PHS graduate releases album
Austin Eckel fronts a ‘piano rock band’ based in Utah
By Michael Luce
Rock star. Musician. Songwriter. So many kids dream of growing up to take center stage.
Of the millions who desire this, few actually follow through. So what are the odds a PHS student would graduate, form a band, and release an album?
Austin Eckel, a 2009 Perrysburg High School graduate, has beaten those odds.
Mr. Eckel’s love for writing and performing music has become the Static to the Sound, a piano-rock alternative group that just released an album in August. (Continue reading to find out how you can get a song off the album as well as 4 others for free.)
Mr. Eckel currently lives in Utah and records with a friend. He has released a few singles, an extended play, and a personal album. But the new album is Static to the Sound’s debut. What started out as basement recording and jam sessions has grown to be so much more. For example, this past summer he was able to work with Jim Wirt, a producer of such bands as Alien Ant Farm, Incubus, Something Corporate, Hoobastank, Jack’s Mannequin and many more.
An opportunity to work with a platinum-level producer does not come to every kid who walks out of PHS.
His musical career truly got its start at Perrysburg High School. Of the classes he took, The Cellar was among his favorites. In that class he got his start in recording music, editing media digitally, and being innovative with no consequences.
Prior to joining the class, Mr. Eckel never used most of the technology and programs he later mastered. At the time, the course featured songwriting and recording, video making, and picture editing. As he began to learn how to use video editing software and cameras, his love grew for the creative process.
“That class alone really helped me figure out my creative side,” he said.
However, he had prior experience with making music before The Cellar. He started off messing around on the piano and figuring out melodies to tunes like “Mary had a Little Lamb” when he was about 6 or 7, but eventually fell away from piano to pursue sports. He remained in choir in both PJHS and PHS and eventually jumped back into playing piano once earning his licence and listening to songs with featured piano parts in the car.
“I said, you know what? I could probably learn some of these songs on piano. Then, once I started learning all these chords and chord progressions on the piano, I was like, you know what? I could write my own song,” he said. “That doesn’t seem too hard. That was about the same time I was in The Cellar learning how to use GarageBand and different recording software. I thought was cool and kept writing.”
The two biggest influences musically for him are Bryce Avary from The Rocket Summer and Andrew McMahon from Something Corporate. The concept of piano rock is largely unheard of in popular music, but these individuals showed Austin that piano was cool, and could be used to make awesome music.
Overall, Mr. Eckel was just your average Perrysburg kid. He roamed the halls of PHS, taking classes like math, English, chemistry, and he kept himself busy with extracurricular activities.
“Overall my experience at PHS was just fun,” he said. “There were so many ways to be involved.”
He participated in football, soccer, choir, stage crew, and more. He loved the school assemblies to pump up the students before big football games or other events.
“The school spirit was pretty high compared to a lot of the other kids that I met when I got to college,” Mr. Eckel said. “With the Maumee football game — having the band come in at lunch, and the hallways all decked out in Perrysburg colors — that’s something I’ll always remember when I look back on high school. I think it’s a great tradition and I’m really glad they still do it.”
He also pointed out the awesome support for the team as they headed into the playoffs, even those not football fanatics.
“That’s the thing that’s so cool about Perrysburg,” Mr. Eckel said. “Everyone’s so supportive of all the different clubs and sports. You’ve got athletes who go see the musicals, and you’ve got the thespians and choir people who go watch the sporting events. Everyone gets excited for each other and that’s kinda cool.”
Other than the aforementioned Cellar, he loved classes such as Foods for Today with Jen Kriegel, health with Kristen Drewew, and freshman math with Jo Okenka.
Mrs. Okenka said Mr. Eckel was always the class clown, telling goofy stories and making the class laugh.
“I liked him, I liked him a lot,” she said. “He was fun to have in class. He wasn’t a straight-A student, but sometimes those are the most fun to have.”
She mentioned one story he told in class about walking home from school and finding a goat. Apparently Mr. Eckel tried to tell the class that he used an extension cord as a leash and led the stray goat home. Although sure it was his ridiculous imagination, Mrs. Okenka asked his mother and the whole ordeal was actually true.
Mrs. Okenka keeps up with him on Facebook and loves to hear when he releases new songs. The fact that one of her former students is now making music is very cool to her, especially since he has such talent on the piano and singing.
Mr. Eckel’s main instruments are piano and his voice. He can play a little guitar, but doesn’t on any of his recordings. The majority of the guitar work is done by a friend, and the drums are done by his cousin Brian. The bass is just a separate keyboard track.
“Guitar is one of those things that has to be absolutely perfect,” Mr. Eckel said. “If you’re not holding the strings completely right or you hit it wrong, you can really make a recording sound off. Guitar comes through pretty transparently.”
It took awhile to make songs he was really proud of, and his composition method has changed depending on circumstance. Although it doesn’t always happen, Mr. Eckel’s favorite way to write a song is to just sit down and play whatever comes to mind with a phone or laptop recording. Afterwards, he’ll pick out the parts he likes and try to build something around that idea — usually the chorus first. Many song pieces are discarded rather quickly. The only problem with this style is that he has to sort through “95 percent stupid to find the 5 percent of good.”
