Not many college bands can say that they’re opening for their favorite band, unless they’re Young Jesus, that is. The North Shore-based quartet just found out they’ll be opening for The National at Vanderbilt University’s Rites of Spring festival in April.
“I freaked out,” says John Rossiter, frontman and Weinberg junior. “The National is probably our biggest influence.”
They landed the gig after a friend on the student board for the festival showed them their music and the band sent in a video appealing to the board to let them come and play.
“And we almost didn’t get it,” Rossiter said. “They said that we sounded too much like the National, so we made this really lame video to show them we really wanted to play and that we were different.”
Rossiter met bassist Shawn Nystrand, lead guitarist Cody Kellogg and drummer Pete Martin while they all attended nearby New Trier High School.The band originally started out as just Nystrand and Kellogg, but Rossiter joined them after a party where he heard their music and decided he “wanted to be in the band and drop out of college to play music.” And he did just that. After going back to Wooster College for a month and “not feeling it,” he dropped out.
“My parents are really Christian. So when my dad picked me up [from Wooster], I told him I was joining a band, and he asked me what the name was,” Rossiter said. “And when I told him Young Jesus, he just went, ‘Oh John, Oh John.’”
The name comes from a friend who says a long-haired Nystrand looked like “a young Jesus.” And while it may have upset Rossiter’s parents, the name hasn’t gotten in the way of the band’s success. In the two-and-a-half years they’ve been together, Young Jesus has already released two EPs. The latest effort, the appropriately-titled Young, Innocent and Hairy, came out in January.
The band also spent fall quarter competing in the Red Bull-sponsored Rock the Route challenge along Route 66, in which they were pitted against another Chicago-based band, Brighton, MA. The two bands competed in a series of challenges both on and off the stage, which included playing a Halloween show for members of Shiny Toy Guns and taking on a 72 ounce steak at the Big Texan Steak Ranch.
But getting there wasn’t easy.
“We were about to break up,” Rossiter says. “Our old bassist left to have a kid, get married and move to California, and that was about the time when we started to get really sick of each other. But then before we played this show, Shawn, Peter and I wrote a few songs and we loved them.”
But even though they feel much closer as a band now, it has been difficult to actually practice together. While the rest of the band lives in the Chicagoland area, Martin attends Loyola University in New Orleans.
“We’ve been writing a lot more and not doing as much actual practicing,” Rossiter says. “We also end up practicing acoustic a lot.”
The band does have dates scheduled, though. In addition to the Rites of Spring festival, they have upcoming shows in Chicago on March 12 at the Subterranean and at the Viaduct Theatre on April 22. According to Rossiter, they’re also hoping to go on tour to New York City this summer.
“There’s no better feeling than playing onstage or having a good practice,” Rossiter says. “Like when everything just clicks and comes together and you feel like you contributed to it.”