Two McMaster University students experienced a musician’s dream last week.
Jake Warren and Simon Edwards took their band, Of Gentlemen and Cowards, to New York City, where they performed at the Ed Sullivan Theater on the Late Show with David Letterman.
When Edwards got on stage to perform their song, Save Me, he couldn’t even think, he said. It was just a matter of regurgitating everything they did at practices. And practise they did.
“We practised Save Me six hours a day for the last week or two before,” he said. “We knew exactly what we were going to do, and we knew exactly how we were going to play it.”
It all began with a contest: the Red Bull Soundstage Audience Choice competition. Initially, the contest was meant to find songs to play in the background of a new independent movie, We Made This Movie.
Bassist Josh Dawson entered the band into the contest, but didn’t expect much, said Edwards, vocalist and guitarist for the band. After about a month, the band had mostly forgotten about the entry, but then they received an email telling them they were one of 23 finalists. Six of them would eventually be chosen for the movie.
“We got the call – they told us we were in it and we didn’t react,” said Warren, who majors in sociology at McMaster U when he’s not playing drums with the band. “We took a second to let it sink in. Then we went from zero to 100 right away.”
The celebrations began immediately, with Dawson running around with excitement, Warren recalled. “It was a big sigh of relief and celebration, that all the hard work we did, it worked out. It was a great moment for us.”
Next was another contest. Online voters would listen to all the winners and runners-up and vote for who should get to perform on the Late Show with David Letterman. Over a three-week voting period, Of Gentlemen and Cowards collected the most votes and were set to perform on the prestigious program. Warren credited the Jewish communities in Toronto and Hamilton, as well as the Hamilton community as a whole, for the votes.
Edwards said despite the excitement, there was one problem. The show was on Rosh Hashanah, which went against the band’s policy of not playing on the holidays so that they can spend time with their families, he said.
However, they knew they couldn’t give up this opportunity. Instead, each of their families made the trip to New York City to spend time together.
“They rented a small apartment in Crown Heights, and the five of us [family members] had a real home-cooked meal,” Edwards said. “That, to me, was one of the best ways I could have celebrated Rosh Hashanah.”
Warren said he was surprised by the way the show is actually produced.
“When you’re watching network television, you don’t realize how much work goes into this one-hour program,” he said. “Like how small the stage is. You walk in, and it’s like your living room. The bands look like they have this huge space, but two feet away from us was David Letterman.”
Edwards said the band was most excited about watching their performance afterward, wanting to see how they looked as a band on TV.
“It’s pretty surreal to watch yourself on network television,” he said. “You never think about that, especially as such a young band.”
In July, the band told the Hamilton Spectator if they won, they would represent McMaster U to thank Hamiltonian fans for their support. They held true to their word. While they rocked the stage, Edwards showed off a McMaster shirt.
“We wanted people to know that when we were in NYC, we were still thinking of the people back home,” Edwards said. “We’re still students, we’re still Hamiltonians and we’re still proud.”
All four band members are currently attending McMaster. Edwards studies engineering, while Dawson majors in music, and both Warren and Christian Fedele are sociology majors.
Despite having this taste of fame, academics remain a priority in their lives, Edwards said. “We shut down during exam times because we want to focus on our academics. That’s really important to us.”
In fact, right after the performance, Warren said they all hurried to catch up on the work they missed while away.
Once they graduate in 2013, they will make a decision on whether to pursue careers in music. Edwards said he expects they will try to make it in the music industry, but they’ll feel more comfortable knowing they have degrees.
Both Edwards and Warren credit their Jewish upbringing with sparking their values both academically and musically.
Edwards got his first guitar as a bar mitzvah present from his sisters.
“It was a crappy little green guitar, but I love it,” he said. “It’s my favourite guitar to date.”
He said his sisters were nervous about buying him such an expensive gift because they worried he wouldn’t use it. But he quickly fell in love with the instrument, and often spent his spare time learning to play his favourite songs.
Singing also runs in his family. His uncle, David Edwards, is the cantor for Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue in Toronto.
Warren also started playing right after his bar mitzvah, after receiving his first drum kit as a gift.
He said it became boring playing on his own, but once he was in university, he began to jam with some friends.
Now that the Letterman gig is done, the band will head back to school and decide how they will “bounce off of this,” Warren said, adding that they recently released a new album, Warminster, which is available only in vinyl or as a free download from their website.
“We’ll keep practising, keep writing music, keep going to classes, and keep writing tests and exams,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but I think being on Letterman is motivating us even more than before.”
To find out more about the band and to get your free digital copy of their new album Warminster, visit ofgentlemenandcowards.com.