News: Face of Defense: Band Strikes Music Industry Chord
Story by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - When the band American Attitude formed four years ago, the members just wanted to fill some empty seats at their non-commissioned officers club on drill weekends.
The Guardsmen from the Florida Air National Guard's 125th Fighter Wing thought their hard-rock cover band would provide some much-needed entertainment at the Jacksonville F-15 base, and with the base commander's permission, they started playing at unit parties and events.
Now, after a few years of also playing local bars and charity events in northeastern Florida, American Attitude officially has broken into the music industry. The band landed a recording deal, is writing original material and is playing in Las Vegas.
American Attitude members Master Sgt. Shawn Watchorn on guitar, Master Sgt. Marc Myers on drums and Tech. Sgt. Chris Henderson on vocals are full-time Guardsman at the 125th. Navy Reserve Petty Officer 1st Class Matt Smithers on bass completes the hard-rocking quartet during its shows.
Smithers, who joined the band after the original bass player left, described the group's 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 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 as well as 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 signed to play a Veterans Day concert in Las Vegas, and is looking at a possible tour for 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.
"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, [some people think] you have to just suck it up and not even bring it up. We need to change the way people look at it."
Now that they have a record deal, the band members are focusing more on original material than ever before, and Watchorn said 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."