By Brad Unangst
Mama’s boys? More like Mama Kin.
Orono’s Mama’s Boys aren’t your typical teenage boy band.
This adolescent quartet doesn’t dance but they do rock n’ roll.
Will Buck, Nolan Tichy, Charlie Kotula and Aaron Brekken are best friends who prefer the sound of loud guitars, booming bass, pounding drums and lyrics with substance found in the hard rock of the 1970s and 1980s to today’s electronic, auto-tuned and, sometimes nonsensical, pop and rap music favored by many of their seventh-grade classmates at Orono Middle School.
And like modern day Tom Sawyers, members of the Mama’s Boys don’t mind being individualists who are cleverly trying to the get their peers to recognize that music can be more profound.
“If you listen to songs now-a-days, most of them are about party and put your hands up,” said Will Buck, Mama’s Boys lead guitarist. “The hardest thing about being in a band in the seventh grade is kids are so sucked in to that pop and rap stuff
“They don’t know that rock has more meaning and soul,” he added. “So this band is not only about hanging out with friends, it’s about us trying to teach kids to appreciate quality music that actually has meaning behind it.”
Born out of a friendship and raised on classic rock, this group of 12- and 13-year-olds are proving musicians don’t have to be old to have a mature understanding of music. That appreciation of old time rock and roll, along with their musicianship, has helped Mama’s Boys gain a strong fan following since playing their first show last year.
Buck, Tichy (lead singer and rhythm guitar), Kotula (drummer) and Brekken (bass guitar) had their first practice July 1, 2013 but the boys have known each other since meeting in elementary school.
Buck met Brekken in their third-grade class and became friends fast. Kotula and Buck met in first grade but didn’t become friends until the fourth or fifth grade. Tichy and Buck bonded after playing fourth-grade baseball together.
The group played together in a fifth-grade band and talked about joining up at times afterwards but they didn’t take serious strides towards forming until Buck, Kotula and Brekken attended a rock band camp.
“We kind of got into this mindset that we were a band so then we just decided to take it a little further,” Kotula said.
The trio became a quartet last summer when Tichy got a guitar and started playing with Buck.
“One day, we were at Aaron’s house and Will played his guitar,” Tichy said. “It sounded awesome so it got us all excited about playing guitar with him.
“Once we learned a couple of songs together, we sort of got the bug,” he added.
With more than a feeling they could actually be a band, the boys set out to practice despite their busy schedules. Between sports, school, hobbies and family commitments, the boys try to practice from one to four times a week either in the Buck’s garage or in Brekken’s basement.
“I love having them play at our house,” Brekken’s mother Jenni said. “You can literally hear them learn a song in one afternoon. It starts out really bad and by the end of the day it actually sounds like the song they are trying to play.”
The group’s ability to quickly pick up their song parts helped prepare them to play their first gig in April 2014 at the Blackwater Café in Maple Plain.
Lisa Buck, Will’s mother, saw a flyer for an open mic night at the café and the boys were eager for the opportunity.
It was their first taste of what it’s like to be a rock band, experiencing good times and bad times.
The stage was so small the drums took half the space and the boys didn’t have room to move around.
“We kind of just stood there like robots and played our songs,” Brekken said.
The group asked to open the show since it started at 9 p.m. and the boys had school the next day. They also had to limit the number of songs in their set.
“We were only allowed to play two songs, which was good because we only knew three!” Tichy added.
The boys packed the house with fans despite having never played in public before and the show served as the motivation they needed to continue improving and schedule more gigs.
The group has performed in front of crowds at Summerfest in Long Lake, the Lake Minnetonka City Limits open mic night in Excelsior and Harvest Moon Natural Food’s Anniversary celebration in Orono as well as a Woodridge Church fundraiser and at Orono School’s fifth grade graduation party.
The performance, however, had an even greater significance than being a springboard to future gigs. It’s where they officially got their name.
The group had been thinking of band names when Lisa suggested Mama’s Boys. The quartet laughed it off, thinking she was joking. But at the open mic night, the announcer told the band he needed its name in order to introduce them. So Lisa shouted “Mama’s Boys” and it stuck.
