Everything started in the Spring of 2014 at Music and Arts in Lawrence Township, where several local kids were taking lessons.
Gordon Sine was looking to perfect his bass playing. Gabriel Jabonero had graduated from playing air guitar with his lightsaber, and Robert Lee, the youngest, had gone from piano man to rocking drummer.
Their teachers at Music and Arts were so impressed by these young men that they decided to match them up with vocalist Valerie Desmarais to play a set of five classic rock songs.
They got together to rehearse playing the advanced rock songs, and despite having practiced for only six hours, the group nailed all the songs at the show. In fact, they got along with each other so well that they decided to form a band. And Just 6 Hours was born.
Fast forward to June 2015. Sine, Jabonero and Lee were in need of a lead vocalist after Desmarais moved to back to Europe, where she had lived before.
Later that month, Sine was jamming with another band and met Seth Barnett, a singer and guitar player for that band. He invited Barnett to play with them, and everything clicked. Before they knew it, they were practicing in Lee’s basement and Just 6 Hours was ready to reintroduce itself loudly into the world.
Since Barnett joined the band, they’ve been playing original alternative rock. The band writes all of the songs together as a collaborative effort. Usually, Barnett writes the lyrics and brings them to band practice to go over with the rest of the band, and they then work on the song together. Sine said that sometimes, though, “there’s just one guy that’s trying to rip and then everybody just jams in and Seth has to go home and say ‘what can I write for lyrics to this?’”
While most of the musicians met at Music and Arts, the band members now spend most of their time at Lakehouse Music Academy in Asbury Park with Evan Rudenjak, their current teacher and producer. In addition to two hour-long band lessons, where Rudenjak helps the band focus on writing songs and coming up with new music, the members each have their own private lessons at LMA, with the exception of Sine, who still sees his original bass teacher at Music and Arts.
Since adding Barnett to the band, they have lined up and played 10 gigs at a number of notable venues in Asbury Park, including the Stone Pony, The Saint, the Music Foundation and the House of Independents. The band’s next gig will be its first local one—they’ve been booked to play a 40-minute set at Princeton’s Communiversity arts festival on April 30. The band is set to play at 1 p.m. on the Chambers Street Stage, and they will be playing songs from their first album, “H.O.P.E,” an EP that was released earlier this year.
The band’s debut performance for “H.O.P.E.” was at Moto Records at the Asbury Park Music Foundation on Feb. 3. According to the members, they’re working on a full “concept” album. They didn’t include all of their songs on the EP and are incorporating a “loose theme” that will connect all of the songs on their next album, Barnett said.
Ultimately, the band hopes to branch out beyond the Asbury Park area. In addition to their show at Communiversity, they will also be playing at the Jersey Shorefest in Seaside on May 21 at The Barn at 37 Grant Ave., from 12:50 to 1:20 p.m.
Barnett, Sine and Jabonero all attend High School North. Barnett, a 17-year-old junior who also plays backup guitar, lives in West Windsor with his parents, Scot and Diane, along with his brother Demitri.
Sine, an 18-year-old senior who sings backup vocals, lives in Plainsboro with his parents Drew and Alaine. His sister, Alex, was the band’s stand-in vocalist for a short time before she went off to college and Barnett came along. With the college semester approaching, the members knew she could only sing with them temporarily to keep up their musical momentum. At that time, the band was performing mostly cover songs and not making original music.
Jabonero, 17, is a junior who lives in West Windsor with his parents and two younger brothers. Lee, 15, the only band member who doesn’t attend High School North, is a freshman that attends a school in Princeton. He lives in Somerset with his mom.
Between their schoolwork and their band responsibilities, the band members don’t have much free time for anything else. Lee is either making time for music or studying diligently for school; Sine spends his limited downtime outside or playing video games; Jabonero likes to ride his bike; and Barnett loves to go to shows and meet new musicians. “Everything I like to do just revolves around music,” he said.
When he graduates from high school in 2018, he plans to go to Mercer County Community College to continue his education and work on core classes. Ultimately, though, his focus is on music. “I just want to continue with music,” he said.
Barnett said that while he has always loved music, his voice and guitar lessons began within the last two years. He always sang, even before he started taking lessons. When he was 15, he joined a band, and one of the members discouraged him and told him he’d never play or sing well. Barnett, took that as a challenge and it wasn’t long after that he found himself in guitar lessons.
“I learned how to play guitar out of spite,” he said.
One of Barnett’s favorite gigs was at The Saint last year on his birthday. The relatively small space was packed full, and Barnett’s dad was front and center singing along to the lyrics to the point where it slightly threw him off, Barnett said, laughing at the memory.
Support from family, friends, other musicians, instructors and even school teachers has overwhelmed the members of J6H. Barnett’s young cousin learned how to work the CD player in his aunt’s car so he could listen to “H.O.P.E.”
Joe Parella, the band’s first music teacher at LMA, is still a close mentor to the group. One of Sine’s school teachers even came to a gig with his daughter to support the band and enjoy the music. “We have a lot of support not just at home but at school,” Barnett said.
Sine’s said his father is a big inspiration. His dad sang and played guitar in a cover band, and Sine remembers going to one of his shows when he was about 10 years old. He went up on stage with him and sang “Down With the Sickness,” a song by Disturbed, and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” a song by The Smashing Pumpkins.
The two of them often found themselves shopping in Guitar Center. Sine never clicked with a guitar, but one day they were in the store and he saw a teal bass. He decided to give it a try, and it was like fate took over. Five years later, and he is stirring up the stage with his riffs, which come sometimes before the lyrics are written. That was the case with the song, “Tuesday,” which is one of the tracks on “H.O.P.E.”
Sine said he strongly believes that a musician should play what he wants to play. “There’s something that really builds that greater connection with music when you do it on your own instead of being forced,” he said.
His love for music is a high priority, but that isn’t stopping him from pursuing a degree in elementary education at Rider University in the fall. Sine’s plan is to commute so he can stay close with the band, though he’s excited to take advantage of the campus radio station and is already planning his own radio show.
Music has been a constant in Jabonero’s life. “I really liked music since I was little, so I used to take a lightsaber and pretend it was a guitar,” Jabonero said. He got a guitar when he was about nine years old, and has barely put it down since.
His brothers play instruments, and he also has family in the Philippines who sing and play guitar. When Jabonero graduates next spring, he plans to attend MCCC’s flight avionics program to be a pilot and also work towards a bachelor’s degree.
Lee has been playing the drums for four years. He took on the challenge after playing piano for seven years. His parents had him begin piano lessons at the age of four, and after years of experience playing the keys he realized what he really wanted was a pair of drumsticks and to make some noise. The rest of the band considers Lee the heartbeat of the music.
Lee has more time until graduation than the rest of the members. “If it takes off we’ll see what happens,” he said with a smile, “I’ll take it as it comes.”