Fifteen Minutes: Band on the Rise

The lights shine bright. 15,000 people roar in the audience at the Fillmore Theater. And the music begins. They have 15 minutes to impress the audience and the record label judges. “I just hope this isn’t my only 15 minutes of fame,” says José L. Sandoval ’02, a member of North House, a Harvard-based band with Al Bennett ’00, Altay M. Guvench ’03 and Wellesley senior Becky Warren. This Saturday, they will open for Primus in San Francisco, as part of a national battle of the bands run by the Internet Underground Music Association. North House made the final four, and this play-off, plus an online vote, will determine who wins.

North House originally became involved with the IUMA because the website offered to put up MP3s of unsigned bands. IUMA eventually contacted them to ask if they wanted to participate in a college band contest. Beginning in early March with 320 bands, after four rounds, the contestants have narrowed down considerably. North House’s members went door to door in the dorms until 2 a.m., telling people about the band and asking them to vote. When the news came last Monday that they would be going to San Francisco, Sandoval says, “I was on the phone with Altay, counting down the seconds on the atomic clock. It seemed too good to be true.” Before that, all communication with IUMA had been via e-mail, and the phone call “really made it real,” says Bennett. The band decided to celebrate with a nice dinner, but crowds and lack of parking in Boston led them to Taco Bell.

If North House wins the contest, they will receive $10,000 in cash, a feature article in Rolling Stone and most importantly, a record demo deal. The winner is set up with a studio and a producer, who will help create a professional demo to submit to record labels. Already the final four will play at the Fillmore Theater, and “anybody who’s anybody has played there at some point,” says Bennett. “Anybody” such as Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers and Oasis. The show will be broadcast over the web at www.iuma.com and RollingStone.com on April 29 at 11 p.m. Sandoval says he’s beginning to feel a little like a rock star. Former TFs and even cute girls have come up to him asking about North House. “This is so neat,” he says enthusiastically. The group is practicing every day this week, plus shopping for rock-star-type outfits, making plane reservations, and oh yes, doing schoolwork. Sandoval plans to go all out; this will be the first time he’s ever paid more than $13 for a haircut.

Guvench mentioned his thrill at being wined and dined and cruising around California in a limo, then possibly taking the red-eye flight back to Boston so that he can open for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy with two other bands he is a part of (FinkFankFunk and one that is yet unnamed), the next day. Sandoval is excited about maybe one day being seen as a total musician, not just a physics concentrator who plays music on the side. “Everyone plays music on the side,” he says. It doesn’t hurt that he has reporters from his home town in Mount Prospect, Ill, calling him to write about the band. However, he also talks about how much this experience has brought the band together. Sandoval claims they’re like family. When Warren e-mails them, her mom sends her love as well.

Bennett, who began the band with Warren a few years ago, is just amazed to be where they are now. “We never thought we’d get this far,” he says. “Winning at this point is kind of on the back burner.” What’s most important to him is the arrival of his family from Alabama to see him play. “It feels good to have your parents be proud,” he says.

For one thing, this band isn’t just “for the moment.” Don’t forget to vote!

—K. L. RAKOWSKI