by Dalila Bevab
Many people wear the logos of iconic rock bands like Green Day, Radiohead and Red Hot Chili Peppers on their shirts every day. But what’s often overlooked is the fact that these legendary bands were formed in high school by ambitious, talented teenage rockers.
Freshman music tech major Brandon Meredith and his band anticipate heading down that same road of success with their indie alternative rock sound, SJL. SJL stands for “Sunday Jet Lag,” a combination of two songs from one of the members’ favorite indie rock bands, Pinegrove.
Meredith and his best friends started their band while attending separate high schools in Louisville in the spring of 2018 after years of jamming with each other. Ben Wilga plays drums, and his twin, Jonah, plays bass. Chris Jacobi is the rhythm guitarist and sang everything on their last album, and Meredith plays the lead guitar. They have been friends for a long time, and they bonded from the beginning.
“We had always loved playing music together and we were trying to form bands with people but nothing would ever work out, so one day we had a jam session and kind of wrote a song and realized we should absolutely just start a band together,” Meredith said.
Meredith discovered his love of music when he was four years old because he was raised around musicians in his family. He said music completely consumed his life at age 12. He was involved in choir in school and he taught himself how to play the guitar in the eighth grade. Meredith said he grew up listening to the “classic rock bands every dad listens to” like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC.
The top three songs from SJL Meredith recommends everyone should listen to first are “Pins and Needles,” “Turning Point,” and “Without You.”
Meredith said, “What we did with our first song, ‘Pins and Needles,’ is we made a riff and thought ‘Oh that’s cool, maybe we should add some drums to that.’” From there, SJL had its first song and had officially established the band.
Meredith said SJL’s only album, “It Takes A Lot To Know Yourself,” is about “trying to figure out who you are and what your purpose is.”
The band was in high school at the time and many things were happening at once. Meredith said, “Everyone in high school wants to understand where they fit into everything and that’s kind of what the album is about.”
Fitting SJL into one genre is difficult because the band has evolved from the first album to the second. The vibe of the first album is an emo and angsty one that sounds like Modern Baseball describing the high school experience. With the second album, Meredith said the band has grown up and moved on from that point in their lives. Now, they’re leading more towards a more mature indie and alternative sound with the inspiration of the band, Pinegrove. The second album is set to be released in the fall.
SJL’s first and favorite gig was at Spinelli’s downtown, and it was last-minute. “We just played a couple of songs and everybody moshed, which was pretty cool,” Meredith said. SJL wrote and performed an exclusive song titled “Pirate Squidward” just for the Spinelli’s show.
Friend and fan Abigail Dimeler met Meredith last year. Meredith shared his band’s story during first-day introductions in class. She listened to the record for the first time on Spotify and said, “I was pretty impressed with the fact that they had already assembled a full-length record before even graduating high school—that’s no easy feat.”
Dimeler said, “The quality of the production was intimidatingly solid to me, and every song was different.” She said she loved the intentionality in every lyric and choice in production and arrangement. “It feels like there’s a sense of self-awareness to what they’re doing that usually takes a lot of time and energy to cultivate,” she said.
As a music major, Dimeler said she thinks many people would assume there’s jealousy and competition within an artistic environment like that of Bellarmine’s. In her experience, the truth is that students are thrilled by each other’s success.
“There’s so much respect between us that we would, of course, do anything to help each other’s music get out, or help each other get exposure locally or within the industry,” she said.
The tight-knit community at Bellarmine can substantially help a band grow in its exposure and success. Dimeler said sharing friends’ posts or songs on Instagram or coming to see performances can do so much to help small, local groups like SJL. She said when the time comes for her to release her own music, she will definitely go through Meredith first.
Friend Cody Hofmans met Meredith in their intro to the study of music class and they instantly hit it off because they were both guitar players in a band. They both lead busy lives, but they find the time to jam and hangout.
“When I first listened (to SJL) I popped my headphones in and took a walk and I was shocked because the music really managed to put me in a trance-like state,” Hofmans said.
Hofmans said SJL’s first album resonates with him on a number of topics and inspires him with his own music because it’s ambitious and impressively done. His favorite song by SJL is “Pins and Needles.”
“I can really relate with the message of the song and the lyrics about laying on the hood of a car looking up at the sky with someone you love [because it] has always brought back strong memories from my past,” Hofmans said.
It’s necessary for people to support their local artists by checking out their shows, buying their albums, sharing the music, and simply enjoying the music, Hofmans said. “Generally, if people know you and like you, they’ll vibe with your art,” he said.
When Meredith told his friend Julia Goodfleisch about his band, she said it didn’t sound like something she usually listens to. But as soon as she listened to the first song, she was automatically hooked.
“I absolutely love listening to his music on repeat, and now I listen to music like his all the time,” Goodfleisch said. She said she would love to see SJL perform on campus so they can gain more exposure.
SJL’s music puts Goodfleisch in a good mood no matter what. She said, “Knowing that my best friend is a part of something like SJL warms my heart…you can truly see the love Brandon has for music when you listen to his band.”
The other members of SJL attend college in Indiana, but Meredith is optimistic and hopes the band can continue to flourish. It has been difficult to get the band together at times and trying to play constant gigs with members at different schools.
With a second album in the works, the band hope to play more shows. The second album is going to be mixed, recorded and produced by the band members themselves because they’re all music tech majors wanting to get hands-on experience and apply their skillset.
SJL made almost $1,000 from CD sales off its first album and bought better equipment to play more live shows. The profit from the second album and upcoming shows will be spent on merch for fans to promo the band around town and on campus.
SJL would love to play a show on campus, whether it be at Bellaroo or Hillside. The band’s dream gig would be at the legendary Bonnaroo festival that takes place in Tennessee every June. Meredith said, “All the bands we look up to play at Bonnaroo and that’s our favorite festival—we go every year.”
To the critics of smaller local bands out there, Meredith said, “It’s all about just having fun, because at the end of the day, we may not make it at all, like people may listen to the second album and think, ‘Wow this is awful’ and honestly that’s okay. If no one takes us seriously, at least we had a fun time doing it because playing shows and making music is really, really awesome.”
For those big dreamers out there who want to start their own band but are hesitant, Meredith said, “Do it because once you get into a room with people and you start making that music, especially if music is all you can think about, and even if you just think about doing it on the side, it’s the best experience.”
Music is an important part of many people’s lives, and college is the best place to discover and experience new music like SJL’s. “If you see our name on a bill and like our music, come out and see us,” Meredith said.