Three Kent State students drop out to go on tour


The crowd sings along with Pat Kennedy at Now That’s Class in Cleveland Heights on June 18. Photo by Matt Hafley.

Brittany Hill

As students file into buildings around campus for the first week of classes, they fall back into routines. Go to class. Go to work. Go home. Go out. Repeat.

But Light Years, a four-piece pop-punk band filled with former Kent State students, changed their routine this past December by beginning a four-month U.S. and European tour.

The band sprang to life in Spring 2009, with a sound inspired by 1990s-era fast and catchy bands like Blink-182 and lyrics straight from the heart about growing up and screwing up.

They wrote some of their first songs in Kent State’s Music and Speech Building, and they have been doing short tours whenever it fits into their busy schedule. But they never wandered too far from home for too long.

“It had always been like two weeks over break, and then we had to get back for school or a job,” said Pat Kennedy, lead vocalist and guitarist.

It wasn’t until the opportunity for the tour presented itself that Light Years decided to put school and jobs on hold.

“We were just like, ‘Fuck it,’” said Kennedy. “We’re going to do this.”

Last semester, Kennedy was a senior photo illustration major, but this semester, he is traveling with bassist Tommy Englert and guitarist Andrew Foerst.

Englert received his pilot’s license in 2010 and was a senior finishing up a communications degree, while Foerst was a junior pursuing a degree in early-childhood education. Dan English, drummer, graduated from Kent State with a music degree in 2009.

Before Light Years, Kennedy and Englert spent a large part of their childhood playing in bands together, but they never had any success.

“With our old bands, we would have to beg people to come to our shows,” Englert said. “The only people that would be there would be like my sister or my mom. Sometimes both. Sometimes neither.”

Kennedy said with Light Years, they made their goals like baby steps.

“We were just like, ‘Fuck it.’ We’re going to do this.”

“We’d be like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to play a show where we didn’t have to tell people to come?’ Then people started coming to see us,” Kennedy said. “Then our next baby step was like, ‘What if people knew the words to our songs?’ That’d be awesome, and then kids really started to know the words and jump around. It was the coolest thing.” Kennedy said that life on tour is a stark contrast to the routine of college life.

“[It’s] kind of like a different world.” Kennedy said. “You lose track of what day it is. You’re stuck in a van with five people, and you smell, and you’re sleeping on people’s floors. It’s really hard and awesome at the same time because you’re doing what you love, but you’re struggling to do it.”

English said regardless of what your dream is, facing those struggles is what defines whether you’re really following your dreams or not.

Kennedy, Englert and Foerst were all upperclassmen with each less than a semester and a half left before graduation, but they said their urgency to do this now wasn’t based on impulse or impatience.

“Our style of music is, I think, as popular as it’s going to be,” Kennedy said. “It’s on a wave, and right now, it’s at its crest. We have the opportunity right now, and I don’t know how much longer we’ll have it. In a year, no one is going to care about Light Years, so we might as well capitalize.”

Charity Snyder, university advising director at Kent State, said there can be negative consequences to taking a semester off from school, financial burdens being one of the most prominent, but the band’s members said they’re realistic and have prepared themselves for the financial consequences of their decision.

“We’re going to be in debt,” Englert said. “Like student loans and credit cards, but almost everyone in college has debt, so it’s no different. We’re just using the money other people might use on partying and shit to see the country.”

In addition to watching their savings disappear and the debt pile up, English, who works at Guitar Center, and Englert, who has a job working for the Akron-Canton Airport, don’t expect their jobs to be waiting for them when they come home.

“I would be lying if I said it was completely cool with me,” English said. “But when I’m on my death bed I won’t be like, ‘Oh, I’m so glad that in my mid-20s I was financially secure with a stable income every week.’ I want to be like, ‘Man, me and my friends got in a sketchy van, and we played all over the country and sold Tommy’s kidney for gas money.’”

Snyder said in addition to financial consequences, taking time off, especially if it’s extended, could potentially make it more difficult to return. Kennedy said if after the tour he and the band feel that they’ve done everything they can with Light Years, then he plans to return to Kent State for the Fall 2012 semester.

“It will be harder [to come back to school] because I’ll feel defeated almost,” Kennedy said. “School is kind of a safe route, but it’s almost like I don’t want a life like that. I kind of always want to be gone and always playing music, so if I go back to school, it will feel like I’m admitting defeat. I know I need to support myself though, and if I can’t do that with music, then I think I can swallow my pride and go back.”

Snyder said although it’s an adviser’s job to give academic advice, it’s also about the person and what’s right for them.

“People are here, and they’re not sure why they’re here, or they’re here for someone else’s reasons and not their own, or they don’t know what their own reason is,” Snyder said. “To help students find and follow their dreams is what advisers are here for.”

As an adviser, Snyder said she would support a student in taking time off if the student was well informed about the consequences, and it really was the best option for that student. Foerst said he made his decision to leave school because being in a band and touring are the only things he’s ever really wanted to do.

“Everyone is always like, ‘You gotta go to school.’ I do OK in school, but it never clicked,” Foerst said. “I’m an education major, but I can’t see myself teaching other human beings, but this is the one thing I’m able to see myself doing. This is something I’ve always dreamt about.”

Kennedy said that for the most part family and friends have been supportive of the idea of leaving school for this dream.

“No one has said, at least to my face, ‘Oh, you’re stupid,’” Kennedy said. “But I’m sure people don’t think it’s the best choice.”

The pros and cons have been weighed, and Kennedy said he’s firm in his decision.

“I am not going to not do this no matter what. Even death wouldn’t stop me. You better haul me around in a casket and prop me up on stage ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ style,” Kennedy said. “School will always be there and so will jobs, regardless of how many semesters late we graduate. In six months or a year or three years, there will still be photo illustration jobs and drum jobs and teaching jobs and airplanes that need flying, but this opportunity for us to do this tour won’t always be there.”

As far as goals for the tour, Light Years keeps it simple.

“Right now, realistically, the best thing that happens is just for a lot of people to hear our band and take our music home after we play,” English said. “We know that we’re not going to come back from this and have MTV call us up wanting to shoot a video. We know we’re not rock stars, but if we come back and more people dig our music than before we left, then its’ a big success.”

The band agreed, with dreamy grins, a record deal with a nice label wouldn’t be a bad outcome either.

Contact Brittany Hill at [email protected]