Teen band getting 'public affection' By Steve Glatfelter Sunday News Correspondent
"Young... raw... serious... ambitous."
According to 16-year-old Ed Kowalczyk, these are "four of the most prominent words" fans have used to describe his rock and roll band "Public Affection".
Kowalczyk sings lead and plays rhythm guitar for the young group. Joining him and Chad Taylor, 17, who plays lead guitar. Pat Dahlheimer, 16, who plays bass guitar, and Chad Gracey, 16, who plays drums.
The band has been together for four years and these four William Penn Senior High School students have both the background in music and a commitment to their "cooperative effort" that belie their youth.
While the band members have other interests, including playing in the school's jazz band, they're making "Public Affection" their first priority.
"We started to get paid for what we do about two years ago," Taylor said.
Since then, the band has performed at the Big Citty Under 21 club, twice at Mercersberg Academy in Maryland, once for a fund raiser for the Memorial Ice Hockey Rink in York, at an under-21 dance at the Temple Beth-Israel--for various private parties, and recently at the York Fairgrounds' Memorial Hall.
Currently, the average age of their fans is 16 and 17 years of age. "We're not a college band yet," Taylor quipped.
"I don't think we'll lose that following (of current fans)," Kowalczyk said, "but I think we'll gain a broader range of people." None of the four see their band as "a cult band."
Also, they all feel the band has a long way to grow and develop.
"We know we're a baby band, but I think that is where our strength lies," Taylor said. "We don't try to make it look like we know more than we do.
"Right now we have something good," he continued. "We have youth, we have innocence. Our sound is not yet what we want it to be. Everything is just formulating. My major fear is that we'll turn 22 and we'll be like every other rock band."
Their sound, Dahlheimer said, is different. "It's psychedelic funk blues," he quipped. "It's rock, new age, but nothing chubby."
Influences on his music, Dahlheimer continued, are groups such as Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Squirrel Bait. "I'm more the funky end," he added.
"It's like every original we do, I love," Kowalczyk said, "but nothing sounds the way I want it to sound in five to ten years." He listens to U2 and R.E.M. because "I realize the power in songwriting when I hear these bands."
Public Affection performs many of their own songs, including "My Favorite Blue," "Ball and Chain," "Simple," and "Bring it Down."
"We don't want to go anymore as a 'cover band' simply redoing hits of better known groups," Taylor explained. "No two songs (we play) sound the same...Every song is like a different emotion (Some are) very funk-oriented, others really mellow (and there are) a lot of jazz influences."
Taylor lists among his favorites, the Beatles and Eric Clapton.
Drummer Gracey claims, "one of our songs is almost trash...very borderline." He likes Power Station, Sting, and the "newer Duran Duran with their new drummer."
It was Gracey's ex-girlfriend who unknowingly suggested the band's name. She and Gracey were trying to sneak a few kisses in the hallway when his girlfriend said, "I hate public affection." Unbeknownst to his girlfriend, Gracey thought "it would be a good name" for the band.
Even before the band was formed, the foursome were good friends. But that doesn't mean they don't have an occasional argument.
"We're a cooperative band," Kowalczyk explained. "We've had arguments where another band would have broken up. We're honest with each other, and we're honest with the music that's coming out. We don't write songs about your girlfriends or partying."
"We're trying to take the music really back to the basics," Taylor added. "We can't be called a political band because we're not. We're writing to make people feel good, but we don't want to write about 'Let's go out and get drunk or high'. None of us do drugs or smoke."
Taylor, born in Owing's Mills, Maryland, has been involved in music for eight years and started playing guitar in sixth grade. His second favorite outlet is the school jazz band, the Seranaders. "I love jazz," he said.
The three other members of "Public Affection" are native Yorkers. Both Gracey and Kowalczyk began exploring music seven years ago, in the fourth grade. Gracey not only plays sax for the Seranaders but he likes to "play soccer...and visit my girlfriend."
Ranking high in District Chorus this year, Kowalczyk spends much of his time "writing songs and lyrics" for the band.
Bass-player Dahlheimer, whose involvement in music dates back four years, spends his spare time skiing, sleeping off those late night performances, and "playing some more bass," Dahlheimer and Kowalczyk are also active in the York High jazz group.
Despite their strong music backgrounds, the foursome could not have put the band together without some help.
They are quick to give credit to those who have helped them, especially Don Carn, who plays in the local jazz-fusion band "Extremity."
"Don gave us the inspiration (to start the band)," Taylor said. "He talked to both Pat and I. Basically we got together to do the (Edgar Fahs Smith (school) talent show."
Kowalczyk agreed. "He (Carn) is still a big influence."
"Don gave me my first pair of cymbals," Gracey added.
"We love to watch Extremity," Taylor said. "They can destroy us, as far as musicianship."
Along with the four musicians, "Public Affection" has a technical crew of about 20 guys, including the "two head roadies," Bernard Rudolph and Matt Gracey. The band's photographer is Hardy Hill.
What inspires such support and loyalty? One need not spend much time with the four young musicians to pick up on their enthusiasm and dedication.
Taylor seems to articulate it best. "We really live, eat and sleep with our instruments. I mean, it's our life. Even our parents get sick of it and call us cocky because we spend so much time with our music. Our major concern is the band."
The commitment is beginning to pay off for the young band.
"If you ask anybody at school, they know who we are," Taylor noted. "We've put up posters and done MTV commercials."
As for the future of the band, they're looking for a booking agent. Taylor said he "basically manages (the group) as of right now, but I'm looking to get that out of my hands." One scheduled engagement for this summer is at the St. James High School in Maryland in June.
"We don't want to be a fad band," Taylor explained. "Making money is for way down the line."
While all four band members have plans to go to college after their senior year at William Penn, their ambition remains strong.
"We're going to take the 'Public Affection' rope and run with it until it runs out," Kowalczyk said. "There's fire in this group that makes us think we're going places."