Riffing on the rich musical history of Kansas City, a website celebrating the City’s legacy once declared: “While New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz, America’s music grew up in Kansas City.” Many generations after KC native Charlie Parker ushered in the bebop era, five young local musicians are working towards putting their hometown on the map again. The Strive is breaking ground with a fiery, infectious spin on today’s power-pop vibe that simply must be heard. They named their band The Strive after the fun but intense, forward thinking aesthetic they brought to their 2010 debut EP Anything Goes, the subsequent standalone single Sleepless, and their new EP Design The Road – produced by Matt Noveskey, bassist for the rock band Blue October and rising star in the world of production.
For a group that’s only been around since the winter of 2010 – and debuted its current lineup featuring charismatic frontman Brendan Stevens in March 2011 – The Strive has lived up to its name big time, making spectacular inroads on the indie scene. Besides their formal releases, the home recorded demo track Caught Inside quickly rose to the top of the charts on purevolume.com’s Top Unsigned Bands playlist. In addition to developing a passionate following via explosive performances at KC hotspots like the Beaumont Club and Uptown Theatre, they have performed on bills with Hawthorne Heights, Ivoryline, Madina Lake and Hey Monday; shared the stage with All Time Low and Yellowcard at The Rave in Milwaukee, played shows in Dallas, Austin, the Springboard South Festival in Houston; were featured at the Red, White & Boom concert, put on by The Mix 93.3 at KC’s Starlight Theatre, that also included performances by superstars Colbie Caillat and Gavin DeGraw. Lastly, their more recent gig in Kansas City on the Warped Tour just day now before the release of Design The Road.
Considering that Stevens, band founders Luke Davis (lead guitar) and Nick Stacy (drums), Greg Dowd (rhythm guitar) and Michael Zenk (bass) are only 19 or 20 years old, one of the things that pleasantly surprises people is how mature and polished they are as songwriters and performers. With heartfelt, very personal lyrics by Stevens and music by Davis and Stacy, the songs on Design The Road reveal writers that are deep thinkers and artists whose powerhouse performances are genuine and original, but have an irresistible commercial appeal. While they worked on Anything Goes with producer Kevin Gates (Nevershoutnever, The Ready Set) from Engaged Audio in Springfield, Missouri, they opted this time to head to Test Tube Audio in Austin to work with Noveskey.
Stacy notes, “All the guys believe that it’s always good to change up who you work with in the studio on different releases, which leads to a fresh approach. We like our first EP a lot, but we didn’t want Design The Road to sound the same. We’re all big fans of Blue October and you can definitely hear their influence on some of these new tracks. Matt took the demos we had and brought them to the next level. We like the sonic ideas we came up with when we first wrote the songs, and he just put the delectable icing on the cake. Sometimes it’s even more than that … Luke and I created the essential sonic experimentation and ambience on the closing track On Top of the World, but the big beefy outro was all Matt’s idea. He took our sound, developed it, and helped us to mature. Our time with Matt in Austin was a turning point for the band.”
In addition to Stevens’ soaring, emotional vocals, the two things that immediately hit listeners who are new to The Strive experience are Davis’ blistering electric guitar fire and Stacy’s deep and versatile drum grooves, which are propulsive to the point of wild hypnosis. The band goes for the jugular from the get go in the song, On My Own – a super high energy power-pop explosion which finds Stevens being haunted by naysaying ghosts, but finally declaring his place by himself at the front of the stage after a transitional time in the band’s brief but colorful history.
The spatial and atmospheric intro to Design The Road – the EP’s first single and soon to be shot video – gives way to a speedy percussive groove and scorching chorus punctuated by Dowd’s jangly rhythm guitar. The third track Hold Me Back brings more energy and intensity to the table after a mid-tempo mainstream pop/rock start; it finds Stevens entangled in troubled romantic relationships, trying not to make irrational decisions. The sonically diverse, atmosphere and effects rich closer, On Top of the World is … well, not only a great place to strive for, but a distinct possibility for a young band on the creative move.
The Strive’s origin story is one that could only take place in the later 2000s. In his early-teens, Stacy had amassed over 10,000 subscribers on his YouTube page recording drum covers of contemporary Top 40 hits. His following has grown. To date, he has over 5,082,432 hits and is approaching 15,000 subscribers. One of the early fans of this page was guitarist Davis, and the two began corresponding, becoming friends over their mutual musical goals, and ultimately starting a band when they were around 15 years old. There were some hiccups on the personnel end in the early stages, but ultimately the chemistry the two shared extended to the other Kansas City natives who joined forces to create The Strive.
Stacy notes, “It started out with Luke and I just writing and recording demos that were intriguing and kinda catchy. We had a certain writing chemistry that allowed us to knock out demos one after the other. We basically lived in my studio in the basement during high school. A few years later, we got in touch with Brendan, through a friend of ours, and the rest just sort of fell into place. Brendan has been a performer his whole life and definitely has the charisma of a commanding frontman, but has an approachable presence. He came up with the name based on the idea that everyone should be striving for something – and it’s how the band operates. If we don’t constantly have new goals and new plans, we wouldn’t be able to keep up the momentum.”
Stacy adds, “What’s fun and cool is that up until recently, there was still a lot of development going on because we were working toward locating our musical niche. The drive to constantly evolve is so ridiculously strong that it’s just never going to stop. The songs on Design the Road, however, reflect the band in many ways because musically, we feel like we have a sound and identity we can call our own and further develop. We’re looking forward to touring and sharing our love for music with as many people as possible.”