April 17, 2018
Plenty of Pittsburghers fund their dream of musical success by working 9-5’s
When Chase and the Barons took on the grinding 9-5, they had to learn the careful balancing act of band, career and necessities like sleeping and eating a meal here and there.
Joe Grushecky, a beloved Pittsburgh musician known for his role in the Iron City Houserockers band, also taught special education to pay the bills and provide health insurance for his family as he grew older.
Ed Traversari was lucky enough to find a day job as a professor and promoter when his musical career didn’t take off so he could still be immersed in the music scene.
When most folks go out to see local bands, they pay little heed about what these musicians endure to make it to the stage. In reality, almost all of them — including top line pittsburgh performers — are working daytime jobs to make it possible to pursue their real dream – music.
“If you feel called to play music, you got to find a way to do it,” Grushecky said. “As an adult, you have to find a way to support yourself. You have to find a way to make them both work. If you’re lucky, you’ll find something else you like to do when times get bad in music.”
There are plenty of adults working in other industries to fund their devotion to music. Chase and the Barons have members across a variety of fields in their midst. Kenny Sukitch balances an engineering career while also writing, performing and producing his own sound as a solo artist. The Red Eyeballers are professionals within academia during the week and let loose with quirky covers on the weekends.
Grushecky spent nearly 12 years in the “big leagues.” His discography boasts 23 albums over 35 years in the industry. His band’s top classics include tunes like “Goodbye Steeltown,” “Blood on the Bricks” and “Saints and Sinners.” Houserockers now consists of Art Nardini on bass, Joffo Simmons on drums, Danny Gochnour on guitar and his own son, Johnny Grushecky, who can play a little bit of everything.
“Back in the late 70s, early 80s, I was a full-time touring musician signed to MCA Records with the Iron City Houserockers. I financed my musical dreams through teaching special education. I loved to play, so I found a way to make it happen. I’m like a shark, I never stop moving.”
The Iron City rocker would work three jobs at points to make sure he could still play. Despite the long and trying hours, he was still able find a connection between his two lives.
“The special ed kids are like the outcasts,” Grushecky said. “The rock and rollers used to be the outcasts when I grew up. It was an easy fit. I write about my life and the people around me.”
Grushecky said Pittsburgh needs to shift to recognize the abundance of young musical talent in the city – and be willing to support the industry. Grushecky is still playing, but puts on gigs across the tri-state area.
“It’s changed a lot,” Grushecky said. “No one wants to buy music. You have to find creative ways to make a buck. Most musicians I know now have a day gig.”
CHASE AND THE BARONS
Full-time day jobs are a new challenge Chase and the Barons, most of whom have recently graduated from college, are trying to work through to fit in time for practice, recording, promotion and gigs.
“The hardest part more than anything is scheduling,” Chase Barron, lead singer and Point Park Online graphic designer, said. “We practice a lot because we want our live shows to be fantastic and we want to keep writing music, but a very difficult thing with taking on these other jobs is getting everybody together in the evenings.”
The band mostly identifies with the alternative-rock genre, but has explored soul, funk and R&B styles in their original music as well. They have found creative ways to mesh their work lives and band lives, while also trying their best to remain healthy – mentally and physically.
“The fact that I graduated from Point Park and continued to work there made things very easy because I already had the routine of going there everyday and now I’m just going there to work,” Barron said. “My boss is very flexible since he knows I’m in this band. My schedule is very convenient.”
Remaining positive in both parts of his life is essential.
“If I’m going to pursue music, I need to also enjoy the other job,” Barron said. “At certain times, when you are pursuing music and gigging like crazy, balancing funds, sharing on social media, a lot of that gets really stressful in the band. If I had a job that stressed me out, I don’t think that would at all be the kind of healthy lifestyle I’d want to pursue.”
“If I’m going to pursue music, I need to also enjoy the other job.”
Chase and the Barons drummer and Carpenter Jake Stretch is also offered some flexibility when it comes to fitting in band practice.
