From left to right: Mike Klempa, Ryan O'Connell, Gretchen Klempa, Barrett Goeman and Richie Smith.
Playing together just a year, Gretchen and the Pickpockets are finalists in the global music competition by besting nearly 12,000 competitors in The Hard Rock Café’s Hard Rock Rising Battle of the Bands.
It’s every college band member’s dream: You start small, playing friends’ parties and local bars, and one day, you hit the big time. Global fame, record deals and millions of fans singing along to your songs.
But for UNH-based Gretchen and the Pickpockets, that global fame might not be such a far-flung fantasy.
The alt-rock band has outlasted the competition in The Hard Rock Café’s Hard Rock Rising Battle of the Bands. Some 12,000 bands entered the international contest, and after several rounds of competition, Gretchen and the Pickpockets earned a spot representing the New England area as one of the top 100 bands in the world.
They’ll hear today whether or not they move on to the elite 25 bands who will play in London and compete for a chance to win a world tour and record contract with Hard Rock Records.
The five-member group includes four UNH students: lead singer Gretchen Klempa ’15, her brother, bassist Mike Klempa ’13, guitarist and trumpeter Ryan O’Connell ’13, guitarist Richie Smith ’15 and drummer Barrett Goeman (who proudly proclaims himself as a Berklee College of Music dropout).
Growing up in Exeter, Mike and Gretchen have always been musical; last year their parents told the siblings they should start a band together, and the search began for potential members. They met O’Connell through mutual friends, and he introduced Smith to the group. Mike knew fellow Exeter High School grad Barrett from playing in different bands in high school.
Once the group came together, there was one ground rule, laid down by Smith – no pop music, please.
And they’ve been sticking to that, playing music that’s influenced by blues and jazz with alt-rock beats. While the group’s set might still include a cover or two, like The Rolling Stones “Satisfaction,” the group is writing and performing all of their own material.
O’Connell explains that the songwriting is a group process, even if he or another band member pens a tune, it’s never in its final form until it goes through a heavy editing and revision phase by the other band members. “A song I might write never stays the same. We always make it the group’s instead of one person’s song,” said O’Connell.
“We’re always thinking of what we can do different, what can we do to make it better, said Klempa, who is an international affairs dual major.
They’ve been playing together for just about a year, which makes their rapid advancement in the Hard Rock contest all that more impressive.
While they await the Hard Rock results, the band is keeping busy. It performed on campus at last weekend’s May Day and Solarfest and have gigs lined up at RiRa and The Red Door in Portsmouth later in May.
And they’re learning one of the hardest parts of making it big in music – getting your name out there.
Gretchen finds herself manning the band’s email account and Facebook more than she thought she would have to. “You have to bug people, a lot of the time. I realized a lot more goes on in a band than just the music,” she said. “We’re trying to reach out to as many people as we can.”
But it’s all worth it, the student-musicians agree.
“The best part about being in the band is when you see people in the audience of a show, and then you see them come back for a second gig,” said Mike.
“It’s great during a show when there’s an awesome energy between the band and the audience, that’s pretty cool,” said O’Connell, who graduates with a music education degree later this month. “We’re just going to keep looking for more opportunities and trying to make connections with other bands and local venues. For us, it’s not just a casual thing, we all really care about the music and the band making it.”
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Written by Michelle Morrissey '97. Photos by Amy Sweeney Photography.