Let’s Do This

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George Pendergast, Founder of The Rockshop Academy & Drummer for Dishwalla

George Pendergast, Founder of The Rockshop Academy & Drummer for Dishwalla

MEET GEORGE PENDERGAST

Never stop dreaming, because dreams really can become a reality. Take notes from professional drummer & small business owner, George Pendergast.

George is championing nontraditional music education in Santa Barbara while leading a successful career as a touring musician with Dishwalla. Read on to learn about George’s fascinating journey, from touring to starting his own school of rock.

GET TO KNOW THE ROCKSHOP ACADEMY

Have you ever wanted to join a school of rock? Look no further! The Rockshop Academy provides a crash course in what it takes to navigate the music industry for musicians under the age of 18.

George started the Rockshop Academy with Dishwalla’s former manager and Mike’s Drum Shop owner, David Young. Mike’s Drum Shop was originally established in 1968. Thought it’s no longer a retail store, it has become the Rockshop Academy which exclusively provides music lessons and programming for kids and young adults.

At the Rockshop Academy, up-and-coming musicians learn to play music both in a group or band environment, in addition to focusing on break-out sessions involving specific instruments and developing the skills to write their own songs. The academy is dedicated to fostering the next generation of aspiring Santa Barbara area musicians through a variety of afterschool and summer camp programs, plus local live performances.

GET TO KNOW DISHWALLA

George is the original drummer for Dishwalla, an alternative rock band that emerged in the early 90’s. The band is well known for their 1996 radio hit, “Counting Blue Cars,” which won a Billboard Award for “Best Rock Song”, as well as two ASCAP Awards for “Rock Track Of The Year” in 1996 and 1997.

That’s not all! The band is returning to the stage this year with the release of their first studio album in over ten years, Juniper Road. You can give it a listen here.

LET’S DO THIS

LDT: What path led you to Santa Barbara?

GP: I’m from here. I was born and raised here. I grew up working at Mike’s Drum Shop.

I got a job when I was 13 working on Saturdays for Mike. And he ran the drum corps for a marching baton group. Mike would take his Saturday’s in the parking lot on Figueroa and he would teach us drum beats.

I moved away and came back to buy the shop from Mike. Understandably he didn’t want to sell it when I got back from Los Angeles because he had Parkinson’s disease. His wife had to stay employed for his medications and stuff. I was like, what am I going to do hereHe said, work at the shop in mornings and I’ll let you teach in the afternoon. And I won’t charge you for the studio because I had you move back.

I never liked teaching before. As I was teaching drum lessons, I added guitar teachers to the shop. And the guitar teachers and I were having a conversation one day. We were saying when we were 13, if we were this good at this instrument, we would have been seeking out bands to play. But we have a new clientele where there are no instruments in the schools.

So what instrument do you want to play, Billy? It’s something that’s not traditional, like clarinet or trombone. The first reaction is, I want to play drums or guitar or sing.

But when you have private lessons, it’s… “I’ve been taking guitar for three years and… what do you do with it?”

We came up with this idea to collaborate. The drum students played with guitar students and we coached them and ran them through the drills I’ve run through with all of my professional bands, with agents, and production crews.

We did that with our first band. And that first band blew up and got on the Warped Tour. Their drummer has signed his own record deal with The Heirs. His name is Brennan Benko, phenomenal drummer. It set the bar, for this place and these kids. They were really polite kids, and nice.

I have to say 90% of my interactions with teenagers have been really respectful. And it makes it so much more rewarding.

I was doing this drum shop and then all of the sudden the drum shop was going out of business. I was selling my house and going through a divorce. And I had these two little kids. I thought, huh… I need to do something cool for these kids. Their grandfather on their mother’s side was a painter. They called him the ‘West Coast Picasso’. He was amazing, but he had to provide for his kids so he painted houses. So I decided, I’ll start this cool thing for kids and if it works, that’s great! And if it doesn’t, my kids will remember I did this cool thing for kids.

Like so many things here, there was just… kind of a lot of stuff I threw up in the air. And it’s all worked really well. Tons of happy accidents – like the fact that the first kids were really nice and respectful. Now all the Rockshop kids are.

At 15, they were starting to play at instructor-level. I was starting to rely on them to help the other kids. It was something I promised myself that I would never do when I had heard about it happening at another camp. When a kid got really good, they would make them work with the little ones.

When kids were close in age, I would have them help each other. One of the local foundations contacted me and said, “Hey! You’re doing this really amazing thing. We would like to umbrella you under our foundation.”

I said, “Oh that’s awesome! What am I doing?”

And I was accidentally doing “peer-to-peer mentoring”. It’s the craze in education because kids are getting better at doing what they’re doing. And it’s so much more accessible to work with their buddies. It becomes like parent or teacher in any situation, even though it’s cool in this whole rock thing. We’re still teachers at the end of the day. When their buddy is talking about it, they are learning in a different way – from their peers and teachers. All of my employees were students when they were 10 and 12 years old, and now they’re 18 and 19.

