Playing with 'Attitude'
By Master Sgt. Tom Kielbasa, FLNG Public Affairs
/ Published November 08, 2010
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Nov. 5, 2010) - When the band "American Attitude" formed four years ago the members just wanted to fill some empty seats at their NCO club on drill weekends. -- The Guardsmen from the Florida Air National Guard's 125th Fighter Wing thought their hard-rock cover band would only provide some much-needed entertainment at the Jacksonville F-15 base, and with the base commander's permission they started playing unit parties and events.
Now, after a few years of also playing local bars and charity events in Northeast Florida, American Attitude has officially broken into the music industry: the band landed a recording deal, is writing original material and playing in Las Vegas.
American Attitude members Master Sgt. Shawn Watchorn (guitar), Master Sgt. Marc Myers (drums) and Tech. Sgt. Chris Henderson (vocals) are all full-time Guardsman at the 125th. Navy Reservist Petty Officer 1st Class Matt Smithers (bass) completes the hard-rocking quartet during its shows.
Smithers, who joined the band after the original bass player left, described their style and stage presence as a spontaneous blend of "feel-good, high-energy music" that is difficult to categorize.
"It's a combination of metal, rock, funk and punk," he explained. "It's really just a fusion thing...we say it's a hard rock base, but we incorporate so many different flavors of music. If it 'rocks' we'll play it."
The band started gaining attention earlier this year after Watchorn posted some of its original music online at GIJams.com. The site - dedicated to promoting military musicians - was the brainchild of legendary songwriter Denny Randell, and featured American Attitude with other bands from across the country. Watchorn said he didn't think anything would really come of it, but about a month later he got a phone call from Randell himself.
"He called us up and said he loved our music and the fact we were all military members," Watchorn said. "He liked that we were creating our own music, and juggling our music with our jobs and families."
When Randell asked if American Attitude was interested in signing with his new record label called "GI Jams" and being featured on a forthcoming compilation album of military artists, the band jumped at the opportunity. As part of the deal, American Attitude will play a GI Jams Veteran's Day concert in Las Vegas, and is looking at a possible tour with the label next year.
"We never imagined it would get to this level," Watchorn admitted.
While they still practice regularly in Myers' cramped and crowded garage, the band members have moved beyond just performing cover songs and are making their mark with original American Attitude songs.
The members spend weeks writing original material, with Watchorn sketching out the rough structure of the songs and vocalist Henderson putting the lyrics together. A few "jam sessions" later they have a song ready to try out on their audience.
"I don't know if other bands do it that way, but it just works really well for us," Smithers said.
While their material runs the gamut from mellow to upbeat party songs, one piece - "Redemption" - tackles the serious issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
"When I wrote the lyrics for Redemption I thought that PTSD was something that really needs to be brought to the forefront more," Henderson said. "I had been reading some articles and listening to interviews about how it has been kind of ignored or almost shunned. You can get a broken arm mended, but if you have some sort of psychological trauma to have to just suck it up and not even bring it up. We need to change the way people look at it."
Between deployments, family obligations and work duties, the band members are still able to perform regularly and keep finding new venues for their music.
"I don't think American Attitude has ever booked a gig and had to call back and say 'We can't make it,'" said Myers, who credits their success to a strong work ethic and understanding families. "I know bands that aren't in the military and cancel gigs all the time."
Now that they have a record deal the band members are focusing more on original material than ever before, and according to Watchorn they see any performances as an opportunity to promote the National Guard and military service.
"Every time we're out we still put an American Flag on the stage and tell everyone about the Guard and the military," he said. "We always give a shout out to the members of the Armed Forces past and present. We're a Sailor and Airmen all the time, so we project that out in public too."
American Attitudes original music can be found at GIJams.com, and more information on the band can be found on its Facebook site at www.facebook.com/AmericanAttitude.