“My dad offered me a job doing home remodeling and carpentry and he gives me time off if we have gigs,” Stretch said. “It’s one of those things where I try to balance my time the best that I can. Sometimes you have to take a mental health day, think of things, relax.”
Stretch thrives through a packed schedule.
“The band keeps me busy, work keeps me busy. It’s a pretty good situation,” he said.
Drumming can be an intensely physical activity, so Stretch makes sure to consciously keep his well-being in check.
“I had to start taking care of myself,” Stretch said. “So I take a pretty strong regimen of vitamins. Staying pretty active everyday and trying to get enough sleep is important. But I rarely get more than six hours.”
Chase and the Barons guitarist and Factory Material Handler Mike Saunders is no stranger to losing sleep. His work-day can range anywhere between 5:00 a.m. – 1:30 or 4:00 p.m.
“My schedule has been all over the place,” Saunders said. “My bedtime ends up being about 8:30 at night, so not much of the rockstar lifestyle at all. I was on this crazy binge of only sleeping about four hours for about six months straight and I was burnt out.”
Staying positive is a philosophy for Saunders, too.
“In the past year or so, I’ve tried to adapt myself to find everything I’m doing interesting,” he said. “If I have to be at work, then I’m going to find a way to make it interesting for me and invest myself into it.”
Bruce Morrison plays bass for Chase and the Barons and works 8-5 at a concrete facades design firm – working out quotes, estimates and sending materials to local architectural firms. For him, his day job remains a means to an end. Making it big isn’t necessarily the goal, he just wants to enjoy collaborating in his main passion – music.
“I don’t know if I really believe in making it,” Morrison said. “I guess most people would define it as being able to support yourself financially by only playing music. All I really care about doing is making products, records and putting on shows that I really enjoy.”
As the band continues to put out new original music, success is a factor always under consideration. Their first album-release party on April 5 brought an energetic crowd to Mr. Small’s Funhouse, where the band played a tight set of originals. “Live Wire Bed Fire” includes tracks like “A Day Off / Treehouse,” “Intoxicated,” and ironically, “We Lost Our Jobs.”
“As we continue to be more successful, it makes it very hard to stop,” Barron said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to stop playing because we are all great friends and love music. I will always write songs, whether we are making it or not. Music will always be a part of our lives.”
Traversari, an associate professor of sports, arts and entertainment management at Point Park, knows what it’s like to be fully devoted to music. As a drummer, he didn’t make it big through playing, but found a way to stay close to what he loves. As a promoter, production manager, talent booker and director of marketing for multiple agencies across Pittsburgh, he’s brought world-class acts like Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen to the city.
He said this stage of musical development for a band like Chase and the Barons is a volatile one.
“As soon as you get to be either in college – or you graduate – now, you’re getting more serious about your band, and you’re trying to figure out, can I make this thing go full time?” Traversari said. “Young bands – they’re all trying to make it because most of them are not any older than 30.”
Remaining realistic and keeping a back-up plan is an important consideration, according to Traversari.
“You got to be careful; my point to these bands is you should almost put a clock on,” he said. “You could wake up when you’re 35 and go, ‘wow, I have no career, I don’t even have a job.’”
“You could wake up when you’re 35 and go, ‘wow, I have no career, I don’t even have a job.’”
That’s why he is passionate about the entertainment management classes he teaches in his day job.
“You got to decide how long you want to run with your career,” Traversari said. “But as a backup, you’re going to be trained how to be a manager, how to be an agent, how to want to run a record label. If your career doesn’t go and you decide to give it up, at least you can still work in an industry where you’re very happy.”
For Kenny Sukitch, a singer/songwriter and an associate design engineer at real estate investment trust Crown Castle, he’s happy playing gigs on the weekends for coworkers and friends. Along the way, he’s put together two solo albums and another as frontman of the band Burnt Locals.
“I don’t know maybe I’m not into the stereotypical making it thing,” he said. “I just I kind of do it just because I enjoy it.”
