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Local Band Column: Ravens Place

This story was published April 14, 2005 in The Cavalier Daily, U.Va.’s student newspaper.

Hi. My name is Seltzer — Molly Seltzer. I interview bands — high school bands.

It’s not often that music critics find themselves bouncing between full-time hardcore studs and full-time high school students: The average age of Engine Down (featured in my last column) and the average age of this week’s band differs by more than 10 years.

Ravens Place consists of four juniors and one senior from Albemarle High. The group is headed by Will Nealy, who describes himself as “just the guy that sings.” But Will is more than that; he’s the lead vocalist, principal songwriter and has a small studio in his basement where the band records and practices. He provides creative inspiration for the band; the Nealy family lives on a street called Raven’s Place.

The band officially formed five months ago when guitarist and backing vocalist Chris Gallagher entered a competition at D.C.’s club Nation. It was only after his entry was randomly selected that he realized he needed a band. So, Gallagher called in the boys; the aforementioned Nealy, bassist and backing vocalist Jeff White, guitarist Jeremy Long and drummer Will Muncaster all added to the group’s sound. Or rather, created it.

The band had a great show at Nation. Not only did they sell the most tickets (despite the three hour trek from C’ville to Washington) but they had homemade pyrotechnics when the bass amp blew up during the show.

“Yeah, it definitely had some trouble staying out of fire,” Nealy said.

Ravens Place was nonchalant about their smoking equipment. White brushed it off, saying, “It was just such a big rush when we actually got up on stage.”

Some of you might be wondering about the lack of apostrophes in the band’s name. Well, you adorable little grammarians, let me smooth your ruffled feathers — that’s how the guys want it, much to the annoyance of their manager and former English teacher, Emily VanNoy. According to the band, VanNoy is “the one that holds us together and lends us money.”

VanNoy described the Ravens Place sound as “college rock,” which is ironic because the boys are still in high school, a fact made apparent during our interview. While he was in mid-sentence, one of the bandmates’ cell phones went off. After picking up and chatting for a few minutes, he ended the call with, “Peace, yo.” I jokingly asked who it was; he replied that it was his mother. You know, you can tell a lot about a guy by how he treats his mom.

Ravens Place then made several references to their song about DinoNuggets, which are chicken nuggets shaped like, well, dinos. Raptors and three-horns and brontosauruses, oh my!

“The DinoNugget song is a joke, I swear,” said Muncaster.

Joke or not, Ravens Place has only nine finished songs, though there are others at their fingertips, including a funk version of the Beatles’ “Come Together” and a cover of the Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch.”

The band practices “as often as we can,” a feat made difficult by the members’ hectic high school schedules. Gallagher plays football and wrestles, White spent last weekend at the state forensics competition and Muncaster, involved in other musical endeavors, is about to head down to Nashville to record some acoustic tracks. According to Long, “Will’s a real jet-setter.”

The band cites influences including Third Eye Blind, Jack Johnson and Morning View-era Incubus. Ravens Place has two songs on PureVolume (a music download site): “Another Day” and “Lover Down.”

“Another Day” begins with rolling drum beats and a snappy bass line. The song breaks nicely when the guitars move into power chords and the multi-vocal chorus opens up, but it lacks an epiphany.

The better song, “Lover Down,” has an early-’90s, grunge-band-playing-with-acoustic-guitars feel. The vocals are much better in this track. A minute and a half in, the band rumbles into a sharp cut-off, while the singers keep going, highlighting the guitars’ momentary absence. Later, a guitar solo adds a little spontaneity, but it is too formulaic to actually refresh the song. “Lover Down” is gritty and lackluster, but it has potential.

While the songs could use some tweaking, their early success has emphasized Ravens Place’s talent and charm, which will only increase over time. I’m going to keep my eye on this band because someday they’re going to be good. Information about shows and links to their songs can be found at www.ravensplaceband.com.

Ravens Place is performing in the final round of the Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands in Richmond — fans of “college rock” should check them out.

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