SUCCESS Foundation: Music with a Message

Listening to Above Seclusion’s “Spider-Man,” I’m humming along. In a video, the percussion is throbbing; the five band members are jumping, gyrating, strutting. They harmonize. They play guitar solos. And they bring incredible energy onstage.

To describe Above Seclusion as a teenage alt-rock band does not do the group justice. The musicians rehearse roughly every other day because they know this tedious step is necessary. But there’s more to their stories. Most of them are in honors classes; one is working to become an Eagle Scout. Individually, they have been taking lessons for years to polish their vocal, acting, music composition and instrumental skills. And they subscribe to as well as teach the life lessons of the SUCCESS for Teens program funded by the SUCCESS Foundation—being goal-directed, making smart choices and continuing to learn.

Even the band’s name, Above Seclusion, complements the SUCCESS Foundation’s message. It is all about treating people as individuals and resisting “seclusion,” or putting them in groups or cliques.

When Above Seclusion’s members happened upon SUCCESS for Teens: Real Teens Talk about Using the Slight Edge, the book central to the foundation program, they recognized that the lyrics to their song “I’ll Go Beyond” closely mirrored its principles. The book—distributed free by the SUCCESS Foundation to schools, churches and nonprofit youth-development organizations—emphasizes core lessons such as “everything starts with small steps,” “there’s no such thing as failure” and “you can make your dreams come true.” (Teen-written stories in the book explain these and five other Success for Teens life lessons.)

Band members Cameron Boyer, 17, and Justin Deninger, 16, realize they don’t have some of the serious problems experienced by the kids who wrote Success for Teens. But like those kids, “we still try to get over problems and be successful,” Justin says. As the heartfelt lyrics from “I’ll Go Beyond” indicate, the young musicians are goal-oriented:

I’ll go beyond,

got my sights set

To get what I want.

“I’ll Go Beyond,” like Success for Teens, goes on to encourage determination in the pursuit of dreams:

All the haters

No they can’t stop me now

Trying to choose my fate

I don’t care what they say.

The young musicians were so moved by the Success for Teens book that they later wrote “Get Up” especially for the program. “Get Up” is about deciding on a goal and determining how to achieve it:

Get up get up get out of here

Dreaming dreaming dreaming so clear

There’s a problem to solve,

And I’m the only one who’s fully involved.

As Cameron puts it, the Success for Teens book “talks about every decision you make in life—no matter what it is—[and that] you always have an option; you always have a choice.” This advice jibes with something his dad, Al Boyer, told him as a fourth-grader: You can take one of two paths—a good path or a bad one.

“Ever since then, every decision I make—I honestly can tell you without any exaggeration—I always think that there’s a good path and there’s a bad path,” Cameron says. “And every once in a while, because human beings mess up, you don’t always choose the good path.” As a reminder to make those good decisions, band members have taken stands against bullying and drug abuse.

“We’re staying away from drugs,” Cameron says. “We don’t want anything screwing us up. There are stories upon stories of kids getting in trouble with drugs and drugs stopping kids’ careers. We are choosing a different path.”

Co-founders Cameron and Justin met about three years ago on the set of the musical 13 at a local theater (three of the five Above Seclusion members have budding acting careers). Brennen Bates, 15, Cameron Olsen, 16, and Cole Carson, 19, eventually joined them.

In January, they put the final polish on an “extended play” recording (more tracks than a single but fewer than a full album) being released this spring. Simon Katz of the indie pop band Youngblood Hawke is producing the EP. Already you can find at least 22 of Above Seclusion’s songs, including one album, for sale on iTunes. Its “Fly Away” is featured in the upcoming indie horror movie Mary Loss of Soul. The band has played Los Angeles-area venues such as the Roxy, AVALON Hollywood, Troubadour, Whisky a Go Go and House of Blues.

Above Seclusion kicked off a nationwide tour on Jan. 19 in Hollywood, with later play dates booked in cities such as Phoenix, Chicago and Philadelphia. The band performs with pop group IM5.

For Cameron Boyer and Justin, the experience of running a band has been an education. “It’s like a marriage,” Cameron says. “You’ve got to trust each other.” Justin’s take on the band is similar: “It’s all about collaboration. We notice that when we combine our ideas, it just amplifies everything and makes it so much better.”

Charlie Park, who owns the Torrance, Calif., studio where the group rehearses and records, has observed the band members behind the scenes, interacting respectfully, taking turns singing and doing homework. “It might be Cameron’s time to sing, so I’ll look back and I see Justin doing—I don’t know what he’s doing—calculus, algebra, something that’s way beyond me.”

Like all teenagers, these kids struggle, but they clearly are figuring out the answers. Perhaps Park sums it up best: “These are actually good human beings. They are the real thing.”

Contact the SUCCESS Foundation at [email protected] for more information about the SUCCESS for Teens program or to make a tax-deductible contribution to it. If you are a leader using the program or a donor, email the foundation to be profiled in a future column.

Contact the SUCCESS Foundation at [email protected] for more information about the SUCCESS for Teens program or to make a tax-deductible contribution to it. If you are a leader using the program or a donor, email the foundation to be profiled in a future column.

Betsy Simnacher is a freelance writer who has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. She lives in the suburbs of Dallas.

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