Writing by Gia Miller

Photography by Justin Negard

It’s a story we all know. A group of high school kids form a rock band. They play at school events and local concerts. They’re typically the “cool kids” or the rebels, and they haven’t given any thought to what will happen after high school.

But we’d like to tell a story about a rock band that’s a little different. They’re well-liked among their peers at Fox Lane High School (FLHS), “A students,” active in the community and ponder their individual futures beyond high school. They’re also kind, driven and wise.

Please meet the five members of Guard Hill.

Madden Osherow

(junior, 17): lead guitar, vocals and harmonica

Osherow’s musical journey began at age six in his dad’s car to the tune of Hotel California. He immediately asked his parents for a guitar. He attended the School of Rock, and he also plays the harmonica and keyboard.

Other activities: FLHS rock ensemble, jazz band, cross country, Green Team environmental club, Envirothon and ski club volunteer

Influences: Tom York of Radiohead, John Frusciante – guitarist for Red Hot Chili Peppers, Taylor Swift, Jaco Pastorius – solo artist and bassist for Weather Report,

Favorite song: “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago

Hank Hearon

(sophomore, 16): drums, keyboard, guitar and vocals

Son of a mom drummer, Hearon began drumming at age seven at the School of Rock. He also plays the keyboard and sings.

Other activities: FHLS rock ensemble, soccer, hockey, lacrosse and Green Team environmental club

Influences: Grateful Dead, The Police, Coldplay and Dave Matthews, and “I’m really inspired by everyone.”

Favorite song: “Kilby Girl” by The Backseat Lovers

Ava Smith

(senior, 17): vocals

She credits her family for her love of music and her mother for her voice. Her first performance was in her seventh grade school musical (Little Shop of Horrors).

Other activities: FHLS rock ensemble, fashion club, Foxapella (the school’s female acapella group where she beat boxes, to the rest of the group’s surprise)

Influences: Olivia Rodrigo, Sia

Favorite song: “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses

Jasper Sizer

(junior, 16): lead guitar, drums, keyboard

He credits everyone he’s “played guitar with over the years” for helping him hone his craft.

Other activities: FHLS rock ensemble, cross country, jazz band, Green Team environmental club, Science Olympiad, Envirothon and volunteer firefighter with the Bedford Fire Department

Influences: His biggest influence is John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers. “My amp settings are the same as John’s.”

Favorite song: “Kilby Girl” by The Backseat Lovers

Alena Mata

(junior, 16): bass

She grew up in New York City and attended a music-focused elementary school where she studied music three hours a day. As a child, she loved hearing her dad constantly blast music and seeing live music. She switched from guitar to bass a year ago.

Other activities: FHLS rock ensemble, pottery, philosophy club

Influences: Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, bassist Victoria De Angelis of the Italian rock band Maneskin

Favorite song: Danny California by Red Hot Chili Peppers

I’m with you

The roots of Guard Hill were formed several years ago when Osherow, Sizer and Smith were members of the band Badger Scratch. The group eventually dissolved because they “had different visions of where the band was going,” according to Osherow. They knew Hearon from rock ensemble and his previous band, H2O.

“I joined Fox Lane’s rock ensemble my freshman year, and that brought us together even more than we realized,” Hearon explains. “It highlighted our strengths. We all played music, had good chemistry, and were friendly with each other. We talked about jamming sometime, so we all went to my house and started playing music together.”

(Note: Rock ensemble is an after-school club where students [Osherow says there are about 30 in the program] are placed into different “bands” for each song they’re assigned. They learn the songs on their own and rehearse together once a week after school. They perform in a school concert at the end of the year, and every other year, they perform at Universal Studios in Orlando.)

The four decided to form a band, and their rock ensemble teachers suggested adding Mata as their bassist, which they did. When it was time to choose a name, they followed in the footsteps of groups like Cypress Hill and the E Street Band, with a digital twist.

“We wanted a name that encompassed our childhood and where we came from, so we turned to Google Maps,” Osherow explains. “We thought of Guard Hill, a road that intersects all our towns. It’s an abstract name that brings us closer to our audience in a way that’s very relatable and familiar.”

Stadium arcadium

Their first gig was in May 2023. FLHS asked them to perform during a lacrosse game, and Mata had only joined the band the week before. She had seven days to learn 15 songs, which she did. It was a memorable experience, to say the least.

