Junior high Glen Ellyn brothers already rollin' in rock world

 
Updated 12/15/2011 2:33 PM
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  • The band Rebelmann with brothers Clayton Mann, 12, and twins Bryce and Johnathon, 14, practice in the family living room in Glen Ellyn. The band recently produced a pair of singles and will play the famed Whisky A Go-Go in West Hollywood on New Year's Eve.

      The band Rebelmann with brothers Clayton Mann, 12, and twins Bryce and Johnathon, 14, practice in the family living room in Glen Ellyn. The band recently produced a pair of singles and will play the famed Whisky A Go-Go in West Hollywood on New Year's Eve. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Rebelmann performs at the 2011 DuPage County Fair in Wheaton. Bassist Grant Mason, left, has since left the band.

      Rebelmann performs at the 2011 DuPage County Fair in Wheaton. Bassist Grant Mason, left, has since left the band. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • The lead singer of Rebelmann, Clayton Mann, 12, practices with his 14-year-old twin brothers, Johnathon (on guitar) and Bryce (on drums.)

      The lead singer of Rebelmann, Clayton Mann, 12, practices with his 14-year-old twin brothers, Johnathon (on guitar) and Bryce (on drums.) Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Rebelmann lead guitarist Johnathon Mann practices with his brothers in the living room of their families Glen Ellyn home. The band was recently signed by Shawn Campbell and will be playing at Whiskey A Go-Go in West Hollywood this coming New Year's Eve.

      Rebelmann lead guitarist Johnathon Mann practices with his brothers in the living room of their families Glen Ellyn home. The band was recently signed by Shawn Campbell and will be playing at Whiskey A Go-Go in West Hollywood this coming New Year's Eve. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Rebelmann, a band from Glen Ellyn, plays the rabble-rousing, big-hair rock music of the '70s and '80s. It covers bands like AC/DC, Guns 'n Roses, KISS, Deep Purple and Poison.

"You guys feelin' funky?" lead singer Clayton Mann shouts out to the crowd on a recent Sunday at Bobby McGee's in Chicago Ridge. "How about some Grand Funk Railroad?"

"Yeah!" the crowd yells back, as Bryce Mann starts banging the drum intro to "American Band," followed by his twin, Johnathon, on the guitar.

That's hardly the type of music one would expect them to play, given that none of them were around for either decade. Clayton is just 12, while his brothers are 14.

But hey, that's what they love, say the long-haired brothers whose offstage politeness falls away for a raucous good time onstage.

"The first songs we learned were rock 'n' roll, and that was it," Johnathan said.

"It has so much energy," Bryce added.

Many in the music business believe great things are on the horizon for Rebelmann.

In October, the band played at the Whisky A Go-Go, a West Hollywood club whose stage has been graced by bands like The Doors and Led Zeppelin. Last month, they recorded their first two singles under the guidance of a Los Angeles producer. And on New Year's Eve, they will play another show at the Whisky as their singles are released on iTunes.

"It feels so unreal. All of this hard work is starting to pay off," Bryce said. "At first we thought, 'Five gigs and it's over.' Now I want to do this for the rest of my life. I can't live without this."

The brothers admit it's not always easy to love rock 'n' roll when all their peers listen to pop.

"Someone says, 'Check out (radio station) B96, it's a great song,' and I'm like, 'What the heck am I listening to?'" Bryce said.

"With pop, you think of one line, repeat it 20 times in a song and come up with a funky rhythm," Johnathon said.

Clayton, however, gave a nod to success. "I can't say Justin Bieber is bad if he's selling out Madison Square Garden," he said. "I am not at Madison Square Garden."

The twins began playing their instruments in the fifth grade, learning classic rock songs from their music teacher. At a recital a few months later, Clayton joined in to belt out the vocals to AC/DC's "A Long Way to the Top."

"Clayton would sing Elvis at 3. He checked out 'KISS: From Behind the Mask' from the library in the fifth grade," said their mother, Julie Mann.

Rebelmann formed in the fall of 2009 and played its first show at the Taste of Glen Ellyn in May 2010. Then came an invitation to play another festival the next month, and open mic shows at places like J. Riley's American Cafe in Lombard and the Elbo Room in Chicago.

