In a tour bus cruising up and down the East Coast, three former CSUN students are living out a musician’s dream.
Jonathan Jones, Ryan Lallier and Thomas Lee are three-quarters of the band Waking Ashland, which formed in fall of 2003 when the three were still CSUN students. Jones performs vocals and keyboards for the band, with Lallier on guitar and vocals and Lee on drums and percussion.
The band is currently on a cross-country tour promoting its first full-length album, “Composure,” and will soon be a part of the Vans Warped Tour for the second straight year. In addition to touring, they just shot their first music video for the album’s single, “I Am For You.”
But in fall 2003, Jones, Lallier and Lee were music majors, coughing up hundreds of dollars for textbooks and waiting in long lines in the Student Services Building just like everyone else.
Jones left CSUN following the Spring 2004 semester to devote more time to music.
“(It’s) one of the best decisions I’ve made pursuing my dream, but I still occasionally dream about CSUN,” Jones said, adding that he has no regrets about leaving CSUN.
He also said the Music Department at CSUN was a good place for the band to form, and that it was during this time that he wrote the first Waking Ashland song.
Jones said he credits a Music 101 course called “Music and Your Career,” taught by Gary Pratt, as something that inspired him and gave him the drive to do what he’s doing with Waking Ashland. The course introduces all music majors to post-graduation options and possible careers.
“I thought the group had a refreshing new sound and good tunes,” said Joel Leach, music industry studies head from the Music Department and one of Jones’s and Lallier’s former professors, in an e-mail interview. “Considering the fact that students often give me such recordings and they pretty much sound just like all the others, I thought at the time that Waking Ashland was on to something.”
While at CSUN, Waking Ashland recorded its first EP, “I Am For You.” At the end Spring 2004, Waking Ashland’s lineup became complete when Andrew Grosse, a friend of Jones’s, joined the band as its official bass player, replacing Robert Teegarden, who was one of the band’s original members.
Not long thereafter, the band headed out on its first headlining tour, and as a result of the tour’s success, landed a spot in the 2004 Warped Tour lineup.
Jones said the Warped Tour was beneficial for the band because they had the opportunity to play and promote their music all over the country to thousands of people almost every day. In addition, they were achieving success through the Internet with music websites, which allowed their music to be heard beyond the Los Angeles area.
The band sold more than 10,000 copies of the “I Am For You” EP without any official retail distribution.
Jones said he credits the success of the EP to what he calls a “DIY,” or do-it-yourself, work ethic.
“We got in (the) van, toured and believed in our music,” Jones said.
After the tour, Waking Ashland got a record deal with the Seattle-based independent rock label Tooth and Nail, which helped start the careers of pop-punk rockers MXPX and the rock band P.O.D.
In December 2004, Waking Ashland took time off from touring to record its first full-length album, “Composure,” with producer Lou Giordano, whose production credits include Sunny Day Real Estate and Sugar, and most recently, Taking Back Sunday, the Goo Goo Dolls and the Ataris.
Jones said the band felt lucky to work with a producer like Giordano, who liked their sound when they came into the studio, and was able to enhance and make it better, which Jones said is evident throughout “Composure.”
When “Composure” was released in May 2005, it debuted at No. 19 on the SoundScan Alternative New Artist chart and at No. 53 on the SoundScan Top New Artist Album chart.
The album also boasted the best first week sales for a debut in the label’s history, selling 2,400 copies.
The album was also successful in Japan, where Waking Ashland signed a separate deal with Fabtone Records. The band is scheduled to perform in Japan in a few weeks.
The cover of “Composure” features tipped over shopping carts, which Jones said is supposed to show “tension and abandonment in an abstract way.”
Jones said the name “Composure” came from experiences where a person has something he or she wants to say, and how that person has to stay composed to get his or her message across.
Jones said the album’s content involves a different sound from their previous work.
“(We) wanted a more introspective, mature sound and (to) appeal to college kids, not just 13-year-olds,” Jones said.
Waking Ashland has been able to achieve the introspective, mature sound that it’s looking for with songs like “Silhouettes,” “Long Shot,” and “Overjoyed” from the new album.
Waking Ashland will perform as part of the Warped Tour locally July 1 in Long Beach and July 3 in Ventura.