The first day Josh Kotlar stepped into a recording studio, his band mate, Carol Deval, was enveloped in a full one-man-band suit, thumping a mallet against a drum with every step she took and playing the harmonica with her every breath.
This was the perfect metaphor for the impression Kotlar’s band was going to make on the music industry — or so he thought.
The band, Who Wants to Know, was a high-energy punk rock group that focused on ‘90s-style music, based loosely off bands such as The Ramones, Blink-182 and Green Day.
Kotlar, a Youngstown State University senior, bass player Blake Canola, drummer Deval and singer Christine Lewis formulated their band in May and would meet in the Cleveland area to practice.
Everyone in the band, with the exception of Kotlar, studies music at Cleveland State University.
The band met with Dave Douglas, the former drummer for Relient K who now resides in Cleveland, to formulate a compilation of music. Two months before recording the band’s first album, “Kinda Sorta Yeah,” Deval and Canola put in a notice saying they were going to quit.
“I kind of felt like I was the only one that believed in the band,” Kotlar said.
One of the biggest problems, Kotlar said, was money. He said he did not care about the payment and he “just wanted to do his thing,” but that was not enough for the other band members.
Canola said he was given other opportunities with better pay as a musician, and he wanted to take advantage of them.
“For me personally, I was trying to start a career as a musician, and from being associated with other people, I found that the original band idea — as great as it may seem — it’s really hard to do,” Canola said. “I was putting so much in to it, and I wasn’t seeing the payoff.”
The creative environment of an original band is something Canola said he misses; however, he said it was something he would have grown out of eventually because of his musical preferences.
Canola said his time with the band actually improved his music career in the long run.
“It was a nice little thing that happened in my life so far. The band that I was in before I absolutely hated, so being a part of this was like seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Not long after losing half of his band, Kotlar formulated a new collaboration with Lewis.
Kotlar writes lyrics and music for the two-person acoustic band, but said Lewis is much more developed in songwriting because of her singing ability.
“I play music in my head and hear what it should sound like,” Kotlar said. “I’ll come up with a little bit of lyrics, and then she will kind of finish them up for me.”
Lewis said she was an acoustic folk artist for a portion of her music career. The band’s transition was comfortable, she added. Lewis and Kotlar said they feed off each another’s stage energy.
“It pays off because we both love music, and we get to share it between ourselves and other people,” Lewis said.
Kotlar, 24, discovered his passion for music when he was about 15 years old. While all of his friends were playing sports, he was trying to play the guitar — trying, he said, being the key word.
His attempts at the guitar continued into his freshman year of college at YSU in 2006. His roommate, Matt Browning, would spend time teaching him the basics. Kotlar said he put down the guitar, though, because he felt like he played it poorly.
This is when he started focusing on his civil engineering degree.
“My freshman year, I wasn’t so sure what I wanted to do. I wanted to play music, but I thought there was no way that I could make it big,“ Kotlar said. “I was always better at math and science, and I felt like I would have done better in this field.”
Only a year after giving up on the guitar, Kotlar missed music so much that he decided to go back. He said music was an outlet for him, and it is something he will always take seriously.
Although his college degree and upcoming graduation in May are his primary concerns, he said music will always hold a special place in his heart, and he is open to criticism to help him improve.
“It’s just like being an engineer or an architect with a design, and someone comes over and says, ‘Move that column over three feet,’” Kotlar said. “It’s not only what you do for yourself, but it’s your job, and you’re doing it for the audience, too. That’s what you have to do with music.”
Kotlar made copies of the band’s first album to pass around campus for feedback. He said some people would tell them they hated it, but it wouldn’t offend him. He used the responses as a tool to improve.
Although Kotlar’s primary goal was to formulate a high-energy punk-rock band, he has been open to the change and said the acoustic band has enough material to record another album.
The band now uses folk guitar methods, along with and ambient delays and volume swells, to create an acoustic sound. Kotlar said it is comparable to Bob Dylan.
Kotlar and Lewis continue to work on music and plan to record an acoustic album called “Up Close and Personal” this summer.
The musicians also hope to host tryouts for new members, but said they are enjoying their time as a smaller entity in the music business.
“I’ve really enjoyed playing music with the band, and I’ve enjoyed music with all of the musicians that came and went,” Lewis said. “I look forward to whatever comes from it. It’s a living, breathing entity.”