Although he's the youngest, Clayton takes the lead onstage, relishing the attention, while Johnathon, the most reserved of the three, gets lost in his music; Bryce, the vivacious one, bangs as hard as he can on the drums, joking it's all he can do to be noticed in the back.

This summer, Death and Taxes frontman Jay Link asked Rebelmann to open for his show at the Whisky A-Go-Go in October, after Julie Mann sent him links to YouTube videos.

"The first time I thought, 'Wow, that was pretty amazing,'" Link said. "They had just such a great spirit and heart, they played like they were in their 20s and 30s," he said. "I honestly think they have a lot of talent."

Whisky A Go-Go senior booking agent Celina Denkins wanted Rebelmann back for New Year's Eve. "Rebelmann is an impressive display of young talent. They are old souls when it comes to their musical ability and stage presence," she said.

The brothers have a natural talent for pleasing the crowd, Denkins said.

"Their performance also exudes a level of experience you don't always see in bands who have been performing for many many years," she said. "I would love to see the band perform more original material."

Bassist Tim Joyce, of Villa Park, is filling in after original member Grant Mason left to focus on skating and snowboarding.

Joyce already had seen Rebelmann onstage in 2010. "The band I was playing with had to follow them. I remember thinking, 'This is going to be tough,'" he said.

Despite being nearly four times their age, Joyce immediately clicked with the Mann brothers.

"They are outgoing, and they are really hardworking," the 45-year-old said. "They are one of the hardest-working bands I've ever seen. Very positive and very organized."

The brothers credit their mother with running a smooth operation, what with scheduling their music lessons, driving them to gigs, helping assemble and disassemble their equipment, and generally managing the band.

Julie jokingly calls herself a "momager" -- a la Kris Jenner of Kardashian fame -- but she says she doesn't push her kids. It's what they want, and she simply does her part to support them.

"As long as they put in the work, it's what I have to do for them," Julie said. Her husband, Michael, also is fully on board, devoting all his vacation to traveling with Rebelmann.

"My mom has my calendar and everything covered. She's like an agent; she knows what we need. She's, like, awesome," Bryce said.

"I think it's very loving how my dad would spend his two-week holiday on us. I think it's probably an amazing sacrifice to spend so much money on this equipment," Johnathon added.

The brothers said they loved recording at a music studio in Chicago's South Side.

"It was very exciting. You accomplish something not by learning, but by actually making your own song. It's your own creation. It's like a baby," Johnathon said.

Producer Shawn Campbell said he became interested in Rebelmann thanks to the efforts of a teenage girl in New Jersey who saw their videos on YouTube and began tweeting him nonstop, he said.

Campbell discovered Australian pop star Cody Simpson, who later was signed by Atlantic Records. Campbell has produced songs for Jay-Z and Missy Elliot.

"A lot of kids on Twitter who are on that demographic of 14 to 18, when they find new acts they send me new links," Campbell said.

Campbell knows full well that a teen band whose sound is inspired by '70s and '80s rock doesn't fit in today's pop landscape. That's exactly their strength, he said.

"By the time they hit their stride, a lot of people will have (pop) boy-band fatigue," he said. "They are like a very naturally talented basketball player who has not yet been disciplined to train, but has raw talent beyond their years. Everything about them says to me they are genius on the surface, but an even greater genius when they develop what's there."

Most of Rebelmann's shows consist of covers, but Campbell is not interested in that. What he liked was their original material.

"More times than not, as a producer I have to come up with the entire thing myself, and then teach it to the artists," he said. "But they already started down that road with some really amazing ideas. They just needed to be packaged and flushed out, so they could be commercially viable."

Plus, the Mann brothers are just ... cool, he said.

"What I can't do is make you interesting. And they are naturally dynamic," he said. The boys have the looks, too, which is crucial in today's music environment, he said.

"I cannot guarantee who's actually going to take off. If anyone stands out the most for their originality, it's definitely Rebelmann. Time will tell," Campbell said. "If the music gods are smiling like I think they are, I think the boys are going to do great."

• Elena Ferrarin wrote today's column. She and Kimberly Pohl always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to standouts@dailyherald.com or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.

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