May 20, 2010

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New album for Jessica Prouty Band
Time to Escape wins the band awards, a video and upcoming shows
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

Sometime last November, Katherine Prouty sent her 16-year-old daughter Jessica to her room. That’s not an uncommon occurrence for many teenagers.

But here’s the difference. Jessica went not to her bedroom but to a rehearsal space with the members her band — Cam Pelkey, Andy Covino and Cody Nilsen. She had a stern directive from her mother, who also happens to be the manager of the Jessica Prouty Band. Come up with some new music, she told them.

“We were in a time crunch, because we had to go into the studio, and we needed songs,” Jessica Prouty said recently from her home in Marblehead. “So my mom locked us in our band room, and we wrote songs. We chopped them out.”

The hard work led to their second album, Time to Escape, and even more accolades for a band that’s steadily amassed them since forming three years ago.

The title track (“Escape”) took top honors at the Boston Children’s Hospital Notes for the Cure battle of the bands on April 29. The following week, competing with high-school-age groups from New York, Pennsylvania and the New England region, they won the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus Battle of the Bands.

The victory netted them some new gear from sponsor Roland, iPods for band members, and a chance to enter the national songwriting competition. They were scheduled to perform a set in front of the bus on May 15, and on the next day work with two engineers on the biggest prize of the effort, a professionally produced music video.

“They have top-notch video recording and sound technology, and the bus itself is beautiful,” Prouty said. At press time, the group didn’t know whether it would be a performance shoot or something more conceptual. “I would like to see more of a clip video, something that tells a story.”

The Lennon award was particularly sweet for a band that despite its youth (ages 15-17) has deep roots in the classic rock era. Prouty grew up singing along to Beatles songs played on her father’s acoustic guitar.

When asked to name his key influences, guitarist Cody Nilsen lists Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, Son House and Mike Bloomfield’s blues-rock band Electric Flag before mentioning a younger player, Joe Bonamassa.

On the other hand, drummer Cam Pelkey brings a love of metal bands like Sevendust and Metallica to the mix. Prouty moved past grade-school tween pop like Britney and Avril to embrace edgier stuff when she got to high school — Sick Puppies, Evanescence and Shinedown. “Alternative metal is my favorite genre,” she said, and her operatic voice has a distinct Amy Lee quality.

The new record blends these varying elements into a solid effort that doesn’t dwell in any particular style for too long. “Lights” is a mid-tempo number punctuated with Nilsen’s crackling guitar work. Brian Maes of Ernie and the Automatics, who discovered Prouty and has overseen both of the band’s recording sessions, wrote the song for them.

There are strong Paramore influences on “Falling,” the EP’s hardest-rocking tune. “Please Be OK,” a ballad Prouty wrote for a high school friend experiencing tough times, is the disc’s most personal song. “It’s got both love and desperation,” she said.

The prize-winning title track, brimming with determination, is a manifesto of sorts. “We are not like the rest,” Prouty sings, “you will see, we surpass the best.”

The song is very special to Prouty. “It’s about overcoming your fears, overcoming others that might put you down, and surpassing your goals,” she said.

That’s something the band’s been doing regularly since forming in 2007. They’ve made it to finals of the Berklee College of Music Battle of the Bands for three consecutive years. “We haven’t won it,” Prouty said wistfully, but in 2008, she and Nilsen each received scholarships for the Berklee summer program; last year, the entire band was recognized and participated in a performing workshop with songwriter Livingston Taylor.

This year, Nilsen received his third personal Berklee award. “Every time I go there, I learn more in … that week than you could learn in a whole year inside a book,” he said. “Learning from the other musicians really helps your playing progress a huge amount.”

The band’s upcoming area shows include the all-day Ultimate Frisbee Tournament sponsored by Project Reach at Manchester Memorial High School. They’ll also open for musical mentors Ernie and the Automatics in a benefit for the Nashua Community Music School at Alpine Grove in Hollis.

On Saturday, May 29, they appear in a five-band show at Plaistow’s Sad Café, a place they’ve played since their earliest days as a band. “We love the venue, it’s truly a family-friendly environment,” said Prouty, who’s particularly grateful for the Sad Café’s policy of offering soundboard recordings to performers.

“Every time we’ve played there, we’ve really enjoyed ourselves and they’ve been very supportive,” she said. “Plus, there’s a great sub shop across the street.”


Jessica Prouty Band
• Sunday, May 23, 2:30-3:30 p.m. 2nd Annual Project Reach Ultimate Frisbee Tournament at Manchester Memorial High School’s Chabot-McDonough Field, 1 Crusader Way, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. with Redline, Color of Mind, MLap, Forging Reverie, Borderline Eleven and 3:27s. See project-reach.org.
• Friday, May 28, at 7 p.m., opening for Ernie and the Automatics at Alpine Grove Ballroom, Depot Road, Route 111A in Hollis Benefit for the Nashua Community Music School, www.nashuacms.org $25
• Saturday, May 29, at 7 p.m. at the Sad Café, 148 Plaistow Road (Route 125) in Plaistow, www.thesadcafe.com. Show includes With Love Via Dance Machine, The Bay State, Boys Will Be Boys and Floral Terrace. $10
For more see www.jessicaprouty.com.