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Popular Music students prep for Troubadour concert

by Evan Calbi
Lara Johnston, a senior in USC Thornton's Popular Music program, will be one of the featured performers at The Troubadour. (Photo/R. St. Nicholas)
Photo: Lara Johnston, a senior in USC Thornton's Popular Music program, will be one of the featured performers at The Troubadour. (Photo/R. St. Nicholas)

The inaugural class of the USC Thornton School of Music’s Popular Music program matriculated four years ago with high expectations.

As graduation approaches, their list of accomplishments continues to grow. Students have secured recording and publishing contracts, won competitions, released well-regarded EPs and albums, placed songs in films and television, launched successful national tours and received a Latin Grammy Award nomination.

“So many people are already doing so many cool things,” said senior Eric Radloff. “I’m really proud to be counted among them.”

While at USC Thornton, Radloff formed a band, Bear Attack, with fellow seniors, including singer Mia Minichiello, bassist Nick Campbell, drummer Logan Shrewsbury and Brandon Bae, a guitarist from USC Thornton’s Studio/Jazz Guitar program. Their first EP, “Shapes,” received favorable press in the Los Angeles Times, and three songs were featured on the ABC Family series Pretty Little Liars.

As part of their senior project for the program, Radloff and Minichiello are creating business and marketing plans for the band and writing songs for their next EP. Campbell is developing connections in the film and television industry and meeting with music supervisors. Shrewsbury is planning the band’s first West Coast tour in June.

Some students couldn’t wait for graduation before embarking on tours. Singer Rozzi Crane just finished a run as a featured performer with Maroon 5, playing venues from Staples Center to Madison Square Garden.

The first artist signed to Adam Levine’s label, 222 Records, Crane performed with the band on “Come Away to the Water,” its contribution to the soundtrack for The Hunger Games. She has also served as the face for advertising campaigns for BCBGeneration and The Gap. This summer, she will open for Maroon 5 across the United States, joined by bassist Sam Wilkes and drummer Will Baldocchi, classmates from the Popular Music program.

While performance remains a key feature of the program, other students have learned to move seamlessly between the stage and behind-the-scenes production. Matias Mora released an EP with his band, Mora Mora, and he has performed with actor Devon Werkheiser and singer Diana Degarmo of American Idol fame. The Costa Rican native has also worked for music producers Mike Elizondo and Oliver Lieber.

“Almost every major professional opportunity I’ve gotten has been because of the school,” Mora said. “I got an opportunity to work with Mike Elizondo, which was really incredible. Last year, I assisted on a Paula Abdul track that ended up on Dancing With the Stars.”

The Popular Music program benefits from its location in Los Angeles, and proximity to the recording industry provides opportunities for its students.

“This program is a tool,” Mora said. “It’s like someone gave you a really awesome hammer, and it’s up to you to use it. You are around people who are so dedicated, it makes you want to work harder.”

Singer Lara Johnston has continued to work both on and off-campus, frequently collaborating with classmates as well as professional producers and songwriters. Her song “K.I.S.S.,” co-written with Robbie Nevil, was the grand prize winner of the Unsigned Only Competition and a finalist in the International Songwriting Competition.

“The songwriting classes were so magical to me,” Johnston said. “Having that environment every week of a safe group of friends sharing personal works with each other — it really inspired me so much and made me a lot more productive.”

As the seniors prepare to graduate next month, their focus has turned to celebrating their final performance together at the famed Troubadour in West Hollywood, Calif.

“At the beginning of the program, I had the exact same schedule as six of my classmates,” said songwriter Annie Dingwall. “We were a family from the get-go, and it built these really strong bonds.”

With networks of friends and professional contacts in Los Angeles, the students have been preparing to transition into the music industry since arriving on campus four years ago.

“It’s incredible. Every person in my class is already active in some way in the industry,” Dingwall said. “Some are signed and on tour right now. Some have publishing deals or are working in studios and doing other stuff. It’s been cool to see how it’s worked out.”

Trojans can see for themselves on April 21. The all-ages showcase beginning at 7:30 p.m. is free.

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