The Sages | Mining the Past and Leading the Future

prof sages_smWhen I ask Weinstock who else he favors on the four-string, he asks, “Have you ever heard of Jaco Pastorious? He’s amazing.” How many other 15 year olds are even aware of the late jazz bass pioneer?

 

prof sages_lg

Here in the cynical 21st century, it can be difficult to imagine a time when rock ’n’ roll seemed to be all about that elusive finger-in-a-light-socket charge of passion and unpredictability. Amongst the tales of failing record labels, illegal downloading, and skyrocketing concert ticket prices, there doesn’t ever seem to be room for stories of kids picking up guitars and forming bands simply because they want to play sweaty rock ’n’ roll in front of screaming fans.

Well, young musicians do meet up and form bands, and some of them get really good, really fast. I first encountered St. Louis band The Sages at the South Broadway Athletic Club; they’re the kind of band that possesses that unique kind of chemistry that separates the wishful thinkers from the drivers and doers. It’s a mystery what makes any given group work so well together, what magic machinations of fate inspires them to take up a common creative goal. Whatever it is, these guys have it.

There they were on the South Broadway Athletic Club stage, none of them older than 15, playing a mix of originals and covers with a confidence usually reserved for musicians twice their age. Given that fact, you wouldn’t expect to hear Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd songs mixed in with Zeppelin-esque originals; but that’s exactly what they were cranking out to an appreciative audience comprised of dancing teens and adults alike. Lead singer/guitarist Dillon Wilfong (14), lead guitarist Liam Terrio (14), bassist Alex Weinstock (15), and drummer Myles Jaffe (13) all share a healthy obsession with rock’s forefathers that feeds their collective, creative output. According to Wilfong, “We were rusty at first, but we just keep playing together every chance we could get.” Their first gig was a party at Wilfong’s house, but there were no vocals on the maiden voyage. “I didn’t think I could sing, but when I discovered that I could, I went for that as much as I did the guitar.” At their first proper gig, “We played ‘Working Man’ by Rush. The vocals are really high, but I work around that and kinda do my own thing with it.”

Speaking of Rush, The Sages’ rhythm section are big fans of the legendary power-prog Canadian trio. While he cites Blink 182’s Travis Barker as a major influence, Jaffe is a staunch devotee of Rush’s resident drum god, Neil Peart. Weinstock’s adventures in the low end are notably influenced by bassist Geddy Lee. When I ask Weinstock who else he favors on the four-string, he asks, “Have you ever heard of Jaco Pastorious? He’s amazing.” How many other 15 year olds are even aware of the late jazz bass pioneer? Exactly. Jaffe and Weinstock exhibit a laid-back and detached sort of cool, as if they’ve seen it all and really and truly would rather be rocking out, like, now. When I was told that his fourth gig with the band was a recording session with The Sages at Tep Studios, Jaffe smiles and says, “Yeah, but it wasn’t too bad. We had been rehearsing, so I was ready for it.”

Sitting at a lunch table on a break from rehearsing, listening to these guys swap stories and talk about their music, it really is difficult to believe that a group so young can be so focused when it comes to their music career. Even in conversation, they fit the classic molds of every legendary band you can think of. Guitarist Terrio seems to be the band’s quietest member, preferring to sit back and let his nimble fingers do all the talking. Make no mistake: He’s not a shoegazer, and he’s certainly not above the occasional bit of mischief. Unbeknownst to the rest of the band, he uploaded a video to YouTube of the band playing a shirtless homage to The Red Hot Chili Peppers. As Terrio laughs, Wilfong states, “At first I was like, ‘Oh man, why did you put that up there?’ but it’s actually pretty cool. Now, I think it’s funny.”

Wilfong clearly assumes the role of band spokesman, and in true front man fashion is never at a loss for words. That being the case, his humility and devotion to the craft itself helps keep the band on point. When talking about influences, his tastes lean towards the classic singer and guitarist twosomes. “I like the duos like Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, David Gilmour and Roger Waters, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards,” he says. “Everything they do is quality stuff and it still holds up today. That’s the kind of thing I want to do.”

Besides amassing a following of fans their age, The Sages have also gained some older fans who have gone beyond saying a few kind words to proactively helping them with their burgeoning career. Legendary St. Louis DJ and former MTV VJ Smash is one them. According to Dillon, “Smash really gave us our first big break.” When I spoke to Smash, he had nothing but sincere praise and admiration for The Sages. “The first thing that got me about these young men was their level of knowledge about and passion for the music,” he relates. “I asked Dillon and Liam, who were both 12 years old at the time, if they wanted to jam with The Smash Band. They strapped on the guitars and proceeded to smoke, playing guitars and singing some Zeppelin tunes. The audience and I were astounded.” Once Smash got a taste of the raw talent The Sages displayed, he invited them out on a Midwest tour. “The next week after that jam, I went to Dillon’s house to watch the whole band perform,” Smash enthuses. “They killed again, and I asked them to come on our summer tour with us and play during our breaks. They got huge ovations everywhere we played. The following summer they toured with The Smash Band again.”

The band has also found a mentor of sorts in legendary local guitarist Jimmy Griffin. Griffin, besides being a member of The Incurables, El Monstero, Celebration Day, and Petty Cash Junction, is also the director of Camp Jam. Camp Jam schools students in all aspects of playing in a real rock ’n’ roll band, from rehearsing to songwriting, playing techniques to gigs. This is where they met Jaffe, who displayed the skin-bashing flash and ability they felt would be a significant step up for the band. “We wouldn’t be anywhere without Jimmy,” Wilfong says. “He’s great.” Griffin sometimes lets them play at soundchecks on The Pageant stage whenever he has a show there, and The Sages hope to have Griffin “come out to a gig sometime to join us for a song.”

Although history is populated with famous musicians rising to the top against the wishes of their parents, The Sages are in the enviable position of actually having their parents’ support. Jaffe’s dad even helps with the band’s promotional posters. This support isn’t lost on Smash, who says, “When I started rockin’ in the 1960s, the parents were so adverse to their kids playing rock ’n’ roll that they were a detriment to our growth. Dillon, Liam, Alex, and Myles have their parents’ understanding and encouragement to help on their journey to their own levels of greatness.”

The story of The Sages looks to be an ongoing saga, if current momentum is any indication. They’ve played a Halloween show at Pops, auditioned for America’s Got Talent (they hope to hear back in February), and even sent Ellen DeGeneres a video of them rocking The Who classic “My Generation.” With more shows at more venues potentially dovetailing into more studio time, the band’s hard work continues to yield ample opportunities for The Sages. Even the new songs are coming along, but not as quickly as Wilfong would like. He says, “The songs usually start with a riff, but I’m also really a lyric person. The lyrics have to mean something, so they take me a long time. In fact, that’s the biggest thing that slows us up, me finishing lyrics.”

Before I leave the band’s rehearsal space, they play me another original called “Jericho.” Watching them play with so much assurance and precision, I can’t help but feel I’m on the ground floor witnessing the start of something. “Sometimes it’s hard when you’re working on songs, because you’re tempted to just drop it and play video games or run around outside,” Wilfong says. “But now I’m like, ‘Okay, we have to spend the time on this and make sure we finish it and we’re happy with it.’ That’s what we need to do to get to the next level.”

You can see The Sages at the South Broadway Athletic Club Mardi Gras Family Ball on Friday, February 17, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Adults $10, kids $5. For details, please see www.southbroadwayac.org.

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