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The Strive get schooled in the rewards of taking music out on the road

The Strive are (from left) Greg Dowd, Nick Stacy, Brendan Stevens and Michael Zenk.
The Strive are (from left) Greg Dowd, Nick Stacy, Brendan Stevens and Michael Zenk.

The Strive has gone to school to peddle its music, dozens and dozens of schools.

The Kansas City band was formed in 2010 by a group of musicians with similar music tastes who’d met via social media. It has been on the road regularly for more than three years, performing in large cities like Louisville, Cincinnati and Cleveland and smaller places like Glenville, W.Va., and Rensselaer, Terre Haute and Valparasio in Indiana.

All of those places varied in size and flavor but they had one thing in common: at least one college that booked national bands such as the Strive. After three years, the road memories are kind of a blur.

“There were many more smaller schools I can’t even remember,” said Brendan Stevens, lead vocalist for the quartet, which also includes guitarist Greg Dowd, bassist Michael Zenk and drummer Nick Stacy, all of them 22 or 23 years old.

The Strive entered the college circuit through the National Association for Campus Activities, which brokers entertainment events for schools of all sizes.

The band attended its first NACA showcase in 2013, where it auditioned for 15 minutes before more than 500 students who were part of their schools’ student-activity boards.

The audition was successful. The Strive attracted a lot of attention instantly, and the fuse was lit.

“Once we got hooked up with the college market, the wild ride started,” Stevens said.

That ride has led to the band’s first full-length album, “Modern Pace.” Thursday, Oct. 6, the Strive is giving “Modern Pace” a release party, though the official release date isn’t until Friday, Oct. 14. The show is at Prohibition Hall, 1118 McGee St., just north of the Sprint Center. Admission is $8. It’s an 18-and-older show.

Before it set out on the college circuit, the band had enjoyed some success back home: a show at the Uptown Theater in 2011 that drew a few hundred fans (mostly friends and family); and a berth in the 2012 Warped Tour when it stopped at Bonner Springs.

“The Warped Tour show was surreal,” Stevens said. “We’d all been going to the Warped Tour for years and were obsessed with all those bands. And then, we’re not in the crowd, we’re onstage. It was very cool.”

The Strive also played the usual run of shows in area bars and clubs on nights were the crowds were small and the financial returns were meager.

“We played gigs in Kansas City and Lawrence and some at Mizzou, usually for small amounts of money,” Stevens said

The crowds weren’t always big, but the financial rewards changed once they hit the college circuit.

“We didn’t really know what it would entail,” Stevens said. “It’s been hit-and-miss. Some shows were great, some have been kind of weird. But we went from barely making enough money to scrape by to making enough to sustain all of us.

“We know what it’s like to do a club tour and make $200, if that. So if someone offers to pay us $1,800 to play a school, then absolutely we’ll do it, no matter where it is.”

The first of the band’s college shows was local: at Johnson County Community College, where the set time exceeded three hours.

“We had no idea what we were going to do,” Stevens said. “We usually play a 90-minute set, and when the show is done, we’re done. I wound up sitting with an acoustic guitar and letting kids do karaoke for about an hour and a half. I even let someone take my guitar and play a song. Why not?”

There is an inherent unpredictability that comes with traveling hundreds of miles to play in a place where you are virtually unknown, as they quickly learned.

“Some places know how to promote events, others don’t,” he said. “We’ve had to swallow some pride at about 50 percent of our shows, when 10 or 15 kids might show up. But we put on our usual show. It’s nothing new. We’ve done plenty of club shows were almost no one shows up.”

The other 50 percent of those shows must be generating some hefty attention. The Strive has developed a healthy social-media network: nearly 11,000 on its Facebook page and nearly 35,000 on Twitter. On Spotify, the song “Sleepless,” an ode to Stevens’ mother, who died of cancer when he was young, has attracted more than 500,000 listens. Four other songs have more than 75,000 listens combined.

And, after releasing a series of EPs and singles, the Strive went into its own studio in January and started recording material for “Modern Pace,” a 13-track full-length that issues a variety of sounds over its 42 minutes.

The band’s primary sound features loud, brash guitars and percussion and keening vocals. There are some hardcore edges, but those are leavened by hooks and poppy melodies that make the songs instantly appealing and accessible. The Strive made the Warped Tour cut for a reason: Its music is crafted for audiences that like loud, hard, poppy, punkish music.

“Modern Pace” is filled with those sounds, but it features other styles, like “Solstice,” a 55-second gust of ethereal that opens the album, and the title track, which rides a funky, dance groove.

The songwriting on “Pace” was collaborative, and Stacy, the band’s drummer, produced the album.

“I can’t give Nick too much praise,” Stevens said. “It sounds so radio-quality. I never thought we could make something like this by ourselves. I’m so proud of him.”

The band hopes it’s release party Thursday draws some of the thousands of local fans who saw the Strive for the first time in July when it opened for Third Eye Blind in the Power & Light District, a show that drew more than 8,000 fans.

“We’d never played for a crowd nearly that big,” Stevens said. “Some people were really into it, some people weren’t. But a lot of them hit our merch table afterward.”

Friday morning, Oct. 7, the band will leave for Chicago, where it’ll play a show at the Illinois Institute of Technology, then head back home for a show Monday, Oct. 10, at the Bottleneck in Lawrence. There, it will open for Metro Station, a band led by Trace Cyrus (Miley’s brother).

The band will leave the Metro Station tour a couple of times to perform a few college shows and to attend another NACA showcase where it is likely to make more college bookings for 2017. Then it’s full steam ahead on the Metro Station tour, which will end in Detroit on Nov. 15. That will be a return to the nuts-and-bolts world of club touring, where there are no guarantees.

“We’ll be going all over,” Stevens said. “Small clubs, bigger venues like the Rave, a ballroom in Milwaukee. It’ll be our first time touring with a national touring band. We are really pumped.”

In short, the band will be mixing its road games: some old-school club shows with some college shows, promoting its first full-length and keeping the momentum going. The hard work has attracted attention from music media like the Alternative Press and praise from local music veterans like Thomas Becker (Beautiful Bodies), who has been something of a mentor and inspiration to Stevens and the band.

“What I like about the Strive is they do their own thing, regardless of what a scene expects from them,” Becker told The Star. “They write unapologetically catchy pop hooks while simultaneously operating with the ethos of a seasoned punk rock band.

“They are a band that will drive 1,500 miles to play a single show simply because it will be fun. That kind of excitement too often seems to be absent from music these days. I’m glad all their hard work is paying off. They have a big tour coming up, and kids are really going to get into them.”

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Thursday, Oct. 6

The Strive will celebrate the release of “Modern Pace” on Thursday, Oct. 6, at Prohibition Hall, 1118 McGee St. Showtime is 8 p.m. Danza and Sweet Ascent open. Admission to the 18-and-older is $8.

Monday, Oct. 10

The Strive perform Monday, Oct. 10, at the Bottleneck, 727 New Hampshire in Lawrence, opening for Metro Station. Palaye Royale is also on the list. Tickets to the all-ages show are $17. Showtime is 7 p.m.

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