Sukitch has built a recording studio in his apartment where he’s learned the technical aspects of the musical industry through recording his own folksy-indie-rock albums, a self-taught skill he felt was essential to succeeding.
“I do all the recording and all the mixing myself,” Sukitch said. “You might be a super talented musician, but you can’t do it unless you know that end of it. I like the technical end, it might be the engineer in me.”
His newest album, “Racer” debuts songs like “Ode to Cigarettes,” “Turnt Postals,” and “Miss Jenny.” Finding joy in his day job allows him to keep energy in his music.
“If you hate your job, and you lose your happiness, you’re just gonna come home, sit on the couch and veg out,” he said. “At the end of the day, anything creative should be something that you really take pride in and get excited about.”
THE RED EYEBALLERS
The Red Eyeballers, self-described as “lo-fi, high-energy merriment from the deep basement” is comprised of three members – Jonas Prida on drums, Megan Fahey on guitar and Mark Brock-Cancellieri on keyboard (and occasionally, the kazoo.) Their goals are pretty simple.
“I don’t want to be a rock star,” Prida said. “I just want to play music for other people. When your goal is just to barely be able to carry a tune enough that it’s recognizable, it really helps eliminate a lot of the hard parts.”
Prida, assistant provost at Point Park University and Fahey, Center for Inclusive Excellence coordinator, work together in the same office during the week and work on vamping up their musical skills on the weekends. Finding free time after completing his PhD, Prida picked up drumsticks. When asked if she wanted to join a band after starting her new job this past winter, Fahey strummed a guitar for the first time in nearly a decade.
“I didn’t think I could do it,” Fahey said. “I learned ‘You are My Sunshine’ and ‘Avon Bach’ before our first practice. I didn’t realize how fast I was gonna have to play because Jonas really undersold how good he was at the drums. At the first practice I cut my hand on the guitar because I was playing so fast.”
Some of their originals so far include “21st Century Love Song” about a robot Android human triangle relationship that falls apart for everyone involved and “Kill Baby Hitler” about the philosophical question of going back in time to do just that.
For the two-thirds of The Red Eyeballers that work together, office and band mentality can sometimes blur.
“I think we’ve done a good job not putting a lot of pressure on ourselves at work,” Fahey said. “It shouldn’t be miserable. It’s always fun to go to work and think about stuff creatively, and be spontaneous – not worry if things don’t go exactly perfect.”
“It shouldn’t be miserable. It’s always fun to go to work and think about stuff creatively, and be spontaneous – not worry if things don’t go exactly perfect.”
Prida said that looking at his career, it’s not surprising his instrument of choice came to be the drums.
“Part of my job as a drummer is to keep things moving forward and part of my real job is to move the university forward and keep it on track with ideas,” Prida said. “It’s easy to do that as a drummer, because you’re always keeping time and if you screw up and the band’s got to stop, but you can always get back on track.”
Fahey added that her job in the band is to keep pace.
“So maybe my revised answer is that part of my job is to make sure that we’re not moving too fast,” she laughed.
For The Red Eyeballers, having fun is the main reason they play. Adding unnecessary pressure to their hobby isn’t why they started a band. Mutual appreciation for music is the main point, they said.
“I think what we’re doing right now is making it,” Prida said.
Giving up the dream of “making it” – or not even pursuing the big stage to begin with – doesn’t have to mean giving up music. Balance between a career and music can be equally satisfying, according to Traversari.
“I still play drums every day in my basement,” he said. “It’s just that you have to accept the fact that instead of playing in Cincinnati, St. Louis and New York this weekend, you’re going to play probably right within thirty miles of your house, so you go to bed on Sunday night, and get back up to work on Monday.”
Carley Bonk is a senior journalism major at Point Park University. She moved to Pittsburgh from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 2016 to pursue her dream of working as a journalist. Upon graduation, she hopes to find a job as an editor at a community newspaper or magazine.