This is part of our weekly series titled “Columbus’ Own,” where we profile a local band every week.
School has been in session for four weeks now, but local band Chinese School started working long before Welcome Week.
Three friends, all Pickerington natives, who started jamming together in high school and college, formed the indie-rock band. A song that vocalist and guitarist Benjamin “Butch” Wagner wrote when he was 10 years old inspired the group’s name.
Other members are Michael Barnett on guitar, Alex Randall on bass and Stamati Arakas on drums.
The band started playing shows near campus in early 2012 with a slew of different drummers throughout the year, Wagner said.
“Once Stamati joined the band (in January 2013), everything fell into place,” he said.
The band gained momentum after it cemented members by recording a sample EP of four songs in May at Relay Recording studio downtown. The group decided to submit the songs to the CD 102.5 Summerfest Local Artist Showcase for radio listeners to vote for a chance to select the band as the opening act of Summerfest, a festival sponsored by the radio station and held at the Lifestyles Communities Pavilion in August.
“CD 102.5 lounge members online picked 10 semifinalists,” said Lesley James, a DJ at CD 102.5. “They voted for a two-week period and picked three finalists: Bummers, ElectroCult Circus and Chinese School.”
The three bands then each performed for a live audience at Skully’s Music Diner, and the audience members voted for their favorite.
Chinese School came out as the winner and earned the title of opening act on the outdoor LC stage at Summerfest, which also featured nationally-acclaimed acts such as Cold War Kids and Matt & Kim.
“It felt like biting into a really good peach,” said Barnett of the win. “Bummers is a really good band. We were worried they were going to win, but it was so exciting.”
Opening Summerfest not only gave the band exposure, but also made its members feel like they reigned over the LC, Barnett said.
“It was like we were famous for a day,” he said.
James gave a few reasons she thought Chinese School took home the gold.
“All three bands were great,” she said. “Chinese School is definitely a great up-and-coming rock band. They played cool original material and an awesome Queens of the Stone Age cover.”
The band has been in rotation on CD 102.5 since the win, James said.
“We always have two local bands in rotation. Winning the local showcase is the ultimate listener feedback. I am curious to see where Chinese School will be in a year from now,” she said.
The band considers diverse influences to be a big part of their sound’s appeal.
“We all grew up on a different set of bands, and that’s what makes us fun and unique,” Wagner said.
Some of the bands Wagner and Barnett said have influenced them the most include Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement, as well as Queens of the Stone Age.
“We all have tickets to see Queens of the Stone Age next week,” Wagner said.
So what does the future hold for a local band that has already opened a summer music festival in Columbus? Pushing forward.
“We are more inspired than ever to continue writing and sharing music,” Wagner said.
The bandmates hope to soon record an entire album and book some shows outside of Columbus.
“I love the Columbus music scene, but we can only do so much in one place,” Wagner said.
They hope to start with a small five-city tour and work their way up to larger ones.
The next big event for the band will be being playing at the Independents’ Day festival downtown Sept 20 at 7 p.m.