When Andrew and Matthew Whiteman played their first concert, the brothers were so nervous they became ill backstage.
Backstage was the bathroom of Acres Green Elementary, where the two were sixth- and fourth-graders covering an AC/DC song in the school talent show.
Today, with years of performing under their belts, the stage feels like home to them both, and while they’ve retained a hard rock repertoire, their cover band days are long gone. Red Tide Rising, the group they formed in 2006 with three other Douglas County musicians, has a menu of 22 original tunes and a full-bodied sound that belies the members’ ages.
Lead singer Matthew is a 16-year-old Highlands Ranch High School junior, brother and lead guitarist Andrew, 19, a HRHS graduate studying music business at Arapahoe Community College. The other members include 16-year-old guitarist and Castleview High School student Sean Verity and 19-year-old bass player Laura Myers, a Rock Canyon High School graduate also studying at Arapahoe Community College. The drummer is 21-year-old Matt Guerin. Twenty-year-old Alex Cline, also an Arapahoe Community College student, plays the silent but vital role of road manager.
These days, the only thing that makes them even mildly nervous is waiting for what they hope will be their big break. Their newest single, “Finding Home,” just might be it.
Giving voice to issue
Even if it doesn’t reach the national, and even international, audience for which they’re aiming, the members of the young band hope its message touches those who may need it. “Finding Home” was inspired by the suicides of two Highlands Ranch High School teens, both of them the brothers’ classmates.
Proceeds from the song are dedicated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Matthew Whiteman wrote the lyrics to “Finding Home’ after David King, a popular junior, took his life in 2009.
“After David passed away, it was quiet and very gloomy around the school,” Andrew said. He recently had composed a moody ballad, its dark sound a match to the atmosphere that pervaded the halls of Highlands Ranch High School.
A year later, a sophomore girl died in what many believe also was a suicide, and the bleak feeling again descended upon the school.
Moved by the tragedies and his peers’ reactions, Matthew wrote words to suit his brother’s music.
“It wasn’t hard to find what I was looking for,” Matthew said. “I was surrounded by it.”
The lyrics offer no answers or reassurances, but give voice to many of the mysterious, sometimes seemingly taboo thoughts many people have about death.
“It’s in general about how people react to loved ones and friends passing away,” Andrew said. “I gave it to a couple of Dave good friends. They said there’s a lot of closure that comes with the song, but also a lot of healing. That felt good. I’m really glad that’s the kind of message we’re getting to them with the song.”
Group members also played it for David’s mom, Sheri Cole, who helped found the annual Out of the Darkness Walk that benefits the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. At her invitation, Red Tide Rising also played “Finding Home” at the 2011 walk.
“It was very moving,” she said. “It’s emotional obviously for me.”
Removing the fear of speaking about death is an important step toward helping anyone who is having suicidal thoughts, she said.
While Cole never saw signs her son was suicidal, she learned after her son’s death that he’d mentioned it to friends.
“At that age, they’ll reach out to their peers,” she said.
A song about the subject, particularly one sung by a teenager, touches kids in a way many other forms of communication can’t.
“Too many people are so stigmatized by not wanting to talk about it, teenagers especially,” Cole said. “A lot of teens know other teens are struggling, but they don’t know what to do.
“It’s like any issue — if you get it out on the table and talk about it, educate people about it, then you can do something about it.”
To date, Cole has helped organize two walks in Highlands Ranch, raising more than $175,000 to fund suicide awareness and intervention programs at high schools. Proceeds from “Finding Home” will be added to that pot.
‘Not a garage band’
The song’s weighty lyrics dovetail smoothly with Matthew Whiteman’s deep voice. At 16, he’s often compared to Godsmack’s Sully Erna, and Metallica’s James Hetfield. The voice is in such stark contrast to his age he once wore a mask on stage so people would focus on his voice, not his youthful image. He’s since ditched the mask, and grown accustomed to jaws dropping and fingers pointing when listeners realize the growling tones are coming from a teenager.
The group’s songs typically focus on teenaged angst, though one of their latest singles, “Welcome to Zombietown” is a light-hearted take on the movie “Zombieland.” Influenced by AC/DC, Metallica and Godsmack, their sound is described as “classic rock ‘n’ roll infused with today's metal punch.”
They’ve participated in shows including Rock the Rez, Rocktoberfest and Localpalooza, opening for national touring acts that include My Darkest Days, Soil and Novus Folium.
“They’re not a garage band,” said Scott Whiteman, Andrew and Matthew’s father. “They’re very serious about this.”
The group rehearses weekly in the basement of the Whitemans’ Acres Green home. Parents Scott and Bridget always are home, wrapping a cozy, family atmosphere around the heavy metal sounds.
“We’re not just a band,” mom Bridget Whiteman said. “The families get together. And there’s always adult supervision. We keep an eye on everything.”
Scott Whiteman, an engineer for Viawest who spends his spare time managing the group, is the band’s tireless supporter. With his help, the group is signed to Spat! Records of Nashville. If the day ever comes, Scott and Bridget, a special education aid at Acres Green Elementary School, are prepared to tour with the group.
“I’ve spent all my time and retirement on them,” Scott said. “They have the sound. They have the youth. They just need to be seen.”
While “Finding Home” may have personal significance for the group, the decision to donate its proceeds to help others is part of a trend in the group’s short history. Red Tide Rising and Velocity, the first group formed by the Whiteman brothers, played at events and donated money to Race for the Cure, Hurricane Katrina relief and the Royal Family Kids Camp among others.
Red Tide Rising releases the EP “Inferno” that includes “Finding Home” Jan. 20. It also soon will release the song’s accompanying video. The single is available for purchase at iTunes and also may be heard at the group’s website, Www.redtiderising.com