The other thing that has happened that’s interesting is we had one kid that could play everything. She would move around every instrument and other kids started to do this too… it started to be this thing where, oh! I would like to try keyboards now.

The way they’re learning now is interesting because, as a teacher, what happens in my lesson room and Rockshop… In the lesson room, they have to stick to the things that everyone has done for 100 years to be a good drummer. In here, they’re learning on YouTube, getting the progression by ear, from each other – every single possible way you can learn. It’s awesome.

It’s the second generation here at Rockshop now. We had this whole first generation that had half a degree of separation before they were here. They were in preschool, junior guards, or school – they were all connected through that.

Someone in June contacted me and sent a list of nine kids graduating in Rockshop. It was like, where’s Morgan? Morgan is 19 now. He’s not here anymore.

One of our hubs of the whole community passed away unexpectedly. That rocked this whole community. He was the big ol’ dude everyone ran up and hugged. Whoever still wanted to be around here [after that] got really territorial.

Then this whole new batch came in. And the new kids would be sitting on one side and the other kids were dyeing their hair, and wearing weird clothes.

I was like, “Hey! The new people are freaked out by you guys.”

They were in their thing. They were like, “No, we’re pissed at the world. Samo just died.”

My buddy who built the recording studio also passed away, right when we finished the studio. That was the second thing…  I missed the advertising that year for the camp.

I woke up one morning and I was like, “Oh yeah. Hi! I’ve got camp today.”

I thought, I’m done with this. It’s run it’s course. Then in the year-round program, these kids were showing up. And when they showed up after that summer, I started the year-round program because all the summer kids didn’t want to stop coming. And a new generation of inspiration was born.

That’s another happy accident. The kids made me start the Tuesday night thing because they wanted to keep coming back. There were 12 of them. Then there were 12-15 of them.

I realized it’s this whole thing with its own life. They hardly know each other. They’re from different areas of the same community. This 12 person, clique-free group… they were like, the 12 of us are Rockshop Academy, and we’re a clique.

It kind of makes me want to do it again. Being new in that way.

I was born here. I didn’t mean to go to the 17th ‘Most Expensive Place to Live’. This is my home. This is where I grew up riding my skateboard.

It’s funny I have friends in other bands that choose to live in Mississippi, Arizona… I knew one band that bought land on the same cul de sac and they watch each other’s backs. I could do that somewhere else, but I don’t want to. I live here.

That Friday show, those are all so amazing. Some of them have been here forever. It’s no surprise it’s great because they’ve been here for years. And some of them are learning… It’s trying to make them look cool, and feel comfortable. And then they put a show on and flip their parent’s lids, in a good way.

LDT: What is a typical day in your life?

GP: I actually have to put everything I have to do on my calendar.

My day doesn’t really start until after school for lessons and things. My other programs are evening programs. I have to get up and respond to all of the other things. Book the Rockshop at all the different events. We just played a Kids Expo.

The thing about some of those events is that a lot of people don’t realize that event that was 25 minutes of music took me four to five hours to book and organize.

I had a board for a while. I think two of the board members thought I was eating bonbons every day. My right-hand woman put together a list and was like, this is sixty hours of work to put together in a day? Everyone was like, wow, there’s a whole lot that goes into this.

If I could teach all day, I would be in heaven. The advertising and corresponding with the families… coordinating that many families and having one event where it works takes a lot of time.

LDT: What is your rose? Thorn? I.e. what frustrates or challenges you in your work? And what is the most valuable, exciting part?

GP: I think the rose is always that new person having that new experience. For all of us, as teachers, we’ve talked about this.

We get to experience that over and over and over. That first time they actually pull something off that they want to pull off, and they’re confident about it. Whether it’s that first performance for them, or just somebody getting something that actually changes how they’re going to be. Changing music, or even how they’re going to feel.

One person’s mom – he would have to do this debate club thing. They would have to talk in front of the class. His knees would shake, and he would sweat and freak out about it. After two weeks of Rockshop, he’s like, what?! It’s just like that, the problem was gone. The only thing I can see that’s any different is he did two performances over the summer. All of a sudden his whole confidence changed.

For some reason, we’re an outcast magnet. You can see when they come in… just their demeanor, clothes, having their collar high. And then see them shed that stuff. And they’re the one pointing the finger and being themselves.

The thorn would have to be… and this has happened recently, continually having to prove to or remind people what I’m doing here. I was asked so, what are you doing now for kids in the community?  It came up recently – trying to get on the kid’s stage. It came from somebody who should be close enough to know. I’m working with kids, keeping them safe and hoping to inspire them. Even if the work hadn’t changed one bit, I’m not out to save the world. I’m trying to feed my kids and run my business.

