Brian Harris strolls into Looney’s Pub and pulls a stool up to the bar, as he does almost every Friday night.
“You’re awfully early,” a server shouts at Harris, tossing him a lunch menu.
Harris, a senior geographical sciences major, is a fixture at Looney’s, where he and his acoustic guitar regularly serenade guests with covers of everything from Third Eye Blind to the Pokémon theme song.
With his beard, red and black flannel shirt, jeans and boat shoes, Harris appears half college student, half music festival hippie. But he’s also a musician with a recording contract.
Warden, Harris’ alternative rock band, signed with Washington-based record label Innovation Media in January. The band is wrapping up its first album, which could be released as early as July, and is planning an East Coast summer music festival tour.
The band has been Harris’ baby since he formed it in 2008 at age 14 with two friends, Ryan Siever and Cory Cotter. Back then, music was his escape.
“I’d be that kid that would put on headphones and walk laps during lunch at school because I knew no one,” he said.
On an eighth-grade camping trip, Harris played for his first audience. He saw his history teacher playing guitar outside and mentioned that he played, too. That night, at a bonfire, the teacher handed Harris the guitar.
“You have the floor,” he said.
Harris made more friends at school that night than he knew what to do with. He decided to share his newfound passion with childhood friends Cotter and Siever.
Harris said their close relationship is the key to making the band work. After all, it was Cotter’s dad who had taught the boys to play guitar.
“It translates to how we write music,” he said. “Cory and I, we’re like Lennon and McCartney. We write everything together.”
That cohesiveness was evident to Innovation Media, whose executives selected the band from among dozens of audition tapes to compete against two other groups at Looney’s Battle of the Bands on Jan. 19. The crowd voted Warden the winner, and Innovation Media awarded the group a one-year recording contract.
Cosmo Losco, Innovation Media president, said he’s never seen a group work together as well as Warden, which is the first band on his label.
“I couldn’t ask for a better band to be my first,” he said. “They made the process smooth. They know what they want.”
Losco said Warden’s ability to put its own spin on music trends will give the band staying power.
“Their music is a product of a deep amount of listening,” said Chris Bentley, Warden’s sound producer.
Any record label can buy Warden and the rights to its music for a price of $450,000 during its year with Innovation Media, and the band is taking the deadline seriously.
Harris spent most of his nights this semester making the hour-long commute to the studio, where he worked until at least midnight. He squeezed in schoolwork between his classes and a part-time job.
“We are proud of him sticking with school when he’s got so much going on with his music,” said his mother, Claudine Harris. “We know music is his passion, but think getting a college degree is a good idea.”
Harris has tried four majors so far and is on track to graduate in December — that is, if the band doesn’t take off first.
“If we start making actual money and getting nationally recognized, I’m not coming back to school in the fall,” Harris said. “I owe my parents to finish school, but if I was paying for it, I’d be gone today.”
Losco is hoping Warden’s summer tour, starting with Jam @ The Dam, a July festival in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, will get the band greater recognition.
“The goal is to get them out of Maryland,” Losco said.
To encourage the process, the band members are working on merchandise they can sell online and hand out at festivals. The band also relies heavily on social media for branding, though Harris lamented the distance he said it kept between the band and its fans.
“As much as I love the music aspect over business, I understand that branding is the only way people are going to remember our name,” Harris said.
Harris said spending the rest of his life at a 9-to-5 job like his current position as a “glorified secretary” at an insurance company isn’t an option for him. Even if Warden doesn’t see the success it expects, Harris says, he will keep trying to make it in the industry.
“I’m not trying to make a million; I’m just trying to make music my life,” he said. “My mentality needs to be music or nothing because if I assume I’ll be OK without it, then my fire goes out.”