Saturday, Olympia indie band Crews will play in the semifinals of the Experience Music Project’s Sound Off, a contest for Northwest bands whose members are 21 and under.
The Sound Off winners, chosen from among 12 semifinalists, will play at Bumbershoot. But whether or not Crews goes all the way, the band has already benefited from the contest.
The quintet — singer and guitarist Tom McGahern, 21; guitarist Isaac Chavez, 21; bassist Madison Fisher, 20; drummer Nick Rawson, 20; and keyboard player Brian Wall, 19 — made its first EP last November, inspired by the opportunity to enter the contest.
“We would have put out an EP anyway, but this was a very specific deadline,” said McGahern, who — along with Chavez, Fisher and Rawson — graduated from Olympia High School in 2013. “It made us move things forward.”
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The guys put the album together in about a month, recording in the Olympia house Fisher, McGahern and Wall share.
Crews didn’t take its current form until October, though McGahern and Wall, a 2015 Capital High graduate, began playing together a year before that.
Wall recorded the EP on his own Clear Vision Records. “The Crews EP was the first full project that I’d done myself,” he said.
We want to keep going off this momentum.”
Tom McGahern, Crews singer and guitarist.
The project proved to be more intense than any of the band members expected. “It was crazy, but it was good,” McGahern said.
But the results have already been well worth the effort, McGahern and Wall agreed. They’re honored to be part of the 16th Sound Off and have already received a professional photo session and the chance to network with people in the music industry.
“It’s a great platform both to publicize our music and to connect with other artists,” McGahern said. “It’s really cool that we’re going to get to meet a lot of the best musicians our age.”
The band’s strong showing didn’t necessarily surprise him, though.
“I’d say I was relieved,” he said. “I was really confident in all these songs, and we felt good about the recordings, but there’s always going to be apprehension about anything you ever make.
“It was just really cool that it was received well.”
Crews was chosen as one of 12 semifinalists from among more than 100 applicants from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia. Bands were evaluated based on composition and arrangement, originality, technical ability and musicianship, said EMP spokesperson Liz Young.
A news release for the event summed up the band’s appeal: “Led by Tom McGahern’s beautifully haunting vocals, Crews elicits a wellspring of emotion that pivots on a clean, echoing guitar line.”
Among the band’s main influences are Australian psych-rockers Tame Impala, British indie band Arctic Monkeys and English singer-songwriter King Krule.
In the first review of Crews’ self-titled EP, on Northwest Music Scene, Andi Villegas described the music as “riveting, raw, emotional” and praised its “mesmerizing laid-back vibe.”
If chosen as this week’s finalist by music-industry judges, the band will compete in the finals March 5 at EMP, along with Seattle hip-hop band Cosmos, which won last week’s semifinal, and the winner of the Feb. 27 semifinal. Finalists will receive prizes including musical instruments, industry consultations and performance opportunities. The overall winner gets to perform at Bumbershoot in September.
Among the bands that have participated in Sound Off and gone on to bigger things are The Lonely Forest, Brothers from Another, Sol, Fauna Shade, Kithkin, Dave B, Tomten and Manatee Commune, Young said.
The members of Crews hope to do the same, but win or lose, they have big plans.
“We want to keep going off this momentum,” McGahern said.
“We’re planning to tour down the West Coast this spring,” Wall said. “Maybe when we book the tour, we’ll wind up booking it with other Sound Off bands.”
Sound Off Semifinals
What: Olympia indie band Crews will compete in round 2 of Experience Music Project’s Sound Off competition, for musicians 21 and younger. Twelve Northwest bands were chosen for the semifinals, and the winner will perform at Bumbershoot.
The lineup: Also playing Saturday are semifinalists Animal Camera, Paris Alexa and Travis Thompson, as well as Sound Off alums including Emma Lee Toyoda, Grant Eadie (Manatee Commune), Otieno Terry and members of Kithkin.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday; doors open at 7.
Where: Experience Music Project’s Level 3, 325 Fifth Ave. N, Seattle.
Tickets: $14; $10 for EMP members, students with ID and youth 5-17.
Music: Listen to and download Crews’ four-song EP at crews.bandcamp.com.