It’s not an uncommon sound in the suburbs — the wail of a guitar, the undulating notes of a bass and the rhythmic pound of drums, all emanating from the ersatz studio of someone’s garage. What is uncommon is when the collective age of the musicians only adds up to the high watermark of Generation X.
Meet DDK, three young Sonoma lads determined to rock the music world. Oh, and finish middle school too.
Named for their first initials (though the band once considered No Public Access and Access Denied), DDK is comprised of guitarist Keith Thompson, 14, bassist Dylan Pritel 12 and 11 year-old Devin Thompson, an ambidextrous drum prodigy.
Given their youth, one might think that DDK is too young to rock. For perspective, consider the fact their heroes, East Bay punk trio Green Day, formed at about the same ages. Green Day later bootstrapped itself from the local punk scene into a major label deal in the mid-90s and garnered a Grammy Award last year after having crossed into their 30s. DDK hopes to do something similar — but sooner.
“They grew up in Oakland and around the Bay Area,” says Devin of idols. “They started small and got so big. That’s kind of an inspiration to us.”
Older brother Keith concurs.
“That’s our favorite band,” Keith says, who adds the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin to the list of their influences. He also says more contemporary acts such as Simple Plan and Sum 41 appeal to them as well (Good Charlotte is mentioned, but vetoed by Keith).
What differentiates DDK from other garage-borne bands is not just their young age, but the fact that this May they ventured to Los Angeles to record with an established record producer. This is the result of a chance meeting with 30-year music industry veteran Howard Sapper at a local Chinese restaurant.
“I had gotten my Ipod a few days before and I had our demo on it,” recalls Keith, who played it for Sapper at the restaurant. Sapper, who has worked with young acts like Myra (who is signed to Disney subsidiary Hollywood Records) was impressed, particularly when his 11 year-old daughter heard the tunes and was so smitten she refused to give the IPod back.
“They’re fresh, they’re cool, they’re young. What caught my attention is that the teen thing is over and that rock ‘n’ roll is coming back. Kids are getting more talented, younger and are more confident. These guys are writing really sophisticated songs. I’m blown away by the song structure,” says Sapper.
With Extraordinaire Media partner Ryan Perlman, Sapper brought DDK’s demo to the attention of Los Angeles-based producer Peter “Peas” McEvilley, who has worked with pop group the Gemz and created part of the soundtrack for George Clooney’s film “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” among other projects.
DDK is excited about what their Los Angeles experience may betoken. They are also quite reflective about what success would mean at this time in their lives. Most kids entering their teens have enough to deal with, what with the hormonal maelstrom of puberty and all, let alone a shot at rock stardom.
“I think we’ll probably still be the same,” says Keith.
Devin, perhaps a bit less sanguine than his brother suggests “We’ll kind of change.” To which, Dylan adds “I hope we can stay the same and just still be kids.”
Due to their ages, of course, the members of DDK are going to remain kids for some time. Moreover, their parents are there to guarantee it.
“I’m hoping that if this really takes off that we recognize that as parents we’re in control,” says Dylan’s mother Milena Pritel “The pitfall is that they could get so big that they lose their childhood. Otherwise, it’s creative, it’s exciting. These guys are clean-cut, good kids,” she says, adding that all three of the musicians are A and B students.
“They have a song that goes ‘I used to get A’s and B’s now I get C’s and D’s.’ It isn’t true. It’s just part of their image,” George Thompson, father of the Thompson brothers, laughs. “As parents you like to see them do well. They have their bad days too and miss a chord, but you hope for the best that they survive that moment.”
Meanwhile, the band continues to generate original material — chiefly up tempo, radio-friendly tunes about the frustrations of young love and other matters germane to their experience. That said, the lyrical content suggests DDK is wise beyond the relatively few years of its members.
“We first started songwriting about two years ago,” recalls Dylan. “Keith and Devin had their own little thing going, then George and my mom met and started dating and stuff. The songwriting started when we were riding in the back of the car. We decided we wanted to write a song and it started from there.”
Says Keith, “It just comes to us. Sometimes it’s experience, sometimes just ideas that we have that we write down and it just comes out. We come into the studio and we sit here for an hour and walk out with a song.”
Sapper attributes the younger generation’s precocious maturation as artists, in part, to our media-laden culture.
“There’s a downside to kids growing up too early, but the good side is watching the art come to shape much younger and much more maturely,” Sapper observes. “I don’t know if it’s the advent of so much technology or things that used to be much less accessible to kids or that they’re exposed to film, TV and music at a much younger age due to MTV or cable. But kids are beginning to take shape with their personal identities at much younger age than we did. We were 14 going on eight — some of these kids are 12 going on 25.”
In the meantime, DDK continues to rehearse and dreaming big.
“We want to do what Green Day did. We want to be big,” says Keith. When he is reminded that the band labored in obscurity for a dozen years before signing their major label deal he smiles wryly and says “We want to go faster than that.”
Devin steps in and says with a sage attitude, “But it takes patience, so we’re willing to wait a long time. It will probably be worth it if we do. First we just have to record and see what happens from there.”
Devin’s outlook echoes Sapper’s who is vigilant about keeping DDK’s perspective realistic as they trundle down the long and winding road of the music industry.
“What I tell these kids is ‘Make sure you stay young and don’t take anything too seriously,” says Sapper. “I would look at it like an opportunity to go to school. You get a chance to go to Los Angeles and record with a guy who has recorded some really big people and the worse thing that’s going to happen is that you’re going to have a lot of fun. You’re going to make a great recording and see the Hollywood sign.'”
And perhaps rock a bit too.
Originally published in the Sonoma Index Tribune.