Garage rock has long dealt in teenage concerns; for Nox Boys, those concerns just happen to be in the present tense. Or, as 16-year-old frontman Zack Keim explains with a grin, "I have to get good grades or my dad will kill me."
But even with three-fourths of the band currently enrolled at Fox Chapel High School — drummer Sam Berman and bassist Zach Stadtlander are both seniors, while steel guitarist Bob Powers graduated from the school in 1970 — Nox Boys are set apart by more than the nearness of their teenage angst. Their debut record, which they'll release Saturday via Get Hip Records, is as skillfully executed as it is raw.
Keim got to know Powers, a local music veteran, a couple years ago while playing open stages in the band's home base of Blawnox. "When I started to play with Bob, I wasn't aware of the garage genre," recalls Keim. But before long, he was deep into classic '60s-era garage-rock bands like The Sonics, as well as newer stuff from Black Lips and Ty Segall.
There were some hiccups in solidifying a lineup: "The [first] bassist left because he had to go to military school because he was bad," Keim says. But things started to take off when the band went to see Get Hip stalwarts — and garage legends in their own right — The Cynics. After Keim slipped the band a demo, Cynics frontman Michael Kastelic became Nox Boys' "biggest advocate," Stadtlander says. Guitarist and Get Hip founder Gregg Kostelich was harder to convince, but only slightly: After checking out a couple live shows, Berman says, Kostelich "figured out that he had something to work with."
Now on board with a label, Nox Boys went to Detroit to record with Jim Diamond, perhaps best known for his work on the first two White Stripes records. Fans of those albums will hear similarities in the tone of Nox Boys' fuzzy, frenetic and confidently cool self-titled effort. Shades of The Kinks, The Ramones and even The Stooges surface as well, but ultimately Nox Boys do their own thing.
Everything was recorded live in the studio, an experience all band members agree was intense. "The actual recording we just kind of banged out in a weekend," Stadtlander says. As a result, Berman adds, the record is "live-sounding and natural. ... [I]t sounds the way the genre is supposed to sound."
Nox Boys have already won the endorsements of local musicians like Chet Vincent and Josh Verbanets; winning over their classmates has been a slightly different story, if only because their peers don't always know what to make of the music they're playing. But now that the band has a physical record to show for its efforts, Stadtlander says, "The kids at school are starting to turn an ear."
And though Nox Boys might sometimes sound like visitors from 1965, Keim is quick to note that they're no nostalgia act: "We don't want to dress up like Paul Revere and the Raiders. We're just teenagers having fun."