Vontus builds audience despite youth
In two years as a band, Vontus has amassed a resume of performances and accolades to rival any other local group, including past dates in New York City and the Hudson Valley, and a win at this summer’s Battle of the Bands at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
These achievements are even more impressive given the band members’ ages — bassist and vocalist Jake Brooks is 17 and a senior at Saratoga Springs High School; guitarist Johnny Gravitt and drummer Josh Morris are both 16 and sophomores at Queensbury High School. The band’s combination of classic and modern rock covers and muscular, hook-filled originals often makes audiences think the band is much older than it is.
“A lot of times people think we’re from Skidmore; they’ll think we’re Skidmore kids — like, ‘How old are you kids?’ ” Brooks said recently from his home in Saratoga Springs while preparing for rehearsal with Gravitt. “Not to sound egotistic or anything, but we are definitely able to raise some eyebrows, judging by [the audience’s] reaction.”
Sometimes, when it elicits responses like the one above, the band’s youth can be beneficial. However, on many occasions the band has been completely passed over for gigs due to age alone, with promoters sometimes realizing their mistake after the fact.
“Sometimes when we email or something, [promoters] won’t even respond to us — they see ‘teenage band,’ ” Gravitt said. “We had somebody come up to us after a show — we had entered into this festival and they didn’t reply back to us, and later they said the slot was taken up. We actually ended up, by accident, playing at Bailey’s, and the person from the festival went up to Mike, Jake’s dad, and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know how good they are — to be honest, I didn’t even take a look at the press kit, because I saw teenage band.’ ”
Incidents like this are fast becoming fewer and further between as Vontus continues to play throughout the Capital Region and beyond. The band will return to Bailey’s Cafe, where they are regulars, on Saturday night.
For the four-hour bar sets like Bailey’s, the band will perform a handful of its 14 original songs, but most of the set will come from the band’s 50-plus deep list of covers — everything from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give it Away,” to modern fare like Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,” to classic hard rock such as Led Zeppelin and Van Halen.
“We try and get a really wide variety of genres,” Brooks said. “We all like rock and alternative, but we try to get different eras of the music, too.”
Range of material
This depth of material comes from the band members’ lifelong love of music. Everyone in the band started out early on their instrument — Brooks has been playing bass for close to eight years; Gravitt first picked up guitar nine years ago; and Morris has been playing drums for 11 years, since the age of 5. Both Brooks and Morris are involved with their respective schools’ jazz bands and orchestras.
Gravitt and Brooks were briefly in a band together in middle school, but Brooks was originally not involved with the first incarnation of Savantas, which would eventually become Vontus in January 2012. Gravitt and Morris needed a fill-in bassist for a show in Vermont, and Brooks fit the bill; later, he took over lead vocals as well.
Songwriting is a collaborative effort in the band, with the exception of vocal melodies and lyrics written solely by Brooks.
“Sometimes Johnny will come up with a really cool guitar part, I’ll say, ‘This is cool,’ and I’ll write a chord progression over it,” Brooks said. “Usually it spawns off of a unique idea we come up with. The songwriting process, we all like to be a part of it — it’s not just a one-person thing.”
The trio has released an eight-song EP, “Eyes Closed and Spinning,” through iTunes, and is working to record new material at The Creek Studio in Saratoga Springs for future EP releases. More recently, the band has been expanding its reach to venues such as Putnam Den and The Hollow Bar (formerly Bayou Cafe) in Albany.
With Brooks set to graduate from high school in the spring, the band’s future is uncertain. However, all three members are committed to staying together in the long run.
“It will definitely be difficult, but [when I graduate] I’m still going to be staying in New York,” Brooks said.
“I’ll be about, at most, three hours away. It may be harder to write a little bit more, but we’ll still be able to keep playing shows — with practice, we’ll just have to practice on our own, or practice the day before a show, then show up and just play it.”