“The game was supposed to be a lot bigger,” Mata explains. “They said there would be food trucks, and they wanted entertainment. They placed us at the top of the bleachers, and we started before the game began. But they didn’t realize how loud we would be with our huge amps and drums. We were so loud that the crowd couldn’t hear the referee, so parents yelled at us to lower the volume. We didn’t. We got text messages from our friends on the tennis courts nearby that they could hear us, and we sounded great.”

They played their 20-song set list, and they learned several things.

“We learned not to play at sporting events, the importance of knowing our audience and that we should advertise our shows,” jokes Osherow.

Several weeks later, they played at The Bedford Playhouse. This time, they advertised their performance on social media and drew a larger crowd.

“At this show, we learned our energy feeds into the crowd,” Mata says.

By the way

But it takes more than a name, setting a rehearsal schedule and playing a gig or two to transform from five high school musicians into an actual band. For starters, bandmates need to be in agreement, especially with musical preferences ranging from classic rock and pop to Latin music and hard rock.

Luckily, they quickly figured out how to work together. They all come to rehearsal with ideas of what new songs they should learn (about four or five songs each). Then, they must pitch their choices to the group. If only one person wants the song, it’s vetoed. But the band will learn another song that person selected – it’s only fair.

“We all came from places like the School of Rock or our high school rock ensemble where there’s an adult in charge,” Hearon explains. “And now we’re managing this on our own with no adult leading us. We don’t have one singular source of management, so we all need to work together. It’s really helped our teamwork skills. We’ve learned how to compromise, and we’ve improved as a group because there’s not one person in charge.”

They initially learn the songs on their own before they rehearse as a band. It creates a level of personal responsibility and trust, which they say has helped them in school as well, especially with group projects.

“We’ve learned to hold ourselves accountable,” Osherow explains. “It takes a lot to admit you’re the person holding the band back, and you need to step up. That plays out in school as well. We don’t want to drag others down by not doing our part.”

They’ve also learned how to provide constructive feedback.

“We’ve become very comfortable around each other, so we’re able to give each other good, honest feedback,” Mata explains. “We’re not worried about hurting each other’s feelings, and that’s what allows us to sound great together.”

One hot minute

They rehearse together once or twice a week for about three hours each time. They’re constantly learning new songs because they “want to give our audience something to be surprised about and look forward to every time,” says Hearon.

After their first two performances, they competed in Pound Ridge’s Battle of the Bands on June 17 and won a coveted spot as one of the opening acts for the 2023 Harvest Festival. They worked hard and mastered 25 new songs, but Mother Nature had other plans. Just a few days before their October 7 performance in front of their largest crowd to date, the event was canceled due to torrential rain and flooding. So, they pivoted.

“We were going to host an after party the night of Harvest Fest, and even though it got canceled, we still wanted to have the party,” Hearon explains. “So, we moved indoors to our friend’s barn, who very generously loaned it to us for our gig. It was awesome. We had about 60 or 70 people there, and everyone had a great time.”

On November 25, they performed at the Bedford Historical Hall to a crowd of over 150 people. It was another incredible night for the band. They asked guests to bring canned goods and donated 497 pounds of food to the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry.

Unlimited love

When they eventually move on from Guard Hill (they say they don’t fantasize about being in the band forever or trying to “make it”), what they say they’ll take with them are the lessons they’ve learned, life skills they’ve developed and a deep appreciation for each other.

“We all love each other so much,” says Smith.

This article was published in the January/February 2024 edition of Connect to Northern Westchester

Editor-in-Chief at Connect to Northern Westchester | Website | + posts

Gia Miller is an award-winning journalist and the editor-in-chief/co-publisher of Connect to Northern Westchester. She has a magazine journalism degree (yes, that's a real thing) from the University of Georgia and has written for countless national publications, ranging from SELF to The Washington Post. Gia desperately wishes schools still taught grammar. Also, she wants everyone to know they can delete the word "that" from about 90% of their sentences, and there's no such thing as "first annual." When she's not running her media empire, Gia enjoys spending quality time with friends and family, laughing at her crazy dog and listening to a good podcast. She thanks multiple alarms, fermented grapes and her amazing husband for helping her get through each day. Her love languages are food and humor.