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The way of the world: The next wave of Duluth rock gets a push from the youthful Trapped by the Watchtower

If Trapped by the Watchtower's performance at Beaner's Central earlier this month is any indication, they just might be onto something.

The Duluth group's supporting act that night was none other than Love in October. The Minneapolis outfit, which is working on its debut with esteemed producer/engineer Ed Rose (Motion City Soundtrack, the Get Up Kids), was recently the highest-rated group on mtvU's Best Music on Campus contest.

"They opened for us our first show, and they said that we did pretty damn good," said Trapped's drummer and co-vocalist Sam McKinney.

There are two phones between us, but it's pretty evident that he's grinning.

McKinney, at 17 and a few months, holds the title for oldest member of Trapped. (Oh yeah, did I mention that the group members' collective age is only 65?)

He formed the group with guitarist Jason Anderson just a few months ago -- and in the most interesting of ways.

Trapped stems from a stint at Little Angie's. No, not inside ... out on the street, like any good rock 'n' rollers.

"We were just jamming down in Canal Park for tips," McKinney said. "We had never played together and we had just met a few days before."

Despite only having three songs to their repertoire, they made it work.

"Jason would have a guitar riff to work off of, and we pretty much dragged them out for 15 minutes each, playing them over and over again," said McKinney, who was playing keyboard that fateful day.

They liked the chemistry, so they sought out a full group lineup. Calling Anderson the most amazing guitarist he knows, McKinney lays out similar accolades for his other bandmates.

Regarding bassist Nick Spielman: "He was perfect. ... He's only 15, and he's only been playing for four months, but he's better than a lot of people I know who have been playing for seven or eight years."

On Lauren Verhel, his co-vocalist: "She just has an amazing voice, and a lot of years of training."

McKinney got a head start with training himself when he was very young. In an attempt to get their adopted son into music, his parents bought him a baby grand piano with money from his grandmother's will.

"They said that when I was little, I was always singing and dancing ... you know, classic musical child," he said, laughing.

With that purchase came lessons, including six years with Tom Wegren, a University of Minnesota Duluth professor who was in an early incarnation of the band Chicago.

"He taught me to improvise the way that I can now," McKinney said. "He really did not emphasize a lot of sightreading, but he taught me really how to play from the heart."

His heart must be on fire, then. A recent photo shoot at Marshall School's band room (the group's temporary practice space) revealed McKinney to be a powerful force behind a drum kit.

It fits in nicely with Spielman's chugging basslines and Anderson's melodic, funky flair -- a la Shivogitt, a similarly aged group working in and around the Twin Ports.

Beaming through all of this is Verhel, a fiery presence much akin to Evanescence's Amy Lee. (It's hard to say how anyone could possibly react to such a comparison, so let's be clear: Lee has strong vocal cords -- she just doesn't seem to utilize them in an interesting or artistic manner.)

"Bands that we listen to kind of range from heavy metal to stoner music," McKinney said. "We kind of take all those different styles together into our own unique style."

He also said that Trapped's music can range from pop-punk to jazz-rock -- all in the confines of just one song.

Of course, to a lot of people, there's no way to really agree or disagree with this assessment.

Aside from some questionable live recordings on the group's Web site, Trapped's music is kind of a secret. McKinney is aiming to fix that, though.

The group will start recording its debut album this week, and a Pizza Luce show with the Keep Aways is in the works.

For more information on the group, check out www.trappedbythewatchtower.com or read this article again.

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