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updated: 6/12/2014 4:29 PM

Youth rock band US keeps finding success after winning Annecto Music's Battle of the Bands

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  • Video: Youth band US

  • US band members from Axel Ellis, left, Rhys Junas and Ryan Zurick.

       US band members from Axel Ellis, left, Rhys Junas and Ryan Zurick.
    Megan Swindell | Staff Photographer

  • Member of the band US from Rhys Junas, left, Ryan Zurick and Axel Ellis rehearse a song.

       Member of the band US from Rhys Junas, left, Ryan Zurick and Axel Ellis rehearse a song.
    Megan Swindell | Staff Photographer

  • The band US playing at the Lake Villa Celebration of Summer Teen Night in Lehmann Park.

      The band US playing at the Lake Villa Celebration of Summer Teen Night in Lehmann Park.
    Courtesy of Tobin Junas

 
By Megan Swindell
mswindell@dailyherald.com

With a head nod and a gentle foot tap, an electric guitar, a bass and a drum set burst out in unison to begin the Beatles' famous "Come Together."

It wasn't John Lennon singing the lyrics, but 11-year-old lead vocalist and guitarist Axel Ellis of the youth rock band US did the song justice.

"I'd rather play with these guys than the Beatles," said Ellis, who lives in Lake Villa, as he simultaneously pointed to his right and left.

Drummer Rhys Junas, 11, of Libertyville, and 12-year-old bassist Ryan Zurick, of Lake Villa, looked at Ellis in disbelief.

The preteen trio is living every garage band's dream.

They've been together as US for just a year now and recently won Annecto Music's Battle of the Bands in Highland Park.

As a part of the first place award, the boys recorded a cover of the Beatles' "Money" that is now available on iTunes.

US will also open for Grammy-award winning Bill Miller at the 91.7 KAXE Mississippi River Festival on July 18 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Each year, the festival hosts a youth band -- US was chosen for this year's event after sending their CD to the directors.

With such early success, the members of US have hopes for a promising future -- their ultimate goal is to play in Madison Square Garden.

Until then, the boys are content to take their tunes to more local venues, such as last week's Lake Villa Celebration of Summer Teen Night and Libertyville Days' Youth Music Stage on Saturday, June 14.

"The event started as a battle of the bands, but has evolved into a performance," said Dee Cox, co-chair of Libertyville Days. "It gives kids the stage for a night."

The boys are able to secure gigs with the help and guidance of their parents.

"We're their roadies," said Tobin Junas, drummer Rhys' dad. "We play a support role. We get them to the practices are make sure that they practice their instruments."

The band was initially formed with Ellis and Zurick, until some classmates let them know about a drummer they heard play at a recital.

"They were requesting me," Rhys Junas said.

"We made some phone calls," Ellis added. "A month later, he finally came over and we all jammed out."

Rhys Junas began playing on pots and pans with wooden spoons when he was 3 years old. Ellis first picked up a guitar when he was 6 because drum lessons, which he preferred, were not available. Although Zurick has been playing the guitar for six years, he started playing the bass a year ago.

The fifth and sixth graders said they listen to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Jimmy Hendrix for inspiration. They attributed their love for rock and roll to their parents playing it around the house.

"There is an influence of classic rock around the house," Tobin Junas said. "But, the boys pick the music. That's their own thing."

Channeling their role models does not stop with the music.

"I go to the mall and hop in the girls section," Ellis said of choosing an outfit for gigs. "Hendrix used to do it all the time. You have to be cool enough to go into the girls section."

"He was groovy," Zurick added.

Rock on.

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