“Finding time to play is tough,” said a scruffy A.J. Dawson as he leaned back in the diner booth. “I’m a full time student at Penn State [Mont Alto] and work as a welder and machinist in my dad’s shop at Letterkenny. […] I just don’t have a lot of free time.”
This busy schedule has been rewarding for Dawson, though. Having played music in bands since his early high school days at Cumberland Valley Christian School (CVCS), it has not only been a way to make friends, but his outlet as well.
“I was having a really tough time when I was writing this album,” he said, talking his band, The Shin High Foxes’ first CD, which is set to release in May. The album will be called “We’re Doing Alright” according to Dawson and feature seven new and original tracks.
“He really drew away from us and went into a shell,” said band-mate and guitarist Collan Sheaffer.
“This album tells a good, relatable story,” said Dawson, who is certainly not the only artist to experience depression, in fact, people working in artistic fields, such as music, are the fifth most likely to suffer from depression according to The Guardian.
“My cousin was going through a rough time, too, and actually committed suicide,” he said, “this really woke me up. So the album has a happy ending I guess.”
This sort of relatability is what Dawson and company’s music is all about. The Shin High Foxes, who got their name on a trip to the zoo by guitarist Jason Yoder, are one of the few indie bands local to the Shippensburg area, giving them a unique position to provide raw music to south-central Pennsylvania to go along with their unique name.
“There are only a couple of other indie bands around here that I can think of,” said Benji Glunt, lead guitarist for the popular local band Farewell Friend. Glunt has played with most of the local rock bands in the music scene, and identified Dawson’s as one of the few bringing out true emotion on the stage instead of the “pretentious pop rock bands”.
Dawson uses the rest of his busy life to help bring his music to life as well.
“My psychology class also played a major role in this album,” he said, “Maybe it’s because I was going through such a hard time, and we were looking at those same types of issues in class, but it really helped me look at how I was feeling, and then I just wrote it down.”
Lyrics aren’t the only thing that Dawson is in charge of for the Shin High Foxes. The laid back song writer can transform into a riled up rock star when he sits down at the drums as he head-bangs away, all the while adding vocals to the mix.
This made the strong silent bassist and vocalist, Preston Sheaffer, who sat in the booth hardly saying a single word the entire group interview, chuckle, as his brother, the guitarist, joked about Dawson’s hair flying around.
As the group discussed their weekend recording session, they struggled to come up with a way to get their other band member, Yoder, a student at Messiah University who does not have a car. This meant that one of the other members had to pick him up in Dillsburg, and bring him all the way to Chambersburg. A completely out of the way drive for all three of the other members, being based in Shippensburg. The duty fell to Dawson. As if his schedule wasn’t busy enough.
“The long drive alone sucks,” he said, “but someone’s gotta do it.”
The fledgling group is making use of the recording and mastering services of Ridge Bingaman, formerly of the popular local band Sky Hawk Drive, who were together for over four years. After the band broke up, Bingaman moved to Nashville and received a certification in audio engineering. Now he is back in the area, helping bring out the best of the Shin High Foxes musical talents with his one-man company that he built right in his basement called Restless Sound Studio.
The Shin High Foxes are also working on raising money to help offset the costs of producing their first album with Bingaman. Distribution will also cost money, something four 20-somethings tend to fall short with when trying to balance school, work and life. Their hope is that the benefit concert that they are putting on with bands “Young Poet” and “Commonwealth” will bring them in enough money to cover the production, distribution and venue costs and possible even make them some money.
Dawson and company’s benefit concert will be on April 5 at The Thought Lot, but they can also be found on popular music streaming websites such as Facebook or SoundCloud in the meantime. Their album will also be up on iTunes and Spotify, as well as the previously mentioned BandCamp, on May 30 of this year.
Looking past that, Dawson is unsure of his musical future.
“It will be tougher, working full-time and then trying to keep up with playing in the band,” he said.
But for now his life consists of school, work and lot of play.