Many Static to the Sound songs are written about deeper topics. He explained that these emotionally draining subject matters are best to write about because they’re so relatable and powerful. These ideas are very important and constantly on his mind, and the best way he knows how to convey the weight of such situations.
“Sometimes I’ll sit down and think of what someone I know is going through [something tough] or a topic I could write about from the perspective of somebody else,” he said.
Such is the case with many of the songs on Blank Faces, Static to the Sound’s new album. Each track was written by Mr. Eckel and his experiences, and those close to him.
Mr. Eckel’s advice for those looking at music as a hobby is to write about your real feelings, nothing you made up. He said to realize that everyone has a different way of approaching the same thing, and that sometimes a little variety in a routine can have amazing results.
The best part of music to him is writing what you want, not what you’re told to write. He also has advice for all current and upcoming PHS students:
“Get involved. I know it sounds kinda cliché, but the more you involve yourself with different activities and clubs — and being supportive of not only the clubs and things that you’re involved in, but the ones your friends are involved with — really helps you figure out what you enjoy and what you might want to do for a career. It’s also just more fun. You’ll have a good four years if you make an effort to try new things.”
Blank Faces is available digitally on iTunes or on the band’s website (www.statictothesound.com) in both physical copies and digital download from bandcamp. The best way to keep up with anything new is to follow Static to the Sound on Facebook (www.facebook.com/statictothesound) in addition to following on Instagram (@austineckel), Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/statictothesound), and YouTube (Static to the Sound).
Mr. Eckel also gave permission to the eSomethin to offer a few songs as a sample. “In the Sky” off of Blank Faces, a brand new version of “Goodbye Michelle” recorded with Jim Wirt, also the “Sounds of Christmas” extended play are available for a free download. The extended play includes “Silent Night,” “O Holy Night,” and the original song “Make A Difference.”
“I wrote ‘Make A Difference’ in early 2010 after a rough day,” he said. “I was so overwhelmed with all of the terrible things that happen in the world and I needed to get my feelings out. I wasn’t trying to portray myself as perfect either. I was well aware that I was part of the problem — this is what was so frustrating. Are humans really so selfish that we are willing to do things that benefit ourselves even if it harms others? You get the point. I was just trying to almost convince myself that I could do better and that I needed to be more giving and charitable by writing that song.”
Click here to listen and download some of his songs he gave permission for eSomethin to share.
Below is the full Blank Faces tracklist that has some brief descriptions from Mr. Eckel about the stories behind the music or lyrics.
- Darkest Part of Me
- Goodbye Michelle
The version on the album is a re-recording from the original, which was Austin’s first song that he felt content with. It is based around the line, “Cloudy skies bring cloudy eyes in Salt Lake City,” which references his first year of college. He had been dating the girl that later became his wife for quite some time, but was leaving to go on a two-year mission trip for church. He was not looking forward to not being able to see her for such a long time. The day that he flew out, the sky was unusually dark, which only helped bring his mood down further. The verses tell various stories of the two meeting each other and dating.
- In the Sky
Continuing on the love story that started in ‘Goodbye Michelle,’ ‘In the Sky’ takes up the timeline immediately after he left. He went to a training center to prepare for his mission, which was also located in Salt Lake City. Although only miles away from where she lived, he was not allowed to go see anyone outside of the training center, but he could send letters. As he was writing this girl, they came up with a somewhat cheesy solution to the separation issue. Every night, they looked up at the moon at the same time and felt closer knowing they were looking at the same thing at the same time.
- Blank Faces
- Half a World Away
As the final part in the unofficial trilogy of love, ‘Half a World Away’ tells the story from a while later while he was in the middle of his mission. He went to Albania, which was essentially the furthest away he could have been from everyone and everything he loved. While writing letters home to family, friends and his future wife, he realized that although the lack of communication seemed like a huge obstacle, it was actually a blessing. The incredible distance brought everyone closer together in the end.
- My Friend Anthony
While on the mission in Albania, Mr. Eckel met a man who seemed down. After talking, he learned that this man had a very hard life and that he was ready to end it right then and there. The song goes through the process he experiences of consoling and convincing that nothing is worth suicide. The song is an extremely emotional trip and is powerful for Austin. He wanted to write this song to ensure he had this cataloged somewhere other than his brain. The story needed to be shared, and he hopes it will help someone.
- Who You Are
- The Way You Dance
This song came from a failed attempt to prove how bad radio music is. The song is a cliche tune about young love, dancing, and general happiness with the usual Static to the Sound style music in the background. After writing this song, he realized it actually wasn’t terrible and decided to give radio a bit more of a chance.
- Believe in Anything
Sally is Austin’s grandmother who passed away when he was three. Despite that short time, the two shared a very close bond and she has had an effect on him. He feels as if she is his angel watching over him and comforting him. The song also includes an account of his grandfather who was living in Japan and would go out on the roof every night. He did this to be closer to his wife and feel her presence. The song is among the shortest of the album, but is arguably the most emotionally moving.
- Ghost of Love