We change a bunch of kid’s lives. That’s not me saying that. That’s the parents telling me that. I can see it. I’m no idiot. I can see some kid’s lives are changing in a positive way when they get here.

There are a lot of people who want to know, what’s your cause? I did a ton of research about teenagers and about different programs that help and don’t help. What’s available out there and not available out there.

I find that teenagers just need help. That defies any race, religion, or socioeconomic status. I’ve had foster kids, all the way to the wealthiest families in Santa Barbara, and they have the same teenager problems. Being a teenager, and just wanting to fit in and figure out what their deal is in the world is exactly the same for all of them.

I was asked this – what part of this east side and that west side are you reaching out to? I was like I don’t know. People from Santa Inez and Ventura come here. I don’t know what side of the freeway they’re from. That bugs me. It’s like, oh, that again.

I don’t want to get on my soapbox and be like I’m a great guy. Here are all the great things I’m doing. I just want to do it. I’m trying to be obvious. I’m not trying to steal someone’s record deal or be someone’s agent.

The incentive for me is, I want to stay in Santa Barbara with my family. And I want to teach drums and play music. Some people want to paint or be a contractor, or dentist, and I want to be a drummer.

LDT: What do you feel most proud of in your current role?

GP: With the Rockshop, I think I’m most proud of the fact that the people that are the staff here and breathing the life energy that I bring to it because they were raised in it. That’s something I can offer now.

On top of your kids learning what it’s like to be in a band, they can also make more money than most kids putting themselves through college by working in a music store. I’ve figured out how to have it be this amazing thing without all this baggage. I am proud of that with the Rockshop.

Then with the band, I’m proud of the band. We’ve needed to make a record for about nine years now. And it’s been very hard to commit to what that’s going to be because of the hurdle of adding a singer after you’re already established.

You know enough bands do it, but we made this record because we were told it would be better for us to have current material so we weren’t just a nostalgia band. Each of us is writing on our own. We each have side projects we wrote with. We all have CDs or whatever.

So there was one night, I was here and I was playing around with the bass. I wrote this song. I said I don’t know, we all write all the time. I think this is pretty good… Justin was like, “Dude, this is really good.”

I sent it to Rodney and I was like, “I think this might be pretty good.” And he was like, “Where have you been keeping that thing?”

Then it was like, well if George is going to do it... Usually, the ideas don’t come from me. I usually help them with their songs or someone else comes in with an idea. So there was this tipping point where… ok, we’re all in now.

I think there’s this fear. Bands know they are supposed to do this and songs are just beats and chords and that’s what they put out. And no one in the band wanted to just put something out.

We’ve taken ourselves too seriously in the past and this time we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. We didn’t get up in our own stuff as much as we normally do. We had ten days to do the record. We had two days to master it. The mixing took a couple of the guys hours and hours.

It came out better than a lot of us had expected. We didn’t know what to expect because we have Justin singing. So far our fans are really responding well to it.

I had a really serious arm injury. I wasn’t supposed to drum anymore. Just having the ability to play again, at 48, that’s something. At 58, it’s like, “Hey! Remember us? We hardly remember us.”

If we’re really going to do this and be close to looking like we used to, this is the time. The bands we’re going on tour with are Marcy’s Playground and Fuel.

LDT: What is your passion, what gets you out of bed in the morning?

GP: Wow. I think that I was going to say, the thing I’m most proud of is my kids. But I think that’s pretty much what keeps me going.

If left to my own devices, I probably would just go live somewhere and play drums a few months out of the year.

Believe it or not, it’s still drums. I’ve had a couple of times to prove that to myself over the last few years.

I’ve had these weird circumstances where a few friends and family weren’t around on my birthday. And it was like, “Oh, this is weird. I’ve never been completely alone on my birthday.” And I played the drums for two hours. That’s how much I still like drums. I think it’s still playing music and playing drums.

LDT: How do you maintain work-life balance?

GP: That’s tough because I also have my house up in the front. I don’t really.

I literally have to put everything, including grocery shopping, doing laundry, and dishes on my Google Calendar. When you have an open schedule, it’s important to stay on track.

LDT: What do you want to do next? What is your next goal or initiative?

GP: I would like to get this recording studio hooked up the way it’s intended, to be able to record some of these kids that are coming through.

I think there are some times and moments we’ve missed here. It was either the songwriting week. For that one performance, it sounded like that and just for the kids to be able to have the copies of it.

In that regard, I think the only thing I would want to do is be able to put their music up on my site, to let people hear what kids sound like coming through here.

LDT: What kind of connections are you looking to make or need?

GP: You know, to be honest… the first time around, going out on the road, I was pretty shy. And I spent most of the time in the bus, or backstage room, and didn’t really socialize with people.

