Student indie band Pax Romana struggles to become success story in the music industry
By Evan Smith and Maria Paskell
It’s another Friday night at the Newport Music Hall, and backstage the band Pax Romana is getting ready for the show. Lead singer and guitarist, senior Phil Lindsay stretches his wrist and checks to make sure his guitar is in tune. The years of practice, the calloused fingers and the hours of frustration are all about to pay off, because when the spotlights shine onstage and the band walks out to the cheering crowd, all of Lindsay’s previous frustrations disappear in a surge of guitar riffs, drum beats, bass lines and soaring vocals.
While most of Lindsay’s efforts revolve around putting out great music, the songs that come out on the other side are just a small piece of what it means to be in an independent band. In Lindsay’s case, having to start from scratch with hopes of becoming successful in the music industry is no easy task. As the lead singer and guitarist of an up-and-coming garage band, he experiences many of the obstacles underground artists must overcome to reach their dreams.
From Humble Beginnings
Lindsay began his musical journey at a young age, when his father first introduced him to the classic rock music of the ’60s and ’70s.
“My dad got me into all the classics when I was little,” Lindsay said. “So I have always wanted to play the guitar [and] I have always loved the group dynamic of playing with other people, so that got me into playing with bands.”
Motivated by his dad’s love for music, Lindsay’s early music career was marked by casual jam sessions with friends and a few short-lived bands.
“I started young and started trying to piece together bands and got a couple cover bands in early middle school,” Lindsay said. “I’ve been playing guitar forever and had been in a couple bands already.”
Still, Lindsay dreamed of forming a stable band where he could develop his musical creativity. In 2005, his dream finally came true. What seemed to be a chance meeting led to the start of the band now known as Pax Romana.
“The band came to be during a summer detention the day after seventh grade ended,” Lindsay said. “My friend [senior] Kris McKinney and I were sitting in some teacher’s room together and we started talking about tunes. We liked a lot of the same stuff and decided to play together. We called up [senior] Tom McGeoch for drums and started goofing around in my basement.”
From there, after multiple changes in lineup, the final band members came to be Lindsay on vocals and lead guitar, McGeoch on drums, Austin Glasser on bass and Alex Murray on guitar and backup vocals (both graduated class of 2009). They decided upon the name Pax Romana after a poster they had seen on the wall of their seventh grade history classroom.
“[We] saw a poster on the wall that said Pax Romana,” McGeoch said. “It directly translates to ‘Roman Peace’ but [we] thought it was a sweet band name.”
According to McGeoch, the most important part of being in a band was his love of music and desire for success.
“I joined the band because I loved to play drums,” McGeoch said. “I wasn’t really doing anything musically in a group, besides playing bass in the school orchestra, so I thought it would be a fun experience. I always liked the idea of being a rock star.”
After spending the rest of middle school performing cover songs at the school talent show, Pax Romana began to blossom into a popular local band, scoring gigs at local venues and music halls.
“Our first real gig was at Covenant Presbyterian Church,” McGeoch said. “This was back in the summer after eighth grade. I went to a youth group at that church and the church was hosting a big concert type thing. I asked my youth group leader if we could play and he said, ‘Yes.’ It’s funny to look back on the videos from that show and see how much we’ve progressed.”
The Myspace Effect
As their musical style and overall sound began to mature, Pax Romana also found a new outlet to expand its audience: MySpace. By spreading the band’s music around on the Internet the group was able to gain greater notoriety and obtain bigger gigs more consistently.
“Everything that has ever happened to us was because of Myspace,” Lindsay said. “Without a doubt, having a professional-looking MySpace is the single best way to spread your music. Our page has over 70,000 plays and that is totally free exposure. It is basically the only way to get any legitimate recognition on the local scene.”
Bela Koe-Krompecher, director of underground record label Anyway Records, agreed that the Internet has made a huge impact on increasing the popularity of underground bands.
“The Internet has provided a means for bands to sell their music directly to fans,” Koe-Krompecher said. “Many bands are not even manufacturing CD’s any longer, but doing digital downloads instead.”
According to Koe-Krompecher, there is no longer that old notion that a major record deal is the only definition of success in the industry. Nowadays if a band can write catchy songs, they can use the Internet to gain fans and find success.
Bands such as Gaslight Anthem and Kings of Leon are examples of this new methods of gaining success in the music industry. Gaslight Anthem, formed just over two and a half years ago, has moved from slight underground success to headlining tours across Europe and North America, while still remaining signed to a relatively unknown record label.
“It used to be that a major label was needed,” Koe-Krompecher said. “But now there are bands like the Gaslight Anthem, who are on a tiny label called Side One Dummy, that just sold out at the Newport and have been on David Letterman.”
Similarly, the rock band Kings of Leon has moved from relative obscurity to become one of the most popular bands in the world. Selling out hit venues such as The Radio City Music Hall in NYC and The Greek Theater in Hollywood, and recently headlining this summer’s Glastonbury Music Festival, the band has used its website and MySpace page to climb to the top.
Actually achieving success in the music industry, however, with or without a major record label, is still a difficult and frustrating process.
“It takes talent, luck, discipline, hard work, plus a firm belief in your work,” Koe-Krompecher said. “Everyone in the band needs to possess all of these attributes and each member has to believe in the band and be able to make personal sacrifices such as putting education, relationships and money on hold for several years.”
The Road to Success
In Pax Romana’s case, there are many benefits to being in a band. According to drummer McGeoch, the bonds that the members of the band form are just as important as any record label or paycheck.
“We are very similar to a sports team,” McGeoch said. “We have to practice together, get along with each other, and support each other.”
According to Lindsay, the most rewarding aspect of being in a band is the sense of accomplishment at being able to perform in front of a cheering crowd.
“There is absolutely nothing like hearing over 1000 people singing along to the song you wrote,” Lindsay said. “It’s really cool to feel that hard work and dedication pay off.”
While a record label is definitely a main goal for Lindsay and Pax Romana, their main focus is still on creating great music and pleasing their fans. Through the use of the Internet and MySpace, the band has already gained enough notoriety to play at such venues as the Newport Music Hall, which has seen many famous artists in its lifetime, such as U2, Blink-182, Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Queen, AC/DC, Ted Nugent and many others.
Lindsay and Pax Romana still have a long road ahead of them, but as the lights shine onstage at the Newport Music Hall, and as the crowd jumps and screams in excitement, all of the hard work, struggles and frustrations seem to disappear, and the sheer joy of the music is all that remains.
“You have to love the music,” Lindsay said. “I write most of our lyrics, and I can say that it is incredibly surreal to see a crowd of people mouthing along to words I put together. That kind of feeling, working for something and then seeing someone else appreciate it, is what makes it all worthwhile.”