A four-student band from Hilliard Darby High School is trying to join a modest but growing string of successful musicians from Academy Vibe at Hilliard City Schools' Innovative Learning Center.
Ink will be among 12 bands from throughout the Midwest to compete Saturday, Feb. 29, in the finals of the Tri-C High School Rock Off at the Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Cuyahoga Community College, the sponsor of the event, helped the 12 bands, including Ink, prepare by providing the opportunity for each finalist to use a recording studio at the college.
Ink features lead guitarist Sam Andrei, a 17-year-old junior, percussionist Ian Carr, a 17-year-old junior, bass guitarist Caleb "Cloob" Melfe, an 18-year-old senior, and rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist Gavin Payne, a 17-year-old junior.
They will perform in the contest as part of the curriculum for Academy Vibe II at the ILC.
"(Academy Vibe classes) are meant to give aspiring musicians an authentic experience in recording, making music, making videos and live performing," said Phil Nagy, is one of the instructors at Academy Vibe, along with Trevor Torrence.
Academy Vibe is a music-based program in which students receive the experience of working in a professional-grade recording studio at the ILC, which is based at 5323 Cemetery Road in the district's former administrative offices and is billed as an alternative-education setting that specializes in blended and innovative learning. The ILC and the Innovative Learning Hub at 3859 Main St. form the district's Innovation Campus.
It is the third year in a row that a student-led band from Academy Vibe has qualified for the finals for the competition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Threat Level Midnight performed in 2018 and Pyranimals competed last year, Nagy said.
Ink's origins go back to a talent show Andrei entered as an eighth-grader at Hilliard Heritage Middle School.
"I was just going to play a guitar over a back track of punk songs," he said.
However, the talent show's organizer encouraged Andrei to enter with a band because no bands were in the lineup.
"So I recruited Gavin and Ian," he said.
The following year, the trio played as freshmen in the Academy Vibe class at the ILC.
They soon realized a bass guitarist was needed.
"We needed a bassist, but someone who was colorful and who we could be friends with outside the band," Carr said. "We swapped out a few bass players until we got to Cloob, but he was the fit we had been looking for."
Last year, as part of Academy Vibe, the band recorded a five-track EP titled "City of Decay" with a lyricist with whom the band no longer works.
"How we did that one was we came up with a song title we liked but then had (a lyricist) write some poetry around the song title," Payne said.
The EP was available free through the European audio-distribution platform SoundCloud.
"But the quality wasn't good at all so we like to forget about that one," Payne said.
"We recorded that in a bedroom and even burned up a mixer because it got too hot in the room from the amplifiers," Carr said.
Last year, using the "right equipment" that included Avid Pro Tools, Ink cut two singles, "Shame" and "Faded," each available on Spotify and similar platforms for purchase.
"We plan to release a 10-track album this summer," Melfe said.
While working on original compositions, the teens said successful bands influenced them to record music.
As a group, they cited Blink-182, Tool, Smashing Pumpkins and Bowling for Soup.
Andrei also said he was inspired by a local band, a former Darby group called Timeout.
Ink will debut a new single, "Teresa," as part of recordings that the Tri-C High School Rock Off will release Feb. 29.
The collection of recordings includes one from each of the finalists.
Apart from the competition, Ink will continue to perform live, including a show at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, at Skully's Music-Diner, 1151 N. High St. in Columbus, and at 6 p.m. March 19 at the Rumba Cafe, 2507 Summit St. in Columbus.
For more performances, go to inkisaband.com.
For information on the Tri-C High School Rock Off, go to rockhall.com/rockoff.