From Wrestling to Avon Dale


June 18, 2014

By Lexi Shurilla, fightingillini.com staff writer | @SusanAlexisS

Trading in pins for guitars and drum sets, former Illinois wrestlers Conrad Polz and Matt McCarter met as teammates on the wrestling team their freshman year at the University of Illinois and combined their interest in music to create the band Avon Dale. The two self-taught musicians derived the band from rock and blues influences and bringing in Avon Dale drummer, Alec Heist - another Illinois graduate - to create the trio, the group added the talent of Andrew Allen on bass this spring and now is on their first ever tour this summer.

Avondale Avenue
McCarter and Polz both redshirted their freshmen season in 2008-09 at Illinois. An Orland Park native, Polz reigns from the high school wrestling powerhouse of the suburbs, Carl Sandburg High School. Conrad's father is legendary wrestling coach Mike Polz, who left his coaching legacy at Carl Sandburg and coached both of his sons in school before Conrad and Clinton went on to wrestle at Illinois. Polz finished his senior season at Illinois with a 27-8 overall record, notching his second All-America honor after placing a career-best fifth at the 2013 NCAA Championships. Polz was an academic All-Big Ten selection and NWCA academic All-American. McCarter was a four year letter winner and also an academic All-Big Ten selection as an Illini.

In Avon Dale, Polz is the lead vocalist and electric guitar player, McCarter is a vocalist/acoustic guitarist, Heist is on drums and Allen is on bass for the band. Through their college years the trio balanced their busy schedules with jam sessions and nights spent writing songs on the roof of Polz's college home on Avondale Avenue, which is where the name for the group came from.

"There was no intention of creating a band, it was just having fun," McCarter said about the band's start. "For a few years that's all it was, Conrad and I would bounce ideas off each other, usually making songs as jokes, but then it slowly turned into a hobby and passion. I met Alec through the education department, he heard some of the songs we had written and decided to bring his drums down. From there it all quickly snowballed into Avon Dale."

Heist met McCarter in the History/Education program. He comes from a family of drummers spanning generations, but he mostly practiced his craft in private from middle school onward. After hearing some of the solo recordings McCarter had done, Heist's interest was piqued enough to haul his drum set down to school. The trio formed in September of 2012 and began to practice in a friend's basement. Between student teaching assignments and the wrestling schedule, band practice was a tight fit but Avon Dale had their first show at the Green Street Café in Champaign just a few weeks after Polz returned from Nationals as an All-American.

"We come from some non-traditional music backgrounds," McCarter said. "We are all self-taught on our instruments. Our music is all about the feeling that the sound creates. We draw from many different influences, so it can be tough to classify the type of music we play. Usually songs will range from a crunching rock jam to a soulful melody with a blues twist. I think the band draws some of its inspiration simply from the feeling of creating. When we all come together and put in an effort to make something unique, it's an overwhelming feeling of happiness."

On the Road
After graduation in 2013, the band decided to hit the road and pursue their musical aspirations in Memphis, Tennessee. Polz, McCarter and Heist had all envisioned careers in education upon receiving their degrees. Heist was accepted into Teach for America, a non-profit organization whose mission is to "eliminate educational inequity," and he was headed to Memphis. Polz and McCarter had thrown around the idea of moving to Nashville, but they knew that pursuing their music had a limited time frame and Memphis was the right place to dedicate themselves to their music.

"We never set a timeline for the band," McCarter said. "We were just a few college seniors that were having a good time. After a while we realized that we were on the verge of something special. The way we talked about music, the ideas we all had and the dedication to playing, it was never something that had to be discussed; we were all just interested in making music. Although it all happened so fast, it just felt like the right decision."

They have since settled in Memphis, working on new material, recording demos and playing gigs in the larger Memphis and Chicago areas, including Chicago's iconic House of Blues and headlining the sold-out New Year's Eve show at "The Elbo Room" in 2013.

"All of us can draw from similar experiences at the University of Illinois," McCarter said. "The hard work that goes into getting a degree from Illinois can be recognized in our band's work ethic. We're constantly trying to improve and get to the next level. Through wrestling at the university, Conrad and I have seen what it takes to be fully committed to an end goal, and that kind of passion and dedication can be seen in every member of Avon Dale. Our time at Illinois has shaped who we are today."

As they continue to make a name for themselves in music, Avon Dale has been featured on Rock 103 Memphis' Made radio program. They also won the 2013 Beale Street Battle of the Bands at the New Daisy Theatre and were the winners of the King Sound Studios Fall 2013 Demo Competition. Avon Dale was honored to have the opportunity to record a short demo with Mike Wilson at the historic Ardent studios, which has cut records for legends like B.B King, Led Zeppelin, the White Stripes and Bob Dylan. The band also recorded their recent single, "OMG," at King Sound Studio in Paducah, Kentucky with Rick King.

Just this past March, Avon Dale added bassist Andrew Allen to join the original Illini trio, and recently kicked off their first tour as a band in Memphis on June 12. The guys have shows throughout the Midwest over the summer months, including stops in Chicago, Iowa City and Denver to name a few, as well as a return to where it all started in Champaign, June 18 at the Green Street Café.

"The tour is a big step for the band, we are all really excited," McCarter said. "To be able to share something that you've created with people who are excited to hear it, is always a bonus. All the while, we will be stopping in cities that we're connected to one way or another. Champaign is a special place for us. It's where we first came together. Being able to come back and play a show at Green Street Café, where we had our first show last Easter weekend, will be one we won't forget.

"After the tour, we will head back to Memphis to record more music at Ardent Studios. Throughout the fall we will be bouncing around playing shows throughout the mid-South and Midwest. From there who knows, but the overall plan is to continue to play great music for great people."

Check out Avon Dale LIVE June 18 at the Green Street Café!

Make sure to check out the band's website and Facebook pages for future gigs!
Website: thebandavondale.com
Facebook: facebook.com/avdbnd