Clean-cut punk

Chico Escuela fuses a boy band aesthetic with clever punk melodies

Photo courtesy of Chico Escuela

Chico Escuela will perform at the Zephyr Lounge 10 p.m. Nov. 8 ($5), at Comma Coffee in Carson City 8p.m. Nov. 9 ($3), and at Club Voodoo 9 p.m. Dec. 13 ($5). 1. Their CD is available at Tower Records and at Sam Goody. More at www.

When I meet Chico Escuela at their practice studio in Sparks, they’re kind enough to give me a little advance warning: “It’s gonna be loud.”

“Yeah,” I acknowledge. A lot of good music is loud; I’m used to it.

Then guitarist and singer Scott Patten hits the first chord, and just about knocks me right out of my chair.

That’s a pretty good sign of good pop punk.

During the next half hour, the band runs through the songs they consider the most representative of their sound, and my first impression is confirmed: This is really good pop punk.

It’s difficult to write a review of any pop punk band without making reference to Blink 182 and Green Day, so let me get it out of the way: These guys sound a lot like Blink 182 and Green Day.

That’s no surprise, considering that all four members list Blink 182 as one of their primary musical influences.

But Chico Escuela isn’t without its own style. Almost despite themselves, they’re more melodically driven than most other bands of the genre. Guitarist and singer Tom Hill’s voice has a clear, almost mournful tone, creating a sound that’s more emotional and less aggressive than one might expect. His voice blends exceptionally well with Patten’s—these are some of the best backup vocals I’ve heard in a long time.

“We try to do lots of harmonies and actually show off,” Hill says.

Bass player Greyson Beffa also considers the vocals a distinguishing factor of the band.

“Instead of one whiny kid … we’ve got two,” he jokes.

I’m also surprised by the complexity of their songwriting. Many pop punk songs have two sections—a chorus and a verse. The average Chico Escuela song has between three and five.

This complexity helps keep the songs interesting; when one section ends, it’s impossible to know what to expect from the next. Wedged between aggressive, distorted verses, a gentle and melodic instrumental break will occur, or a section that sounds more rock anthem than power pop.

The band stresses that they’re not trying to cultivate any specific image, or attract any specific audience.

“We take our music really seriously, but we don’t take our image seriously,” says Beffa.

However, several recent shows have led them to believe that their most receptive audience is teenage girls.

“We played a Reed [High School] dance,” Beffa says. “We rocked the first hour of it.”

Contributing to their popularity with that fan base is the relatively young age of the band members—they range from 17 to 23—and the fact that, for a pop punk group, they’re unusually clean cut.

“We think we write better if we’re sober,” Hill explains.

“We realized we’re a boy band—a boy band that writes its own songs,” Patten says.

Chico Escuela’s ultimate goal is to be signed to a major label. They’re currently recording their second CD as a demo.

“We will be courting labels as soon as our album’s out,” Beffa says.

The album, still untitled, is slated for release in January.

And, with any luck, it’ll knock the labels’ A&R people right out of their chairs, too.