How 16-year-old Goochlander Sarah McCalla went from wondering “what’s next?” all the way to New York City
When Sarah McCalla’s brother Sean left for Virginia Tech last fall, they agreed that instead of dissolving their six-year-old band, Zerohour, they would just take a break. For Sarah, that break lasted only a month.
“Music is such a part of my life, I couldn’t stand it!” To fill the void, Sarah started Googling “Richmond Bands Needing Bass” and came across Conshafter, a band she recognized from their airplay on local radio stations.
After telling her parents what she wanted to do, John and Sheila McCalla were slightly apprehensive. Having spent years as managers, roadies, and chauffeurs for Zerohour, they were never ones to hold their children back from their dreams. However, they realized this was a big step. While John McCalla was supportive, he says, “I was also a bit skeptical that they would even consider her, especially considering her age.”
Sarah knew the odds were against her. Not only did she have to overcome the age factor, but also the gender factor. Even though there have been a number of successful female bass players, their numbers are very slim. To prepare for her audition, Sarah did not simply download the songs the band requested-”I downloaded and learned every Conshafter song I could find online.” When her number came up, she was ready to play.
“Honestly,” says Conshafter co-founder and front-man Chris Konstantinos, “when she answered our ad, we thought, ‘well, ok, we can give her a try,’ but she came in and blew everyone away. Even though we auditioned others, there really was no question that Sarah was the one.”
Conshafter is the brainchild of two UNC Chapel Hill graduates, Chris Konstantinos and Dave Cykert, who discovered their mutual love of music while rowing for UNC’s crew team. Over the past eight years, the band has been through a number of drummers and bass players before settling into their current lineup. Cykert plays guitar and shares songwriting duties with Konstantinos; drummer Travis Wilson joined the band last summer. “All things considered, the lineup we have right now is probably the best we’ve ever had,” added Konstantinos. “Sarah brings an unbelievable amount of skill and maturity to the band.”
Most remarkably, in spite of all the members having regular day-gigs, the band has managed to garner some national attention. They have self-produced three indie records; the most recent, “Slow Drive off a High Dive”, was just released on iTunes this January. In December, they were recognized by spin.com as their Artist of the Day for December 13, 2006. As well as having songs in rotation on Satellite XM and on Y-101, they also contributed a track to the indie movie “The Glorious Mustache Challenge.” Conshafter is one of those bands that seem to have a knack of putting themselves at the right place at the right time.
Having someone Sarah’s age in a professional band creates some interesting logistical challenges, especially considering she didn’t even have a driver’s license when she joined the band. Thanks to their experience supporting Zerohour, John and Sheila McCalla were ready to step in and provide some heavy lifting-literally. John’s Yukon can be found at every show, full of drums, guitars, amps, and other essentials. More importantly, their guest house has become Conshafter’s practice venue.
Sarah, now a sophomore at the Maggie Walker Governor’s School, has been balancing music and school since she was eight. “Other kids came home from school and played sports; I came home and played music. It was my after-school activity.” Sarah continued, “I’m a perfectionist, so I push myself as hard as I can at everything I do.”
When she joined Conshafter, Sarah was excited at the prospect of playing with other people again. However, as the lineup began to gel, she and her bandmates started to realize they had something special. “Back in December, we were all packed into the Yukon, going to play a gig in Ohio, and we really started to get to know each other. It was really cool to see that we all had the same dreams, the same drive, and were making the same commitment to it.”
Little did Sarah realize that less than six month after Googling up Conshafter, she would be in a Manhattan recording studio, laying down bass lines for her new band. As it turns out, a few years ago, Conshafter caught the ear of Keith Shockley, a man whose walls of gold and platinum records rightfully mark him as one of the most influential hip-hop producers in the country. Shockley told Konstantinos that when the time was right, he would get Conshafter into the studio to do a top-of-the-line professional recording.
The time just happened to be right this past weekend, a long weekend sandwiched between Lee-Jackson Day and the Martin Luther King holiday. Conshafter packed up John’s Yukon last Thursday night, and headed up to the Big Apple for a weekend in the studio. The sessions were grueling, lasting until 3 or 4 in the morning, sometimes requiring the band to spend hours tweaking parts of songs that will last only seconds in a recording. For Sarah, this is exactly where she wants to be. “It’s a blast! If this takes off, that’s great! I can always come back and finish school. But, if I have the opportunity to go out and record and make music and do this for the rest of my life, well, that would be perfect.”
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