The Proles: A lesson in how to rock and roll
Exploring the journey of one band's path to musical maturity
In their formative days, The Proles practiced in a tiny, crammed bedroom. They had to haul all of their gear up to the second floor and then somehow find enough space in the room to practice, while also keeping their noise level reasonable. The guitarists sat on the bed for the session, and the drummer played with nothing but a couple pots and pans, and a few recently-emptied Labatt bottles.
Now, The Proles, in their small, 12x15 basement studio, have just enough thrashing space for their band practices. But, even with two guitarists, a lead singer, bassist and drummer (with a complete drum set), The Proles’ modest basement seems like stadium compared to their early practice space.
The five-man band is comprised of Alex Buttler* on lead guitar, Tim O’Donnell as lead singer, Nicholas Oddo on bass, Raul McGee on backup guitar and Eric Madia on drums. The group of students met through UB Jam Club and UB Rugby.
Today, the members of The Proles are exploring their limitations as a band, as they try to convert from a casual cover group into a more substantive musical presence. They have found continual hardships in the journey to discover their own style and successfully book shows. But despite their struggles, The Proles are a testament to the fact that a love of music is the most important part of any band.
Four of the five members are UB students, Buttler, O’Donnell, Oddo and McGee, a business senior, civil engineering junior, political science junior and physics junior, respectively. Madia is a senior at D’Youvile College majoring in exercise and sports studies.
Although the four UB students met though UB Rugby, the band was not born on the field. The Proles were baptized in the traditional rock ‘n’ roll manner – with alcohol and loud music.
It all began when, during a drunken conversation at a party in the fall of 2013, Buttler and O’Donnell realized they liked the same music and both played instruments. They discussed the possibility of forming a band together, inspired by their alcohol-driven ambitions.
Quickly, the pair discovered their ideas weren’t as lofty as they thought – quite the opposite. The two pieced together a band in a matter of weeks.
In the following weeks, Buttler and O’Donnell did some recruiting for their venture.
Madia, the band’s drummer, was scouted for his potential – the Led Zeppelin tattoo on his arm being enough for O’Donnell to ask him if he wanted to join.
McGee, whom O’Donnell knew could play the guitar, was invited as well.
The four met a few times to get to know each other and test each other’s musical abilities.
“In the beginning, we just got together and jammed a bit,” Buttler said. “The chemistry was good and we realized that we were all good musicians, but we needed a bassist.”
They posted on the UB Jam Club on Facebook, “classic rock lovers need a bassist.”
Five seconds later, Oddo, a UB sophomore at the time, responded, “I’m so down.”
They met, they jammed and The Proles were born.
The early days
Currently, the band is named The Proles, after the impoverished social class in George Orwell’s novel, 1984. But in the early days, The Proles humorously called themselves: Fully Torqued.
The transition between the two names came through the gradual process of maturing as a band – from comedic to symbolic.
The early days were exciting, but also the most difficult.
“The earliest days were a little rough,” Madia said. “[We had to] get a feel for everybody’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as style.”
Individually, all were talented musicians, but as a band, Fully Torqued was still very young. It just needed time to grow – a fact the members of Fully Torqued were more than aware of.
“Before we did anything, we had to figure out our dynamic,” McGee said.
Additionally, between a lack of a drum-set, a usable practice space and the privacy needed to play really loud music undisturbed for numerous hours, the band struggled to make any music beyond just playful jam sessions.
Despite the early complexities, however, the band was determined to keep things easy-going.
Practices were casual; they were dedicated to jamming and playfully learning whatever covers they wanted to play, and sessions usually involved cracking a few beers here and there.
The first real hurdle came when the band was offered their first live show at a Buffalo Bills tailgate.
It was a perfect way for the group to test themselves and see how committed they were to their craft. They were nervous about the gig because they were missing guitarist McGee due to an extreme hangover and drummer Madia dealing with a torn meniscus from rugby.
“After the first song, we just lost ourselves and rocked the house,” Madia said.
Given the 45 years of music playing experience between the band members, their natural stage presence is not surprising. Buttler and Oddo were in bands before as well.
