A good number of bands get their starts in middle and high school, jamming in parents' basements between homework and dinner time. But most of them fizzle sooner or later. Even if the bands persevere, they often stay in the basement — seldom making it out into the real world. That isn't the case with Jump Castle Riot.
Formed a year ago, the local, old-soul rock 'n' roll band comprises two high school students, one college student, and one English professor. Now, with performances everywhere from the Pour House and Awendaw Green to Mt. Pleasant's Party at the Point and North Charleston's Rockin' the River, there's no hiding this bombastic four-piece.
Founding members Asher Dibernardo, Jay Van Raalte, and Nina-Rose Murchison started the band at ages 13, 16, and 17, respectively, forming one of the youngest Charleston bands to consistently perform in respected venues throughout the Lowcountry. But the trio didn't plan on having a teen-band shtick. Instead, their priority was to play good music, so the three welcomed a Trident Technical College English professor onboard to round out their sound.
"Our fourth member, our missing piece, is Richard Hartman on bass," says lead guitarist and songwriter, Jay Van Raalte, who is now in a dual-enrollment program at College of Charleston. "He's a little older than us, but he's been a perfect addition and just melds with the group. I was worried it would change the group dynamic and how we all related to each other. But actually, he's brought the group together. I think it's because everyone has something in common with Richard, something we can talk about. And he and I have played together for years before Jump Castle Riot even started. There's an effortless chemistry."
But making worthwhile music connections doesn't always fall in one's lap. Van Raalte took the initiative to immerse herself in the local music community at an early age. "I was around 13 when I got my first guitar, and I got in at Shem Creek Music and started hanging out with those guys and hanging around with local bands and getting to know everyone," she says. "Then, when I was 14, I went to a blues jam and I met Asher [Dibernardo], who's now our drummer."
The first time she met Dibernardo, Van Raalte thought he was just a kid who liked to play the drums. "No matter what we were doing, his hands were tapping out a beat," she remembers. "Even now, when we have a break during a gig, he'll be writing out paradiddles to practice. He just loves music. I mean, if we're not at practice or at a show, we're all at home playing music."
Jump Castle's commitment to their rich, soulful sound is evident, blending youthful energy with Murchison's soulful croons and heavy, gritty guitar riffs via Van Raalte.
"I think part of the reason that we have such a unique sound is because we all have really different influences," says Van Raalte. "I come from a very Southern-rock and blues-rock background. I love the Black Crowes, Drivin' N Cryin', and Black Pistol Fire. And Asher comes in with some funk, while Richard definitely loves that old-school stuff, like the Who, the Clash, and the Ramones. And Nina loves a blend — Ed Sheeran, Violent Femmes, and Moon Hooch, to name a few. When you bring it all together, you come up with a really different mix. And I think, to me at least, I feel like that perfect blend lies in the Black Crowes' cover of Otis Redding's 'Hard to Handle.'"
Along with some classic influences in a variety of genres, Jump Castle Riot draws inspiration from a lot of local bands, who Van Raalte and Dibernardo in particular have befriended and looked up to for years. From making connections at Shem Creek Music to sitting in on studio sessions, they've met many role models and friends, who Van Raalte describes as the older brothers of her music family.
"My teacher Scottie [Frier]'s in the Travelin' Kine, and we've played with them at the Pour House," says Van Raalte. "The guys in Atlas Road Crew are my idols, and Patrick [Drohan]'s been such a big influence on me in terms of learning how to not just be a musician but also a businessperson, since I'm the manager as well as the guitarist. The Dead 27s are another band that have been huge for us. Asher's teacher Daniel [Crider] is their drummer. They played Party at the Point back in May, and in the middle of their set, they said 'We've got a new band we want to show you,' and we played three songs up in front of like 4,000 people."
For Jump Castle Riot, looking to those who have been there before is essential for a young band's evolution.
"You should always keep your eye on the older people, who are still playing and who have been doing it for a long time, because they're the ones you're going to learn the most from," says Van Raalte. "It's really important to learn from the people around you and soak up as much as you can, like a sponge."
Jump Castle Riot celebrates their one-year anniversary this weekend at the Windjammer, where they'll close their set with members of the Dead 27s, Travelin' Kine, Stop Light Observations, and Atlas Road Crew.