Local high school band celebrates release of precocious new LP


By John Lavanga/A&E Editor

For most high school bands, it’s difficult enough to get together for a practice, let alone book a show or write a collection of songs. Suffice it to say that the Nox Boys — who, along with Meeting of Important People, will celebrate the release of their new vinyl LP, “S/T,” with a performance at the Andy Warhol Museum on Saturday — are not most high school bands.

Composed of guitarist and lead vocalist Zack Keim, a 16-year-old Fox Chapel High School junior; bassist and backup vocalist Zach Stadtlander, a 17-year-old Fox Chapel High School senior; drummer and backup vocalist Sam Berman, 18, also a Fox Chapel High School senior, and slide guitar player Bob Powers, a 56-year-old professional musician, the Blawnox, Pa.-based (hence, the name) teenage garage-punk band with a decidedly old school sound has swiftly made strides in the Pittsburgh music scene — strides that include winning over the owners of local record label Get Hip Recordings, recording with a man who produced music for The White Stripes and getting their hands on a copy of their own vinyl before they get their hands on a diploma.

According to Keim, the precocious group got their start two years ago when his father began taking him to open mic nights around Blawnox to give him a chance to get some time on stage. One night, Keim got on stage at Moondog’s Rock Blues Bar and played alongside Powers. The two were surprised to discover immediate musical chemistry. They decided to keep playing together.

“It just kind of clicked, and we just started adding more stuff,” said Powers, who as a professional musician has played alongside artists including local legend Warren King over the course of his career. Soon, the two doubled their members, settling on Stadtlander, who had managed one of Keim’s previous bands, and Powers’ nephew Berman.

Though the age gap between Powers and the other three members might be the biggest surprise about the Nox Boys, all three high-school-aged members agree that Powers’ presence in the group — both because of his skilled slide guitar work and his reputation as a musician — is a key part of the band’s success.

“It adds sort of a mature side to the Nox Boys,” said Berman. “It’s unusual, but it shows that our age doesn’t matter.” 

“I think it conveniently trumps the hecklers,” said Stadtlander, pointing out that having someone with Powers’ experience makes it difficult for people to write them off as just a high school band.

Keim added that Powers has also helped out by exposing him to older garage bands that have helped shape Nox Boys’ sound.

The big breakthrough for the group, however, came not because of their reputation but because of their ability to convince Michael Kastelic and Gregg Kostelich — members of the locally renowned garage rock band The Cynics and founders of the garage rock label Get Hip Records — that they were a band on the rise. After attending a performance by The Cynics at Mr. Smalls Theatre in April of 2013, the Nox Boys managed to convince Kastelic to give the group a listen, and he immediately became an advocate of the group.

“[Kastelic] kept talking about us and coming to our shows,” Berman said.

Eventually, Kostelich was also sold on the band’s talent, and over Labor Day weekend of last year the band ventured up to Detroit to record with well-known studio engineer and music producer Jim Diamond, who helped record the first two White Stripes albums and had worked with The Cynics in the past.

Despite the rapid success, the band’s three high school students say that their record still hasn’t caught on much at Fox Chapel High — at least not among the students.

“A lot of our teachers, they’re coming to our release party,” Keim said.