Lead singer and rhythm guitarist of The Yetis, Nick Gillespie knew he wanted to play music with his best friends since the fifth grade when they would doodle pictures of guitars on their notebooks.
Ten years later, the boys from Allentown, Pa., – Gillespie, Collins Horbowyj and brothers Christian and Stefan Luengen – have been signed to a Brooklyn, N.Y., record label and are about to release their EP, “Little Surfer Girl,” in May.
But their biggest accomplishment is more personal.
“We once won first-place Entertainer of the Year at Parkland High School,” sophomore English major Gillespie said.
The Yetis have a name that lends itself more to winter, but instead have a lighter, much more surf-rock sound influenced by Arctic Monkeys, The Beatles and The Beach Boys. They have been making music together since middle school, and after coining the name in 2009, have played as The Yetis ever since.
“The first time we played a show, I puked I was so nervous,” junior film and media arts major and lead guitarist Christian Luengen said. “I obviously don’t get like that anymore.”
Gillespie said that even though the four have been playing for years, they didn’t take the band seriously until last November when they started actively seeking out shows and posting their music to SoundCloud.
After landing a gig in New York in January, The Yetis were contacted by a manager of Dazzleships who saw the group’s flier. The small record label focuses on indie bands and has collaborated with Alden Penner of The Unicorns.
“[Dazzleships has] The Unicorns and now The Yetis,” Christian Luengen said. “They’ve got a real mythical theme going.”
While its new manager has helped book more venues, the band said it can appreciate the vibe of house shows in the Temple area where it can generate a fan base.
“It’s easier to get people to come to a house show,” Gillespie said. “The sound systems at venues are better, but house shows are more fun. We like playing in the cold, too. That’s our climate.”
“That’s how we got so good – our hands were just cold,” Christian Luengen said.
The band posts information about upcoming shows on its Facebook page for followers. A recent post showed its unofficial banner, designed by a friend Gillespie made when studying in Germany. He shared the band’s music on YouTube and helped garner international fans.
“We’re real big in Europe,” Horbowyj said. “No, really. In Munich, Germany, we’re huge.”
While the band said booking shows is easy, it’s harder to get together since only Gillespie and Christian Luengen are Temple students. Drummer Horbowyj is a junior at Bloomsburg University and bass guitarist Stefan Luengen is a sophomore at East Stroudsburg University.
“In a way, it’s better for us,” Christian Luengen said. “If Stefan and [Horbowyj] went here, we’d just play music all the time. We would never get any schoolwork or anything else done.”
The group said the commute hasn’t hindered the songwriting process. All members contribute original songs and collaborate on the music and lyrics.
“We’re constantly writing and seeing what works,” Gillespie said. “We have more than 40 original songs now. Sometimes you write about nothing or sometimes a girl’s got you down. It’s all about the deep feeling.”
The band also incorporates covers into its set list, from Vampire Weekend’s “Oxford Comma” to ‘50s and ‘60s rock. Christian Luengen said he once ventured past the two genres by covering “Womanizer” by Britney Spears. Band members said it helps people “dance and go crazy” when audience members recognize the music.
But the band said it was a more gratifying and humbling experience when the crowd reacted similarly to its original songs.
“The last show we played, people were singing along to our songs,” Gillespie said. “They knew our music, our lyrics. It was so cool.”
Gillespie and Christian Luengen described their fan base as a “cult following” and that the small group was continuing to grow. Despite this, the band denied having groupies.
“I mean, being in a band definitely helps us with girls,” Gillespie said. “That’s who we play our acoustic stuff for. But really just [Horbowyj] gets the girls. We don’t.”
“I’m still waiting on the girls,” Stefan Luengen said. “I think it’s because I’m the bass player.”
Band members said they’re still prone to nerves before performing, but that it gets easier with every show. Gillespie said waiting to get on stage is always the worst part.
“Once you’re out there, though, it’s amazing,” Gillespie said. “Playing rock ‘n’ roll is the most badass thing you can do, in my opinion.”
The Yetis have a list of long-term goals including achieving worldwide fame, getting signed to a record label and touring the East Coast. But all four said “it’s just about having fun.”
“We’re just playing music with our friends and hoping people like it,” Stefan Luengen said.
That’s all that a group of kids from Parkland High School could have hoped for when deciding on a band name five years ago.
“You know it took them 60 years to discover the existence of the panda bear – it makes me think there could be a real yeti out there,” Christian Luengen said. “Did you know the word ‘yeti’ in Tibetan means ‘rock thing?’”
“It doesn’t matter where the name came from,” Gillespie said. “What it really means is us.”
Jessica Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.