Will Howard has humble goals for Citizen Shade, the soul/pop trio he formed with UNCG alumnus David Lezcano ’15 and fellow UNCG student Justin Mackey. The objective is simple: make music for a living.
The three are off to a pretty good start.
What began as three students playing music on campus last fall has turned into an album release, connections with big-time producers and plans to tour the country as soon as possible.
Howard, a history major who previously lived in Nashville and performed as a solo singer-songwriter, returned to his hometown of Greensboro in 2014 with a vision for a project he called “Citizen Shade.” Through mutual friends, Howard got connected with music students Lezcano, a classically trained pianist, and Mackey, a classically trained cellist.
The group’s first gig was less than a year ago at The Garage in Winston-Salem.
“We ended up playing with a punk band. It totally didn’t fit our vibe,” Lezcano said with a laugh.
Nevertheless, it was the first step in what has turned out to be a wild ride.
Citizen Shade released its debut EP, “One for the Evening,” on July 31, an album that was mastered by Tom Coyne, senior mastering engineer at Sterling Sound. Coyne has worked with Taylor Swift, Sam Smith and Beyoncé, among others.
The band has also registered with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), a performing rights organization that boasts big-time members such as Justin Timberlake and Ryan Tedder.
Howard’s smoky voice and incredible range paired with piano and strings make for a unique sound that is reminiscent of One Republic.
“We truly love this music,” Howard said. “We do it not because it’s popular, but because we enjoy it. There are elements of jazz and classical in our music – it’s way more than just pop.”
The lyrics, many of which are inspired by personal struggles, intend to bring a message of hope for those in dark times.
“We’ve all been touched by depression in our lives – either personally or through someone we know,” Mackey said, adding that the fight against depression is a cause that is very important to the band.
For both Mackey and Lezcano, studying at UNCG’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance inspired them to do more with their talent.
“UNCG gave me an environment to break out of all my bad habits as a musician,” Mackey said. “This university has pushed me to do something bigger. I’ve aspired to be much more than I ever thought I could be.”
“Everyone here is incredibly talented,” Lezcano added. “UNCG is one of the few schools in the region that has a variety of bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in music. Being surrounded by that definitely pushes you to another level.”
This fall, the band has been collaborating with former “The Voice” contestant Kensington “KENZ” Moore on a new single, and is also in the process of filming and producing two new music videos that are set to roll out in the coming months.
Despite all of the hype, Citizen Shade remains modest and grateful.
“We have a lot of dreams, and we’ve been afforded the opportunity to work with some incredible people who can help take this to the next level,” Lezcano said. “We’re constantly surprised by the emails and phone calls we get from people who are interested in being a part of the project. We’ve been blessed.”
Citizen Shade will be playing in Nashville in the coming weeks and at Churchill’s in downtown Greensboro on Oct. 15. To learn more about the band, visit citizenshade.com. To listen to “One for the Evening,” check out the band’s page on Spotify.
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Relations