NU football rock band Foster Revival learns to keep rhythm on and off the field
May 8, 2019
A year ago, SESP juniors Cam Kolwich and Riley Lees and Medill junior Jake Saunders jumped into a car for an impromptu Walmart trip after a nostalgic craving to play the video game “Rock Band” — only to find out the store was sold out of the game. They then tried their luck at Best Buy but eventually, they couldn’t take it anymore.
“We were out for like an hour-and-a-half, two hours looking for ‘Rock Band.’ We couldn’t find it,” Saunders said. “Then Cam, just out of nowhere, was just like, ‘Screw it, let’s just get a real guitar.’ So we drove him to Guitar Center and he got his first guitar named Diamond.”
For these Northwestern football players, this spontaneous hunt for the video game led to an unexpected team of their own — their own rock band, Foster Revival. The band features Saunders as lead vocalist, Kolwich and Communication junior Gunnar Vogel as guitarists, McCormick junior Jesse Brown on bass and Lees on the drums.
After that night, the stars started to align for the five athletes. Saunders had experience singing from his years in show choir. Vogel was already learning the guitar. Brown bought his bass three days after he agreed to be in the band. And after Lees claimed his title of drummer, they found a drum set in the basement of Bobb-McCulloch Hall.
That room, soundproofed and equipped with a full set of drums, became the athletes’ learning space. However, it took awhile for the new musicians to learn how to play their instruments.
“It was real slow. We really sucked,” Kolwich said. “It took us like two months at least to learn one of the simplest songs.”
Previously, Kolwich’s only experience playing music was when he picked up his grandma’s guitars to play for short periods. Facing a steep learning curve, the group practiced their instruments individually, with Kolwich learning from Youtube videos.
Early on, the group practiced rock hits like “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival and “Holiday” by Green Day. After a lot of practice, Saunders said it started to click for the bandmates.
“After we had been practicing for a couple weeks, we finally got the first 30 seconds of ‘Fortunate Son,’” Saunders said. “And once that finally came together, we kind of had a moment where we were like, ‘Oh wait, that kind of sounded OK.’”
While the group was trying to find their footing as musicians during their sophomore year, they were also figuring out what kind of sound they wanted to have. At first, they thought they would play their favorite classic rock hits. But after trial and error, Saunders said they learned the easiest route for beginners is relatively simple pop-punk songs. Despite their initial hesitancy to move in that direction, the band started learning songs from bands like Green Day and Blink-182 — the kind of music that would bring you back to an eighth grade dance.
Even as their sound shifted, the group’s roots still stayed the same — the first song they learned, the Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Fortunate Son,” is memorialized in the band’s name, along with an allude to Foster Street, where four of the five bandmates currently live together.
Even when their sophomore years ended, their work wasn’t over. Throughout the summer and into Fall Quarter, they tried to keep up with rehearsing while juggling practices and games — a challenge for the band.
“Now we have a lot more free time because we’re not in season, but in season we were practicing maybe once a week,” Lees said. “We were too tired or didn’t have time.”
Despite their busy schedules, the bandmates still found time to showcase their hard work. So far, the band has held two concerts in the basement of their Foster Street house.
The first, Saunders said, was after the Nebraska game in October that went into overtime, eventually ending in a Wildcats victory. Afterwards, he said, the basement was packed wall-to-wall with people.
“In the house (there was) at least two hundred people and you couldn’t move in the basement,” Saunders said. “We had eight songs, but we got to our fifth song and the cops came and shut it down.”
To minimize the crowd and actually finish their set, the group decided to keep their next concert a little more under the radar. Saunders described it as “a last minute thing” — they didn’t spread the word too much and they held it in their basement again. The band ended up playing through almost a dozen songs.
While all of the songs played in their two concerts so far have been covers, the band said they are slowly working on writing some original pieces, which Saunders said is no easy feat.
“It’s tough because the only one who really knows anything about music is Jesse,” Saunders. “So, attempting to write music without being able to read music is kind of a difficult task.”
Nonetheless, some of the members are making an effort to learn the basics of songwriting. Saunders said learning the skill is similar to starting over again, like when the band first tried to play songs.
As for the future, Foster Revival will continuing playing, but exact events are still up in the air — potential shows include a backyard Dillo Day performance or an eventual concert at La Macchina Cafe. But wherever the venue, the group plans to keep growing.
“We always said that if we played La Macc that would be our peak.” Saunders joked. “So, I don’t know, maybe we’re going to peak pretty soon.”
Read more from May’s issue of The Monthly here.