In the past 10 years, just making those connections with people you meet on the road, but having them be real. You do end up seeing the same people over and over, whether you need to call them out for a favor if you see them again, and having to work with them again and having that be a good experience.

I think I had a little bit of that, anyone over 30 was really old. So I didn’t really pay attention to anyone who was peripherally around venues and stuff, like the old guy making sure curtains don’t fall on you, and some of the people that were seriously just background people. And then they end up being the same guys that were there the last time [when you come back through on tour].

LDT: How do you think your market or industry is going to change in the next 5 years? 10 years?

GP: I think just ‘cause this is something we’re currently going through… I think the agent to artist relationship is going to change a little bit.

I think that there is information out there that wasn’t there before, and you can actually see exactly where you have the most fans. Then you can be in the band with this information, and then your agent has a place they’ve booked bands for the last twenty years and they have a relationship with this promoter and you play these certain circuits. You don’t play that one because this guy has been in that relationship forever.

It’s looking like, in a lot of instances, that’s not in the band’s best interest. You could make a lot of work with a glorified receptionist rather than having lunch with these guys. And presenting packages to them. And having a convention with these three tour packages we’re selling. And have this story we’re trying to tell at this festival.

You’ve found labels to be less and less necessary. Management in certain aspects is getting less and less necessary. If you‘ve got a good attorney and agent, sometimes you can self-manage. A lot of people are self-managing. It’s getting people’s fingers ‘out of the pie,’ getting another 15% of the pie.

For bands like ours, if we go to the town next door and the town has 50% less fan base, that doesn’t help you build your brand. It’s not like people say they brought 250 people to this 800 venue. Even though a lot of musicians are really intelligent, once they get their management or label, they become infants. Every decision about their life and every business decision is getting made by someone else. And they’re comfortable saying, “Oh, my agent is handling that.”

It’s like… do you have any grasp of what this person is doing with your career? We had a guy who went all the way, to being an accountant, and then decided he wanted to be an attorney. And that’s who our singer is. He represents what the new industry can be.

You still have the agent talking to the artist saying, you’re lucky I’m getting you these gigs, kid. These people could still be making money off of their commissions.

LDT: When do you feel the most creative?

GP: Pretty much late at night. I would have to say.

LDT: What is your favorite environment to work in?

GP: I don’t know… I’ve always, whether it be here or everywhere else, I’ve had a room that I go to that will be the place on the spot. It’s not like I ever say, it’s Wednesday at 8:00, I’m going to go have a writing session – that never happens.

It will be more like some words come to me. And I write them down. Then I’ll write a melody line and then when I feel it… I might sit down at 11:00 at night to record it.

LDT: Who or what kind of people would you like to read an interview from on Let’s Do This?

GP: I always like to read things from people that had something, that was maybe an unintended career shift, but then made the best of that somehow.

I wasn’t supposed to be able to drum anymore. I didn’t buy a shop and start teaching because I wanted to. It was like, I don’t get to play drums for a living anymore. That kind of thing is always interesting to me.

GUEST QUESTION

Each interview on Let’s Do This features a guest question from a previous collaborator. This question comes from Leo Welder, the Founder & CEO of Choose What, a website that guides entrepreneurs through the process of starting a business.

Leo Welder: When you identify a problem in your community, is it better to go try to get the local government, or government institution to solve the problem, or should you solve it yourself?

GP: I have done and seen a lot of solving yourself stuff, including some of the kids.

I see in this community, that goes out and are actively involved in a march, or going to feed kids at the ‘no kid hungry’ thing. I feel like, especially if we’re teaching young kids that they can actually affect change and take care of some of these things on their own, I think that would be a good thing to nurture.

I feel like we were almost so coddled by the baby boomers, that everything was supposed to be softened up. And we thought someone else was supposed to take care of everything. It’s the millennial generation that’s having a hard time taking care of themselves. Having people take care of their own stuff and they help other people take care of stuff too.

He goes, you’re all utopian and idealist. I go, isn’t the idea to do this? He said well, everybody‘s gotta satisfy someone to make it work. Even the good guys have to be bad guys.

I watched a lot of programs get funded, but there’s no program. I watched a lot of things get funded and then nobody goes there. They have the best programs here that nobody goes to…

Identifying with only one at risk group didn’t really gel with me. We have so many at-risk groups in this community, and some of them are from Montecito, and some are from Hope Ranch… I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable here.

LDT: What’s your question for next interview, what do you want to know?

GP: What keeps you going?

Let’s Do This! Stop, Collaborate & Listen

If you’re interested in a future collaboration or learning more about George Pendergast, The Rockshop Academy, and Dishwalla, you can connect and follow their journey using the links below:

THE ROCKSHOP ACADEMY

DISHWALLA

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