Ivy Leaf - Spring 2007
Not Your BASSic College Student
WEBSTER'S DEFINES A MARAUDER AS ONE WHO "INVADES FOR LOOT." FOR CHRIS LAWSON, UPRIGHT BASSIST FOR LOCAL ROCK-A-BILLY BAND THE MARAUDERS, THE DESIRED INVASION MOST LIKELY WOULD BE OF THE INTERNATIONAL MUSIC SCENE, WITH THE LOOT ACQUIRED THROUGH RECORD SALES AND SOLD-OUT CONCERT VENUES.
Growing up in Montana, Lawson spent the early 90s playing bass in a local reggae punk rock band with his brother and some buddies. Lawson's family moved to Altoona in 1995, where his brother traded music for a family and an elementary education degree from Penn State Altoona, while the other band members faded away. Lawson was forced to take a year off from music and was miserable. "That's what I had been doing since I was 16- or 17-years-old, and I really find a passion in it," states Lawson. "I spent the year just practicing by myself and was grumpy all the time. Everybody was complaining that I'd become a grumpy man."
Working full-time at a record store, Lawson realized that retail was not a long-term goal and followed his brother's example by enrolling in Penn State Altoona. At the same time, he returned to his love of music, bought an upright bass, and started playing in a rocka- billy band called the Lonely Ones. Through the local music scene he met Ben Dumm, who recruited Lawson to play in his band. The rest, as they say, is history.
Although the make up of the Marauders has varied, at one point consisting of six total musicians, Lawson feels the current core group of three—Lawson on upright bass and vocals, Abe Weber on drums and back-up vocals, and Dumm on guitar and lead vocals/songwriter— is the winning combination. And Lawson apparently isn't the only one who thinks so.
The group started playing at a club in Philadelphia called The Blue Comet—a venue Lawson describes as a "crazy place with some of the best food I've ever had"—and met Tommy McGuire. McGuire, a regular at the Blue Comet, happened to be a good childhood friend of Brian Setzer. Setzer, who made his mark in the 80s as lead singer of the rock-a-billy band Stray Cats, has found a resurgence in popularity with his swing band The Brian Setzer Orchestra.
McGuire immediately loved the music of the Marauders and, sitting down to talk with them at the club, quickly became ingratiated with the band members' down-to-earth, bluecollar style. "He asked us for a CD to give Brian and we took that in stride; you see a lot of people who want to drop names but later find out that they were just blowing smoke," comments Lawson.
But in this case, where there was smoke, there was fire. Delivering on his promise during the groups' next gig, McGuire held up his cell phone with Setzer on the line so that he could hear the Marauders for himself.
That night, the Marauders talked to Setzer on the phone, who invited them to D.C. for one of his concerts. While Lawson was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict at work, Dumm made the trip and met with Setzer after the show. Setzer had nothing but praise for the Marauders, likening them to his Stray Cats when they were starting out. He then showered the ultimate accolade on the group by offering to write them a song.
"We were on cloud nine. He is one of our biggest inspirations and for him to say those things is a huge compliment," states Lawson. Setzer sent them some lyrics initially, but then a year went by without seeing anything else. Figuring it was not going to happen, the group was pleasantly surprised one day to receive a cassette tape in the mail.
Listening to Setzer sing and play "We Are the Marauders," the group was overwhelmed. "We loved it!" says Lawson. "As soon as we heard it, we were 'wowed.' We knew it would fit right in with our style. It just had our feel and we were shocked. Here was somebody who doesn't really know us but obviously knew what we were all about just from hearing our songs."
"We are the Marauders" has become the groups' theme song, which Lawson finds amusing. "It's kind of funny that our emblem song – 'We are the Marauders' – was written by someone other than the Maraurders."
The group recorded the song and sent it to Setzer, who responded by inviting them to join him on tour. Lawson's immediate reaction was one of panic. "I was getting sick to my stomach thinking that I was going to have to drop out of college for the semester, but it ended up working out," notes Lawson. "My professors were all willing to help me out to make sure that I could partake of this once-ina- lifetime opportunity."
With three dates on the East Coast and three dates out west, the group first headed to the House of Blues in Atlantic City. That's when the nerves hit … hard. "It was a huge stage with people as far as you could see. They told us it was a sold-out house and it just started to sink in, what was happening. Our stomachs were in knots, we were shaking, but Brian came out to tell us to have a good show and that he believes in what we're doing, and that made a difference."
The West Coast shows brought about their own challenges, as the group couldn't take their own instruments. In order to return home in time for the holidays, they were forced to fly to California. Taking his own upright bass would have cost Lawson $10,000 for a suitable case and $500 for shipping. The same held true for Dumm. As a result, Lawson and Dumm both played Setzer's instruments. "The guitar Ben got to play, only two other people have ever touched it on stage—Setzer and Elvis Costello. Ben was a wreck when they told him that; he was afraid to even touch it."
They returned home just in time for Christmas, although they felt as if they had already received their greatest present. Next on the agenda for the Marauders is finding good management, which Lawson believes is the key to success at the next level. Currently doing all of their own bookings, the group finds themselves shut out of many venues that only work with management companies.
For Lawson, the immediate future also holds the promise of a college degree. With an anticipated graduation date of December 2007, Lawson is proud of what he has accomplished at Penn State Altoona.
"I've already ended up going further than I expected"
"In high school, I skipped classes all the time and never did my homework. I graduated high school with something like a 1.8. But then I came to Penn State Altoona and got a 4.0 for my first semester. I was shocked and so proud of myself. It just felt great," states Lawson.
Lawson credits his collegiate success to the right attitude at the right time. "I came to Penn State Altoona focused and wanting to learn. In high school, I was being forced to do it. I took some time off to mature and I know that helped out a lot."
Starting off at the college on a part-time basis due to his poor high school GPA, Lawson was determined to prove himself. He quickly did, and began to pursue his studies full-time. Landing a part-time job with the local public access station was "great, because I'm getting experience in my field while I'm going to college," notes Lawson. "It will put me so much further ahead of the game once I graduate."
Majoring in communications seemed a natural fit for Lawson, given his musical background. He enjoys audio and film production and has even put out a music video for the Marauders that was included on a DVD sold nationally. His dream is to make it big in the music industry, but he feels comfortable knowing that his degree gives him a solid plan on which to fall back.
"The dream scenario is that the band works out and we get to go out on tour. Then, when I come home, I can work in advertising or put together short films as a side career," says Lawson. "But I definitely need a back-up plan; when I was in the Big'uns [his group in the 90s], I put all my hope in the band thing but then that fell through. So I got smart with the Marauders. I went into this with the thought that I love playing music and if we make it, we make it. And if we're playing in bars for years making $100 a night each, that's cool, too. I've already ended up going further than I expected."