For many, Santa Clarita’s Concerts in the Park shows are just a fun way to spend a summer afternoon and listen to some free, live music. For Julian Ho, they represent a heroic homecoming.
Ho grew up in Valencia and always wanted to perform for the summer concert series and had fond memories of watching the different bands perform as a child.
“Growing up, I went to Concerts in the Park and I always wanted to play there, but I never had a band to do that with,” Ho said. “Finally, I met these guys at the Musicians Institute and once we started playing a lot of gigs in Los Angeles, the first thing I thought of was that I wanted to play some gigs back home.”
While attending Musicians Institute in Hollywood, Ho met Shealeigh Atkinson, Nate Rich and Gabe Coll. After Atkinson asked the others to help her record a song for a scholarship, the four decided to form a funk band with Atkinson on vocals, Rich on guitar, Coll on bass and Ho on drums. They chose the name Prussia based on the name of a town called King of Prussia in her home state of Pennsylvania. Members of the band have individually performed with music icons like Kanye West, Frank Gambale and Joe Sumner and have even played in front of Sting, which was an especially important moment for the band since they met in a class about The Police.
When Prussia first approached the city about performing for Concerts in the Park, the band was told they were still a little new, but if they got more experience performing live, the city would consider them. So, in 2018, the band began performing local shows at The MAIN, the Christmas tree-lighting and the SENSES block parties. Finally, they received an invitation to perform at the Concerts in the Park on July 20.
The members of the band like to think of their chosen genre of funk as “jazz with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude.” Rich said he and his bandmates like how funk allows them to experiment with a variety of sounds and styles while still remaining true to the band’s energy.
“We can write a super simple song or we can write a song with a lot of different chords, and it’s never really foreign from our sound or our central idea,” Rich said. “I think it’s interesting to listen to, because there is the central idea of funk, but we can also branch and try different things in our songs that in some other styles of music wouldn’t be possible.”
The band’s approach to music is to write songs that connect with people on an emotional level and building a small, core group of fans rather than having a big, hit pop song and signing with a big record label.
“We just want to write songs that we genuinely care about so that, when we perform them live, we can have a genuine connection,” Ho said. “It’s like if you were on stage in front of a giant crowd and started speaking Spanish to people who didn’t understand it. Sure, you could be saying beautiful, eloquent things, but if no one really understands or connects with it, what’s the point.”
The band also emphasized that due to changes in the music industry, technology and social media, it is no longer necessary to sign to a record label in order to have a successful music career. They also said that, even if they did make a hit song with a label, there is no guarantee of future success.
“One of my favorite bands is Hansen, but could you imagine having to play ‘MMMBop’ for 20 years?” Atkinson said.
“I would probably drop everything else just to do this,” Rich added, “but I don’t want a record label telling me I have to. Some bands get a record label, release one record, then get shelved and have to tour their lives away to pay back the money they owe.”
While the band enjoys how studio recording allows them to meticulously craft the finer points and intentions of their music, allowing a “shell of a song” to blossom, they consider themselves to be primarily a live band. Their approach to performance is to make each show as “epic” and as energetic as they can, whether it is in front of an audience of four people or thousands.
“One show we did at The MAIN had four people, including Julian’s mom, but no matter where people see us perform, I want them to get the absolute best out of us,” Atkinson said. “Every time I leave a performance, I don’t think I could have done anything more. A show could be like a train wreck or it could be super awesome; there’s a little bit of risk.”
Prussia’s Concerts in the Park gig will be a special performance for the band. They have recorded songs with a horn section before, but rarely perform live with horn musicians. Additionally, while many of the bands perform covers, Prussia will perform mostly original material.
But most importantly for the band, during that performance, all of the original members will be present onstage. Coll, the original bassist, is a Venezuelan refugee currently living on a tourist visa in Ecuador and will be back in America on a temporary visa.
“When Gabe lived here we kind of took it for granted that we could write a song any time, so now when he’s here for only like a month we realize we really need to kick our music into gear because if we don’t he might not be able to come back,” Rich said. “We communicate with him over text but it’s really rough not having one of the people who wrote the music here to perform it.”
As someone heavily influenced by the concert series, it is satisfying for Ho to see his musical journey come full circle.
“The other members of the band didn’t grow up here but they have performed here, and I grew up here and I’m still heavily influenced by this city,” Ho said. “The music we play is somewhat grown from Santa Clarita.
Prussia will perform at Concerts in the Park on July 20 at 7 p.m. in Central Park. They will release a new single “Hello” on July 12. To learn more about the band visit prussiaband.com or on Spotify.