Not just another college band

Joe Shearer

Shaggy hair, bowling shoes and other 70s style is making a comeback with NJs and the Jeffs

Photo by Elizabeth Myers | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

On a crisp summer night that feels more like autumn in downtown Kent, little else matters to bassist/vocalist Taylor Belling than the moment at hand: The moment when he and his band, NJs and the Jeff, take the stage at a small venue called Club Khameleon.

And so Belling — all 1970s with his white bowling shoes, tight jeans and brown button-down shirt — with the other two shaggy-haired band members take their places and belt out their brand of classic rock, fused with a heavy dose of garage-rock energy. Fast, wailing guitar solos, dirty bass riffs and crashing drums and cymbals engulf the room, and the audience moves along in approval, snapping pictures along the way.

Belling cocks his head like a rooster on the right side of the stage, while Jeff Gill, head down, shreds the guitar in his own world on the left. In the center, Brian Yost slams the drums into submission, never missing a beat.

Before the first song is over, Gill, a senior business major, breaks three strings, a rarity for most anyone wielding the instrument. Whether Yost, a senior electronic media design major, just doesn’t notice or doesn’t want to break his rhythm, he drums the band right into the next song. Senior marketing major Belling begins singing, unfazed by the obvious predicament. He could stop and wait for Gill to restring, or at least give him a few seconds to grab a backup guitar, but then he might lose the energy of the audience and the momentum the band had going into the show.

“It’s how we like to play: very spontaneous, very on the moment,” Belling says.

After the band formed in February, it went on to win Kent State’s Battle of the Bands. Shortly after, the group developed a fan base, played a number of shows over the summer (some out of state) and produced a recording. Not bad for a band just starting out. But ever since their first show at the Battle of the Bands, NJs proved they could compete and win over audiences.

It’s not simply good musicians that get bands where they are today. Sometimes, other factors such as marketing and songwriting come into play. Belling cites Akron-based duo the Black Keys as an example where musical talent takes a backseat to a unique twist on a familiar sound.

“If they can do that with two people and some catchy songs, why shouldn’t we be able to do it with three guys?” Belling says.

NJs and the Jeff’s problem isn’t musical ability, and it’s not originality, as their songs can appeal to a variety of music lovers. No, the problem Belling is facing is a fix all local bands find themselves in sooner or later.

“Unfortunately, it all comes down to money,” Belling says. “If we start making serious money at shows and getting into more places, I think we’ll put more time into it. Breaking out of the Ohio barrier is very hard to do for a lot of bands I’ve seen. It’s all about building relationships, and you have to spend a lot to get a little.”

It’s difficult for a band to decide if it has the ability to make a living with what it’s doing. Belling and Gill were previously in a few bands together, and they agree this group is the best in both quality, and in having success.

Seeing the two band mates together, one might wonder if there are ever any internal struggles in the band. Belling is very outgoing and cocky, while Gill is more of an introvert. Since the two started the band, Gill says they’ve gotten closer and have become better friends. He shrugs off their differences, instead finding humor in them.

“He’s got an ego the size of Cleveland,” Gill jokes.

But isn’t Cleveland dwindling?

“I’m sure I can think of something bigger,” he adds.

After their loud pre-show practice session in a dining room lacking furniture, the guys begin packing up their equipment.

As Gill gathers his things, he — like Belling — expresses interest in moving forward with the band.

“We know it’s going to be a long process, but it’s better than having a real job,” Gill says.

Belling couldn’t agree more. One look at the front man’s shelves of vinyl records or his cherry 1968 Gibson bass can conclude he has a great love for music and an avid urge to become part of it. Whether he knows his lofty goal of making a career in music can be made reality, or reality just hasn’t set in, Belling isn’t ready to give in to societal pressures.

“The only thing that’s changing is that I’m going to graduate. Even if I do get a 9-5 job, I’m still going to be able to play at nights. People seem to enjoy us. Why not give them more of what (they) like? No one wants to get a real job if they can be a musician and make a decent living at that. It’s very hard to do, but we’re still going to (try to) do it.”

Contact all correspondent Joe Shearer at [email protected].