“At the time we thought it was a terrible name but we’ve grown on it,” Buck said.
While the mothers were responsible for giving the boys their name, their fathers are responsible for introducing the group to its musical influences.
The boys cover songs from bands such as AC/DC, Boston, Rush and Led Zeppelin, bands whose popularity was at their peak 30 to 40 years ago. Much of the music from that time is known for its heavy guitar sound and driving drum beats and, in the cases of Rush and Led Zeppelin, lyrics that weave fantasy or social commentary into a narrative, giving their songs a deeper meaning.
“My dad listens to classic rock stations on the radio,” Buck said. “That’s where we get our songs.”
Some of the members also got their musical instruments from their fathers.
Buck has been playing the guitar for only a year and a half. He showed no interest in playing a guitar prior to getting one as a Christmas gift from his dad. To learn how to play, Buck watched YouTube videos but now takes lessons once a week. Buck cites guitar greats Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Alex Lifeson (Rush) and Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen) as influences.
The guitarist’s ability to give a band a unique sound and the importance that sound has on the music are reasons Buck is drawn to the instrument.
He also plays drums and piano and participates in baseball, football, hockey and golf.
“I consider (playing guitar) a hobby right next to sports,” he said.
Band mates describe Buck as a free spirit and hilarious but said most of all he is a great musician.
“He is always making jokes about things but also shredding on the guitar like no kid I’ve ever seen,” Kotula said.
Deemed funny and friendly by the group, Kotula is also recognized for is innate musical ability and is seen as a natural rocker.
“Charlie has never taken a drum lesson in his life,” Brekken said. “He taught himself how to do basically everything he knows how to do on the (drum) set.”
Kotula, who plays the piano and other percussion instruments, developed his interest in drums after playing around on his dad’s set a year ago. After that, it became his obsession. Kotula called the drums the backbone of the band and said there no limitations to what can be done on a set.
“It allows me to express my creativity through music,” he added.
Drummers John Bonham of Led Zeppelin and Neil Peart of Rush are Kotula’s inspirations. Because of the band’s meaningful and intricate music, Rush is of special significance to him.
“(Rush’s music) captured my attention right away and made me want to become that great,” he added.
Kotula participates in soccer, competes in alpine ski races and enjoys waterskiing.
Tichy is the quintessential front man. The boys said Tichy is the band’s “eye candy” because of his blonde hair and dimples and said he can easily switch from serious to silly.
“He can really be in his groove one second and then be biking down the road the next,” Kotula said.
Tichy, who also plays baseball, hockey and golf, said he loves the sound of a guitar. He received his guitar – a Fender Stratocaster — as a gift on his 11th birthday and said it’s a great for beginners.
“I hope to graduate to a better one in a couple of years,” Tichy added.
The trumpet is another instrument he plays and said his music teacher, Mrs. Arnold, is one of his influences.
Described as serious and nutty by the group, Brekken is also identified as talented, driven and wacky
“He is a great musician and doesn’t give up easily,” Kotula said.
Originally the band’s drummer, Brekken switched to bass guitar after Kotula joined the group. Brekken picked up the bass after trying it at the rock camp the boys attended a little more than a year ago. He said the bass lends support to the band and can change a song’s entire tone.
Plus, he likes the image it portrays.
“Bass players are always seen as the smooth, laidback guys,” Brekken said.
Other instruments he plays include piano, drums and “a little bit of sloppy guitar.”
He also is a baseball and hockey player and, along with teammates Buck and Tichy, recently won a state title in baseball. The three were on a baseball team that recently won a state title and will also be on the same hockey team this year. Brekken said his favorite school subject is math.
“But I can’t stand English or history,” he added.
Mama’s Boys are currently working on writing some original songs. It’s the third stage of their musical development as they evolve from being just a cover band.
Spending time with each other practicing and playing music is what Buck, Kotula, Tichy and Brekken find most enjoyable about being in a band and their goal is to keep the music and the friendship going for as long as possible.
The band’s name, however, may not make it that long.
“We might change it in a couple years,” Buck said.