Shaun Piazza has had one heck of a year.
The band, consisting of lead singer/songwriter and acoustic guitarist Shaun Piazza, bassist Eric Kinlaw, drummer Jayson Rubio and violinist Henry Wynn, formed just over a year ago. This combination of instruments, along with Mr. Piazza's strong voice, makes for a unique blend of music. And although they practiced about 10 times in 2003, they staged more than 20 gigs, which were met with positive feedback.
"We've gotten such a good response, it really surprised me," said Mr. Piazza, who works as a manager at Nacho Mama's restaurant. He said he writes all the songs, which are based on his life experiences.
The band's influences include the Beatles, the Gap Band, classic rhythm and blues, alternative rock, classical music, Indian and Western classical and jazz.
"The sound is kind of like Dave Matthews, but not exactly," said Mr. Rubio, part owner of the Soul Bar. "It's best described as alternative folk rock."
All members, except Mr. Piazza, played in bands in high school, have been playing for more than 20 years - and all currently play in other bands.
"I sing and play guitar with Death Star, and do jazz with Moniker," Mr. Kinlaw said. "And Jayson plays with me in Death Star, and Henry is in Turtleneck, Death Star and Hellblinki."
And then there's the unusual way the band was formed.
"It was my first performance. I was playing alone onstage at the Soul Bar, and Eric just walked up and started playing," Mr. Piazza said. Mr. Rubio joined soon after, and then a short time later came Mr. Wynn.
"We slowly evolved," Mr. Kinlaw said. "That's why we never came up with a name."
"We tried to come up with one and we couldn't, so we just left it as Shaun," Mr. Rubio said.
The violin seemed to be an awkward addition to a semi-rock band, but it proved to add the extra something that completed the sound.
"It sounded so good it opened up another level for me to release more emotions," Mr. Piazza said.
"It would be different if it were anybody else, but Henry's great," Mr. Rubio said of Mr. Wynn, who teaches guitar lessons at Rock Bottom Music. Mr. Wynn grew up listening to classical music and has been playing violin since age 5.
Their experience helps Shaun Piazza craft harmonious music with little or no practice. Since Mr. Piazza had written numerous songs to the tune of his acoustic guitar long before hooking up with the others, he often will break into a song the others have never heard - leaving a lot of their performances ending up like Mr. Piazza's first one.
"We improvise a lot, even still, because Shaun will sometimes just start playing a song we don't know," Mr. Rubio said.
The band has become a mainstay in Augusta and Athens, with performances at the Bees Knees, Crossroads, the Imperial Theatre and in the Garden City Musical festival and the 12 Bands of Christmas show.
While the band mates admit they're comfortable playing in Augusta, Mr. Piazza said he wants to take his music as far as he can. Being parts of multiple bands, they have yet to discuss what would happen if the time came to hit the road. In the meantime, Mr. Piazza said they're waiting to see what will happen after the spring release of their CD.
Mr. Piazza is not a trained musician. He said his cousin showed him a chord several years ago, and since then he watched and mimicked other peoples' finger movements and played by ear.
"Luck. I just got lucky," he explained of this ability.
After seeing the passion in an Eric Clapton Unplugged performance on MTV, Mr. Piazza said, he knew it was what he wanted to do.
"It's like a healing art; it makes me be able to deal with things better. It's an incredible feeling," he said.
Reach C. Samantha McKevie at (706) 823-3552 or firstname.lastname@example.org.