Young Bethel metal band one of top finalists in Maine high schools’ rock off

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NEWRY — Joan Bartlett held both hands tight against her ears Friday night as she stood inside her garage off Bear River Road.

About 4 yards away, her grandchildren, Devin and Ryan Vail, and David Pilgrim, all of Bethel, practiced one of their original songs. The metal band, Midnite Haze, was getting ready for a competition against five Maine high school rock bands on May 1 in Portland.

“They’re good, aren’t they?” Bartlett asked.

After establishing a pounding beat that grandfather David Bartlett said could be heard 2 miles away, lead guitarist and vocalist Ryan Vail, 13, stepped to a microphone and began belting out lyrics without missing a beat. Devin Vail, 16, rhythmically thumped several drums and cymbals as Pilgrim, 14, deftly played bass and grooved to the beat.

Midnite Haze was one of six Maine high school rock bands chosen as finalists from 16 bands at last weekend’s Maine Academy of Modern Music Rock Off in Portland.

Next week, Midnite Haze and the other finalists will be featured on live television on WGME-13’s Daybreak program, before vying next month for a recording contract, $1,000 in cash, professional photography and Web site design, top-line gear, and radio and studio time.

“I’m totally proud of them,” said Pilgrim’s mother, Maleza Pilgrim.

Influenced by bands such as Led Zeppelin, Metallica and Iron Maiden, the Vail brothers grew up listening to their father’s band. Family members are also steeped in musical performance. Ryan, a self-taught guitarist, taught Pilgrim how to play bass.

The two buddies, whom Maleza refers to as being like brothers, joined a fifth-grade band at Telstar Middle School before breaking away on their own in July 2009 and convincing Devin to join them on drums to form Midnite Haze.

Together, the trio has headlined benefits for autism, cancer and families in need, performed at parties, pubs and bars, and opened for older rockers like Rumford metal band Monsta, Maleza Pilgrim said.

But they don’t yet know how to categorize their sound in comparison to other heavy metal bands.

“We’re still a metal band, but we’re progressing into, like, the sound of heavier metal,” Ryan Vail said. “I think we have our own kind of sound. I wouldn’t call it New Age and I wouldn’t call it rock, and I really don’t know what my voice compares to.”

“It think their music fits their name, Midnite Haze,” David Bartlett said. “I thought they sounded very well at the Rock Off and were comparable to all of the other bands.”

The boys, however, are their own worst critics.

“Talent-wise, we played like crap,” Devin Vail said. “If we didn’t have our votes, we wouldn’t have got in.”

He said the band won the wild-card spot based on the number of votes it got. Twenty percent of that was how they marketed themselves, David Bartlett said, and Midnite Haze was one of the few bands that brought clothing merchandise. They will cut their first CD soon with the addition of five more original songs and will hold a CD release party.

“I was nervous, and Devin dropped a drumstick,” David Pilgrim said. “I didn’t think we had a chance.”

“Ninety-five percent of the time, I thought we had a chance of making it in,” Ryan Vail said. “We were the first to perform. If we had heard some of the other bands play first, I think we would have done it better.”

After reading an advertisement for the Rock Off, the boys entered the competition to represent their schools. Ryan and David attend Telstar Middle School; Devin goes to Telstar High School.

Within an allotted time to set up and perform, they could play four songs: one cover and three originals. They played Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and a new song “White Blind,” which Devin wrote, and “Treason Is” and “No One Knows.”

David Bartlett said the boys need to work on their stage presence, with which SAD 44 teachers have volunteered to help. The band will also attend rock music camps this summer at the Portland music academy.

As for next month’s final competition, Ryan Vail said he was already working on the repertoire. And he and his band mates will step up their practices.

“Hopefully, we can get a lot of support from the community, too,” he said.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

To learn more about Midnite Haze, visit their Web site at http://midnitehaze.com/

and www.mainetoday.com/rockoff/midnitehaze.html.

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