By Jacob Trask
The Brass Mug in north Tampa was almost packed out on a warm night in May 2016 as a young new band made their way to the stage in what would be their first live performance. The crowd was noticeably diverse, with hardcore metal-heads and eager high school students waiting to see what this band had to offer.
Cigarette smoke rose to the ceiling and the four band members tried hard to appear calm and collected as they plugged in their guitars and readied themselves to play on a stage where legends like Kurt Cobain and Billie Joe Armstrong stood decades ago. The pressure was on, but these high school musicians were ready, because this was just the beginning.
“Every show I’m always nervous until the first song starts,” said Cole Williams as he recalled the details of his first performance. “As soon as the show starts I completely relax and go into my own little zone.”
Williams is the lead guitarist of the local rock band, Channel Drive, and is an incoming freshman at UT this fall. He will study music, and is hoping that his band will hit a new plateau as they transition into a new stage of life and education.
Channel Drive has been performing local shows since their humble beginnings in the summer of 2015. Williams met the band’s lead singer, Jacob Fleming, at Blake High School, a performing arts school just a mile from UT where the two were students in the classical guitar program.
As their skills progressed, Williams and Fleming began writing songs together, and towards the end of their sophomore year, they brought in the third piece of their band, another guitar student and Channel Drive bassist, Ricardo Ponce. Just weeks before their first performance at The Brass Mug, the group brought in their fourth and final member, Alex Carr, a close friend and drummer from Berkeley Preparatory School. Once the band was complete, they had to decide on a name, and chose to name themselves after the street where Fleming learned how to play guitar, Channel Drive.
Fleming says that the early stages of Channel Drive’s existence were smooth and exciting, and although he wasn’t familiar with Ponce, the two bonded quickly. His experience collaborating with Williams was a catalyst for success, and the band quickly formed into a high-functioning, talented collective.
“The way we’ve adjusted to each other is just through making music we love and enjoy,” Fleming said.
Although their performance career began at a venue known for it’s hardcore, death-metal crowds, Channel Drive is a refreshing reminder that alternative rock is still alive in 2017, especially in the hard-to-reach corners of your local music scene. Fleming says that they’re heavily alternative with a lot of folk influence. “We’re like Radiohead meets Mumford and Sons,” he said.
Led by Fleming’s unique vocal delivery and emotion-jogging guitar melodies, the band carries a resemblance to other rock bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Kings of Leon. And with a group of obviously talented musicians, it’s only a matter of time before Williams and his band mates make their mark on Tampa Bay.
For Williams, being in a band was almost inevitable. At the age of 10, Williams began playing guitar after his father made him start taking music lessons, giving him two options: guitar or piano. The decision was easy.
“Back then I was still into metal and stuff like that. I grew up on Metallica and old ‘80s metal bands, so I thought it’d be kind of lame to play piano,” Williams said. “So I picked up guitar and I instantly fell in love with it.”
Williams attempted to put together a band during his first few years of playing, but found that it was too difficult to find others his age that were as serious about music as he was. Eight hour daily practices were intimidating to his friends at the time.
Blake High School, a school known for its prestigious arts programs, was the perfect environment for a serious musician to seek out others of his kind. It wasn’t long before Williams would meet his future bandmates, and within two years, Channel Drive was born.
The band’s first show was just a step in their development. The group performed every few months during the summer and fall of 2016 as they adjusted to each other, and played covers of songs to appeal to their audiences and pieces of their own new material.
Williams and the band spent last summer curating what would be their debut project. After completing 10 original songs, they decided on four that would make up their debut EP, Tendencies, which released in August of last year on BandCamp. The project was received well and gleaned more recognition for the band in a relatively stagnant Tampa music scene.
In 2017, the band has picked up their pace, performing live about twice a month in popular local venues, including the Orpheum and New World Brewery. They have been working on their second EP, a project that Williams thinks will be a better representation of what the band has to offer after another year of growth.
“I think it’s a lot more thought out musically,” Williams said about the new project, which is set to release next month. “I think it’s a lot more challenging. It’s not so forward rock. We’ve changed so much and we’ve gotten so much better. The songs have been getting better.”
Williams recognizes the changes approaching with three out of the four band members starting college. Carr is leaving the band to attend school in California, and has been replaced by another drummer from Blake High School, but Williams says that things will stay mostly the same. He’s hoping that the release of the new EP and the opportunity to expand on a new platform at UT will bring the group more attention going into 2018.
Williams thinks that the best way to make themselves known will be word of mouth.
“I think it’ll be a lot of just meeting people and telling people about us. Have people come out to the shows and if they like us, they’ll come out again. If not, whatever,” Williams said nonchalantly.
Performing in front of thousands is the obvious dream for Williams and his band mates, but he says finding a career around music would be just as fulfilling. He would like to manage a band or be part of a record label if being a lead guitarist doesn’t lead to fruition, but Channel Drive’s motivation isn’t based on fame.
“Over the next year we’ll continue to earn our success and keep thriving off the support that so many people have given us,” Fleming said. “I think we’d be happy with just continuing to do bigger shows. As long as we continue this momentum, I think we’ll all be very happy.”
Williams is excited for his new opportunities at UT, not only to expand Channel Drive’s fanbase, but to play classical guitar in the music program and participate in the school’s jazz band.
Although he has lived in Tampa for his whole life and is excited to attend school in his hometown, Williams said he would ultimately like to end up in Nashville.But for the time being, Williams is focused on his education, continuing to progress his skill, and spreading the word about Channel Drive.
Jacob Trask can be reached at email@example.com