This could be Frisco’s Christmas gift to music
There’s a lot of things you think of when you think of Frisco but the local music scene isn’t probably one of them.
And that would be a mistake.
A rising group of young artists from all around the Dallas area and representing a variety of musical types seem to gravitate to the Frisco area.
What’s most remarkable about them is despite their collective young ages, they seem to have an instinctual knack for navigating the business side of the music world. These are kids who grew up on social media and understand how to amplify their presence in ways that musicians of a generation ago wouldn’t fathom.
The Rock Band
The Wild Frontiers have already recorded two albums with Warner Brothers in Nashville and have a hit single “Drive” that you can find on Spotify. They’ve played gigs throughout the Dallas area including at the Grenada Theater and Trees.
“Drive” has a richness that belies the youth of this band. Frontman Trent Rush, who comes across like a glam version of Joey Ramone but in another life could have been a hot shot national brand salesman based on his innate grasp of the business side of music, leads guitarist James Wilson, drummer Josh Reed, lead guitarist Travis Hepler and bass player Kasey Wilson, James’ brother.
These aren’t kids with pie in the sky dreams. They have a plan.
“Within a year we want to move to LA, and go on national tour as an opening band,” Rush says, talking as much like a marketing executive as a musician. “If we have to buy into it it’s worth it, because we can make three times the investment on merch if we have a good product.”
They may talk about “product” but they are artists. Reed says it can be tough trying to build what they’re building because, “When you really write and put your heart into a song, you’re putting yourself out there naked in front of the world.”
James Wilson says it’s critical to just keep writing, and be truthful, but that you also have to balance that with making the music accessible.
“You can write without compromising your artistic integrity, but without also being musically self-indulgent to the point the only one who wants to hear it is you,” he says.
The energy, friendship and connection between the members of Wild Frontiers is as obvious as their commitment to their craft and the complete embrace they have of their growing fan base. And until they hit it big, they know how to enjoy the little things.
“There’s nothing in the world like playing and seeing someone in the audience singing along with lyrics you wrote five years ago when you were in high school, never knowing if you would ever get this far,” Rush says.
Harper Grace may have had the roughest start to a musical career possible. At age 11 she went viral for a rendition of the national anthem at a nationally televised FC Dallas game that is considered possibly among the top 10 worst performances of the song in history. The dead-enders at news sites like Deadspin piled on a young girl for something that, turns out, wasn’t her fault at all but rather serious audio problems at the live venue.
Grace didn’t just survive the onslaught of hateful comments online that ensued. She overcame them. The devoutly Christian adolescent lived up to her last name when she spent the next year every night praying for forgiveness for all of her vitriolic critics, and getting her family to join her.
And meanwhile she practiced. And sang. And wrote.
She’s drawn to country music because it’s about the story telling and, of course, because it’s a friendlier medium for those who want. To be open about their faith. And faith is something that positively glows from Grace.
Last March, during the season premiere of Idol on ABC, Grace was showered with praise after performing an original country song on guitar about having a yard sale following a heartbreak.
“I spent four hours in my prayer closet on whether I would go to American Idol. They kept asking me and I didn’t want to, but I kept talking to God and asking for a sign. Finally he showed me a vision of Him blindfolding me and pushing me from a cliff, and whispering in my ear, ‘Do you trust Me?’”
And with that her decision was made. After all, she lives by Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
And she lives that. When she’s not recording in Nashville or auditioning in LA (she was cast as the lead in Pitch Perfect 4 before the project was canceled) she and her family do missionary work in Uganda.
“I love the music and want to pursue my career but it’s all in the end about serving Him,” she says. “It’s a means to an end. The missionary work is my true calling.”
Sophia Annello is 17 and of the artists Frisco Life talked to, she’s still at the earliest stage of her career. But there’s a certain something – an earnestness and modesty – about the singer you can’t put your finger on. She’s still working through her AP classes while writing music and performing for small venues in Frisco, Plano and downtown Dallas.
She gets gigs because she’s so persistent, and she writes a lot like Ed Sheeran in the sense of the soulfulness of her songs.
“I get to sing my songs and covers,” she says. “I mean it’s three and a half hour gigs and I don’t have that much material yet.”
She does have an EP on Spotify and iTunes, and she’s working on a new album. All this while many of her peers are just thinking no further than weekend plans.
“All I care about is getting paid enough to do what I love, which is writing songs. I don’t mind if it’s just being a songwriter for others,” Annello says. (Though it would be a waste if it wasn’t her voice behind her lyrics – she really is that good.)
He mother was a singer and her father an actor before they settled down into safer careers, and Annello just wants to pursue her dream as far as it will take her.
“It’s just so important to do what I love,” she says. “That’s what will make me happy no matter where it takes me.”
Ron Bultongez escaped the Democratic Republic of Congo as a child to settle in North Texas. That alone was lucky. Even here in America he faced challenges we don’t think of as part of the Plano/Frisco life – being homeless, he didn’t have his own bed until he was 17, and he thought the McDonald’s dollar menu was something for rich people. He faced abuse and the stress of his memories of his war-torn homeland, images no 10-year-old should see.
But today the 22-year-old is a father of one with several albums under his belt. He’s so busy with gigs he can barely keep up – though he still prioritizes his family over work every time – and he’s moving to LA full time after his successful turn on the same American Idol season that saw Grace’s redemption.
He impressed the judges and winning fans across the country, progressing through Hollywood Week and showing his humility throughout.
What they didn’t know is that while he is a natural singer with a style that defies description, for Bultongez music is just a means to an end. (It’s not being flippant to say his style is hard to pin down. Professional musicians have trouble categorizing it, and it’s like a Rorschach test of sorts – if you listen expecting to hear blues, you hear the blues, or the pop, you hear the pop.)
“Initially I wanted to be a quarterback, because I saw it as a way to do that, and my heroes were Michael Vick and Tom Brady – both were underdogs, because Vick is short and Brady isn’t a natural athlete,” he says.
But after some injuries, and with the encouragement of his friends and extended family including the Wilson brothers, who were his foster brother, he started developing his singing.
That was just two years ago. Two years later and he’s produced records through Warner Brothers in Nashville. He’s opened for Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl at the Beverly Hills Autism Speaks event and he has trouble keeping up with the number of gigs he’s booked.
“I want to be the father to my son that I never had, and that means putting him first,” he says. “Life has given me too many signs that it’s bigger than me. Success just means doing what you want with the people you want how you want. It’s not a dollar amount.”