By Steve Graham
Pianist Matan Birnbaum and rhythm guitarist Goose Seifert might have to choose between playing “a dream gig” at Mishawaka Amphitheatre and learning about music production at Berklee College of Music this summer.
You’re probably doing something right as high school juniors if the nation’s most prestigious music school and the area’s best music venue are competing for your time, and your band is generating local buzz.
Among other musical projects, Matan and Goose are two-fifths of My Dog Ate Chad, an indie rock and power pop band that released its first EP last month. Guitarist Nico Cutbirth, bassist Ben Schaibly and drummer Jackson Smith round out the band.
The group started in a music program at Polaris Expeditionary Learning School in Fort Collins in 2016. Most of the members were freshmen, and music teacher Jasmine Faulkner basically put them together as one of her after-school “house bands” for students who wanted extra music rehearsal and instruction.
They didn’t necessarily get along when they first started playing together.
“At the time, there was a crap-ton of tension between me and Matan, and me and Nico just because of crap that happened in middle school,” said Ben.
Many hours of rehearsals and gigs have ironed out all that tension, and all the bandmates get along now.
They also have moved beyond gigs at Polaris for their fellow students. They worked with Faulkner and the Bohemian Foundation to book studio time and find shows at Hodi’s Half Note, the Downtown Artery and other local venues. That quirky band name regularly appears on posters around town, even though no actual Chads were harmed in the making of the band, which was sort of named by accident.
Jackson had a running list of 150 potential band names, including My Dog Ate My PayPal Account. Nico instead suggested Chad, randomly. They unanimously agreed on the name, expecting to change it eventually, but soon realized it was a memorable moniker.
Four of the band members are juniors at Polaris. Jackson graduated two years ago from the school, and he works at a grocery store. Jackson, Matan and Nico are the primary songwriters, and they draw on a range of influences.
“Matan’s into jazz and math rock, I’m into pop-punk and emo, and (Nico) is into grunge, and it all blends beautifully,” Jackson said. “A lot of great bands have multiple songwriters like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd. All those people use all those songwriting influences to make something great. I think that’s one of our greatest strengths.”
Their influences range from Modest Mouse and Weezer to Pink Floyd and Soundgarden.
Matan comes from the Jeff Tweedy school of atmospheric songwriting.
“When I write lyrics, it’s always metaphorical nonsense that doesn’t make sense when you look at it, but sounds cool when you sing it out loud,” Matan said.
The first single, posted early on Bandcamp as a teaser to the full EP, was “Loud,” a growling, guitar-heavy power-pop earworm about mindfulness that sounds like Spoon meets Weezer.
“‘Loud’ is about the chaos in the world and block that out,” said Nico, who wrote the chorus. “In everyone’s head, there’s just always so much going on everywhere and it can be very hard to get all that out and focus on what’s at hand.”
Opening track “Nintendo Flavored” features more of Matan’s piano and delivers a Ben Folds or Regina Spektor vibe. “The Emptiness” is a darker track with hints of Smashing Pumpkins and early Radiohead. They show an impressive range on a short EP.
The band expects to release a full album by the end of the year and plans to go on tour after graduation next summer. Matan hopes the band can stay together for a while.
“I just want music to be part of my life,” Matan said.