Over the course of a year-and-a-half, they continued to play live shows in many local venues like The Forvm, The Tralf, Kissing Bridge, Porchfest on Elmwood Avenue and at Broadway Joe’s.
Still, even informally, Fully Torqued’s musical résumé grew to include a wide range of classic rock bands and songs.
The band said they honed their talent by covering some of the most iconic rock groups in history: Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Third Eye Blind, Semisonic, The Beatles and Black Sabbath.
One of their favorite songs to play – even still – is Black Sabbath’s rock anthem “War Pigs.”
But “as we developed as musicians, so did our music,” O’Donnell said.
And, gradually, the band began to focus on playing their own original music, rather than covering songs.
Still, the band says the change from casual to serious was a slow one.
Finding a voice
As the band started to realize their own potential, they began to focus on finding their own style, which meant moving beyond their cover band roots.
With their handful of cover songs and a few newly minted originals, Fully Torqued rebranded themselves as The Proles.
The members of the band said they felt this transition was liberating; the band was able to channel all of its creative energy into finding its own musical identity.
The covers started to disappear, replaced by a budding punk-rock group with hints of blues and hard rock.
Each of the members brought something new to the group.
One day it would be O’Donnell coming in with lyrics for a new song and the next, Buttler and McGee would make the guitar parts to accompany the words. Oddo would make up a bass line and Madia would think up his drum part to tie it all together.
“Everyone builds off of each other creatively,” O’Donnell said. “Everyone brings something to the table.”
Their steady practice and creativity is starting to show – they have a repertoire of almost 20 original songs.
“It was a natural progression,” Oddo said. “You can’t start a band and immediately make original music when you don’t know each other.”
Two of the band’s favorite songs are “Find Out For Myself” and “I’ll Get By.”
These tracks, O’Donnell said, are a testament to the band’s impeccable creative chemistry.
“Raul [McGee] came up with the main riff,” O’Donnell said. “I started singing some lyrics that I had written already, but they fit perfectly. And Nick came up with the bridge [for bass] that really adds depth to the song.”
“Find Out For Myself,” a hard-hitting, bluesy punk rock song, highlights the band’s strengths with its punchy guitar riffs, clanging cymbals and smooth bass line.
On the other side, “I’ll Get By,” shows the band’s softer side, with a more melancholic feel highlighting the band’s dynamics.
Their combination of blues and punk rock, the band says, is the best fit for their own style, both individually and as a group.
Phil Laugeman, a senior civil and environmental engineering major, said the shift in the band’s music was evident.
Their show at The Tralf was the best concert Laugeman has seen the band play he said.
“It was the first time they got to show off a lot of their new material,” Laugeman said. “At first all they did were covers but now they have some really amazing originals.”
In some ways, the band feels limited due to time.
Buttler, a senior at UB, will graduate this year and search for “a job in the real world, unless [The Proles] make it big.”
And sure, it’s always a possibility, Buttler said, but mainstream success is not The Proles’ main focus. Instead, they’re working toward playing at some of Buffalo’s top local venues, like Town Ballroom and Buffalo Iron Works.
But the process of getting live shows is not easy, O’Donnell said.
A venue will rarely hire a small band without the promise of a crowd, or at least some publicity.
“Buffalo has a killer music scene,” O’Donnell said. “But if [the promoter] has never heard of you, they will give you lip service, but never get back to you.”
Beyond getting the odd show here and there, the band feels the pressure to create something they can call their own, to leave their own musical legacy.
The band has plans to record a full-length album to accompany their self-titled EP, which they put out for free on the indie-band-friendly site, Bandcamp.
But above all else, the band is just enjoying the ride.
Despite their booking struggles and hazy future, the members of the band are still wise enough recognize their good fortune.
They say they have two things many bands will recognize as extraordinary and essential commodities: chemistry and creativity.
And these things, combined with their love of music, have taken them on an incredible journey.
The Proles have come from being a casual cover band to having almost 20 of their own original songs. They have played all over Buffalo, including the Tralf, the Forvm and Broadway Joe’s, over a single year.
The Proles never thought that they were going to be the biggest, most famous rock group out there – but they are a living testament to where some beers and a love of rock ‘n’ roll can take you.
*Full disclosure: Alex Buttler is a member of The Spectrum’s ad staff.