No Holds Barred: The Controlled Chaos of Scantron

The local band has become known for intense, beer-soaked, but not unstructured performances

On a cold night in January, James Everhart is in the main room of Planet 10 Media, a multimedia production company tucked in the back of a Bear industrial park. The lead singer and guitarist for Scantron, Everhart and his three bandmates have just finished a rehearsal. He tears into a 12-pack of Yuengling, grabs an armful of the green bottles, and walks into the neighboring boardroom and sets them on the dark wooden table where Will Donnelly, George Murphy and Lucas Rinz are sitting.

Everhart takes a seat, twists the cap off his bottle, takes a swig, and sighs.

“Oh, man, I haven’t had a beer in like, four days. This is awesome,” he says, as Donnelly, Murphy and Rinz break into laughter.

Drinking hard and working harder has proven to be a winning formula for a band that, over the past three years, has become known for its energetic, unrestrained live show, featuring a blistering set of garage, punk rock songs played with great intensity at full volume. At any point, its members may be jumping, kicking or downing bottles while maintaining full control and condensing the noise into a single tight, melodic arrangement peppered with harmonies and tasteful guitar lines, lasting no more than the duration of a pop song.

You might say that Scantron is loose but not unstructured.

Everhart, a Wilmington native, and Donnelly, who’s from Washington, have spent the last eight years playing music together in various projects, performing in basement shows, dive bars and concert halls on first a local, then national and international scale.

The two first met in late 2008 through a mutual friend while Everhart was attending the University of Delaware. They soon joined a couple of other students to start a rock group called Shakedown. Sticking primarily to the Newark-Wilmington music scene, they played almost exclusively at basement parties packed with ripped jeans, hemp necklaces and “Hot For Hillary” [Clinton, who was running for President even then] t-shirts.

Earning those fraternity dollars

“I guess I sort of became a Delaware transplant,” Donnelly says. “I was working in a studio down in Maryland and would go up every weekend to play house parties—the chitlin’ circuit of Newark, Delaware.”

“Yeah, we earned those fraternity dollars, man,” Everhart chimes in.

By 2010, Shakedown had disbanded and Everhart and Donnelly started another band, Villains Like You, shifting their focus to a more blues and classic rock sound. The result was a three-year period of exhaustive jam sessions, shirtless guitar solos and an opening stint for Blues Traveler at The Grand Opera House in 2012. In the process, Everhart and Donnelly began to sharpen their performance chops and extend their reach beyond the local music scene, networking and playing in Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City.

In April 2013, Villains Like You opened for Philadelphia-based rock and roll band Low Cut Connie at the now defunct Mojo on Main. There, Everhart hit it off with lead singer Adam Weiner and multi-instrumentalist Dan Finnemore. By the time creative differences brought Villains Like You to an end later that month, Everhart had joined Low Cut Connie on a national tour as their new guitarist and backing vocalist.

Throughout the summer, he would return from tour and pick up shifts at Home Grown Café in Newark while Donnelly ran sound at Mojo Main and bartended at Oddity Bar in Wilmington. Whenever a band would cancel a performance at Home Grown, Everhart and Donnelly would take their place, milking the bar tab while playing covers and working on original songs that they would eventually record in Donnelly’s apartment above Rainbow Records over the course of three days.

Origin of the name

As for the band name, its origin is as simple as the name itself.

“Honestly, we just got drunk and decided to call it Scantron,” Everhart says with a grin.
By August 2013, Everhart and Donnelly released their debut EP—a scorching collection of four garage rock songs that sounds like Fats Domino got into a brutal bar fight with The Sonics and won. The record was released independently, and the band posted it online and burned discs, with handmade artwork, that they gave out at shows. It wasn’t long before boutique label Grimtale Records pressed the EP on vinyl and distributed it.

Soon after that first release, George Murphy, from Bear, contacted Everhart and Donnelly. A prominent figure in the area music scene, Murphy has become known for his time with local acts like The Keefs and Travel Songs, in addition to the film and design work he has done as the co-founder of Planet 10 Media.

“When I first heard the four-song EP, I was totally floored,” Murphy says. “This was so much more of what I wanted to be doing musically—I was so thrilled that they were doing it.”

Murphy soon began playing with Everhart and Donnelly, solidifying the lineup and using his Planet 10 Media office as home base for the band to write and practice.

It was also during this time—late September, 2013—that Low Cut Connie shuffled their lineup and Donnelly hopped onboard, along with Everhart and fellow Delawarean Larry Scotton, of Arden.

From there, they spent the duration of the year and most of 2014 touring heavily and recording with Low Cut Connie, working on that band’s third release with Thomas Brenneck, a former member of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. Brenneck also has worked with artists such as Charles Bradley, Amy Winehouse and Alabama Shakes.

Despite leaving, returning and leaving again to play with another band, Everhart and Donnelly continued to view Scantron as their primary creative outlet, looking to take their road-tested musicianship and newfound inspirations back to Delaware to flesh out new material whenever possible.

“I’m just like the war bride back here at home while these guys are out on the road, trying to get everybody together to come down to Bear,” Murphy says, cracking a smile.
In early February 2014, Everhart bought a Tascam 38 reel-to-reel tape machine, and he, Donnelly and Murphy set up in a back room at Planet 10 Media and got to work on a new record.

Teaming with Universal Funk Order

Throughout the rest of that year, they spent any free time allowed by Everhart and Donnelley’s demanding tour schedule holed up in Murphy’s office recording their next EP. The lack of a time constraint gave them the advantage of experimenting with new sounds and ideas, without consequences. This freedom brought about a collaboration with Delaware-based horn group Universal Funk Order.

The result of these sessions is Scantron’s second EP, Palamino Blackwing, released in August 2014 through Lazy Boy Records. Like their debut, this record contains four songs, but takes that original garage-rock formula and translates it into a more funk and soul sound. The first pressings sold out within months.

Since then, Everhart, Donnelly and Murphy have grown accustomed to the band’s sporadic nature and have embraced it, spending most of last year playing and recording whenever they had a moment. Last month, they recruited Rinz, of the Philadelphia-based band Satellite Hearts, to play bass.

“We just finished our first practice with Luke and he killed it,” Everhart says, high-fiving Rinz enthusiastically. “This is actually, in fact, the first time we’ve hung out with Luke for more than two hours.”

As of now, Everhart and Donnelly, both 27, and Murphy and Rinz, both 26, have no plans to record a full-length record. Instead, they’re looking to continue recording and releasing the strongest batch of songs they can come up with.

“We want to treat every song like it’s a single,” Everhart says. “[We want to] write a song you can whistle.”

Finishing his drink and adding it to the collection of empty bottles on the table, Everhart looks around the room at his bandmates, and nods.

“This is the epitome of doing it,” he says.