Brendan Evans and bassist Thomas Dunlap, have become local rock stars.
With more than 3,200 fans on Facebook and 24,000 hits on their YouTube videos, the Dropouts have played events like Summerfest 2010 and the National Cherry Blossom Festival, been on ABC and NBC, and will grace the stage of the 9:30 Club in December.
But this month, The Dropouts are facing their biggest challenge yet.
The band is currently vying for a spot as a regional finalist in the SchoolJam USA competition, a national battle of the bands contest for teenagers.
During the month of November, members of the public can go on the contest’s website and vote for the band they want to see move to the next round, a live finals competition in Anaheim, Ca.
Every person can vote once a day, but in order to make the cut to California, the Dropouts need to be ranked second or first in their region; right now they sit at third.
Once in Anaheim, a winner will be chosen to perform in Germany while netting $1,000 in prize money, and $5,000 for their various school music programs.
Speaking to the Indie from the basement of the Zaide home, where the Dropouts usually jam, Cheska and her band mates seem anxious for the voting turnout, but content with where they are.
“It’d be so cool to get to play in L.A.,” Cheska said. “But to be honest, just being in this band has been great.”
Citing rock and punk music as direct influences, the A+ Dropouts have a distinct alternative vibe and a punk-rock quality to their original songs.
But according to the parents of the Dropouts, being in a band comes second to being a student.
“There’s two parts to their name,” Tom Evans, Brendan’s dad, said.
“They get to perform and practice on weekends, but as a requirement, they have to keep good grades.”
Being a parent of an A+ Dropout boasts as much responsibility as being a band member.
Each parent is lobbied with their own specific task to push the band forward. From running public relations to branding their social media design to engineering their sound, the parents of the Dropouts fully support their child’s endeavors.
“They are all clearly passionate about what they are doing,” said Rina Zaide, Cheska’s mom. “It’s important to be supportive of them.”
With her dry sense of humor and maturity beyond her years, Cheska fits well into the role of band leader. Stylized with an emo-punk wardrobe and hyper stage persona, she helps the A+ Dropouts command the stage in a way that makes you forget you’re listening to 13-year-olds.
“I was a little nervous being on stage at first,” Cheska said. “But you get used to it, and you grow to really enjoy it.”
When they’re not writing new music, penning studio time, performing live or practicing, the Dropouts are usually finding some other way to promote themselves.
“This… is… my… life,” Cheska said.
Spoken like a true rock star.
To vote for the A+ Dropouts in the SchoolJam USA contest, visit wannaplaymusic.com/schooljam-usa.
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