Bloomington-based band South Jordan gaining international following
While most college students balance their academia with recreational activities -- watching TV, hanging out with friends or going to concerts -- the members of Bloomington-based band South Jordan are in rehearsal perfecting their pop-rock sound and soulful, heartfelt lyrics, and playing packed-house shows.
Drawing influences from U2 and Coldplay, South Jordan has created a unique sound that has been compared to the popular pop band The Fray.
South Jordan's lead singer, IU junior Michael Hall, said both South Jordan and The Fray use piano, and the two bands have similar vocal ranges.
"Most of our songs are centered around piano playing, and in The Fray's songs, the piano is also a very dominant instrument," said Hall. "Isaac Slade of The Fray and I also share a type of raspy vocal style and have a similar tone and vocal range."
South Jordan's distinct sound has developed through intense hours of rehearsal and the commitment of all its members. "We practice every day," said Hall. "We see this band as a full-time job, not a hobby."
So far, the band's hard work has paid off.
After meeting in Bloomington just over a year ago, Hall formed South Jordan with IU seniors Bobby Campbell and Mike Chan. Three months later, Hall found South Jordan's drummer, IU senior Greg Olsten, and bassist, IU sophomore David Witucki. Olsten is majoring in music in the Jacobs School of Music with a concentration in jazz . Both Chan and Campbell are recording arts students in the Jacobs School.
The band has already gained international attention -- and close to 9,000 fans on the popular social networking Web site Facebook, with some fans from as far away as Germany and Malaysia.
Discovered in Orlando
As South Jordan builds a fan base, its next step is crucial, Hall said. Last May, South Jordan played at a musical festival in Orlando. "It was one of our best performances," said Hall. "We all felt comfortable on stage, and sometimes that doesn't happen."
After the performance, Alex Seif of the management company Union Entertainment Group and his colleague David Lancao approached the band and took the group out to dinner. Union Entertainment Group has worked with the Nickelback, Hinder and Steven Tyler, among other high-profile artists.
Hall describes that night as the band's most important moment so far. "They sat us down, buttered us up, told us what they liked and then handed us a contract," said Hall. "After dinner, though, Alex was completely honest with us, and told us everything we needed to change and what we needed to keep improving on. It is crucial to have good coaches that teach you a lot rather than just a good team name."
The band is anticipating pitching its music to some of the biggest record companies in the country in February.
"We think in a year's time, we'll have the sound and writing to have what it takes," said Hall. "In the next year, I could be working at a regular job, or I could have an extremely rare job. We have a lot of our eggs in one basket, but we know the chemistry we have is worth the time."
A musical childhood
Hall has been singing on stage since fifth grade, when he was cast in the leading role of Peter in his class musical of Peter Pan.
"I was in the green tights and all," joked Hall. "But I remember being on stage and feeling so comfortable and passionate for performing."
In high school, Hall and his best friends sang in an a capella group together. He landed the lead roles in two musicals, Footloose and Les Miserablés. Hall says his background helps bring a different stage presence to South Jordan's performances.
"It was a good experience being out of my comfort zone, where I was not just relying on my voice," said Hall. "I bring much of my musical theater experience to South Jordan."
Hall credits his passion for music to his family. "I am so blessed to have their support," said Hall. "They have never shown an ounce of doubt. They are the reason I have this drive. I want to make it for them more than I want it for myself."
Hall has been particularly inspired by his father, a professional baseball player. "Hearing my dad talk about his passion for baseball makes me want to succeed," said Hall. "If this works out, it's because of my family, not me."
The Bloomington music scene
Setting South Jordan apart from some of the other local bands is a commitment to perform original songs.
"It's hard to be original in Bloomington, but we told ourselves we weren't doing cover music," said Hall. "Performing other people's music isn't going to let people see who you really are as a band."
All of South Jordan's songs are original, written by Hall, bandmate Campbell, or through collaboration between the two.
"Writing for me is a complete way of expressing myself in very specific moments. Everyone goes through a lot emotionally, and it can be very hard to put into words, but over the last year and half my writing is starting to excel," Hall said. "You have to just go to it when it comes to you. I can never sit down and make it happen."
The band rotates between playing a capella and with accompaniments, giving audiences a unique experience with every performance. Hall says the band most enjoys performing at the sorority houses in Bloomington, where it does mainly acoustic shows. "We like the intimate setting. It's not loud and rowdy," he said. "The audience wants to hear us, and we can really connect with them."
South Jordan has already been featured on the local Bloomington radio station B97; on college radio stations throughout the country; and one of the largest stations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, XFRESH. It has performed more than 70 times throughout Bloomington, including at the Indiana University Dance Marathon in both 2008 and 2009.
Hall says the different personalities within the band -- with tastes ranging from classical to jazz music -- have contributed to its popularity. "We come together with slightly different views and appreciate them. It gives us a larger, open view toward the direction of the music," said Hall. "We all have the same dream and are attacking it with the same amount of force."
This story was originally published Nov. 19, 2009.