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John Lennon bus, mobile recording studio tours SE Idaho

May 21, 2017 GMT

John Lennon is a name that lives aloft many of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll legends, but the Lennon Bus, is a name for something that could potentially create the next one.

And it toured Southeast Idaho this month, giving several high school students an immersive experience into the professional world of music production.

Staffed with three on-board engineers, Steven Meloney, Gabe Smith and Luke Huisman, the John Lennon Educational Bus, named after late co-founder of The Beatles, John Legend, is a cutting-edge mobile audio and HD video recording and production studio.

“We travel the country stopping at schools from elementary through college,” Meloney said. “In one eight-hour day we will have written an original song from scratch, recorded it here in the studio and shot a complete music video.”

Designed to provide students, their schools and communities with performances, hands-on demonstrations, remote recordings, and studio sessions customized for their needs, levels of experience and interest, the Lennon Bus is a non-profit organization so it’s 100 percent free for all the schools, Meloney added.

Supported by Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, who once said, “This is precisely the kind of project John Lennon would have loved,” the bus is valued at more than $2.5 million, according to Meloney. It includes the latest tech from Canon U.S.A., Inc., Apple, Inc., Juniper Networks, Other World Computing, and among others, Yamaha.

After the on-board engineers gather the entire school for a massive human peace sign and aerial photo, a handful of students head inside the bus for an icebreaker. There the students share their spirit animal or favorite song. Then comes the production process.

“We pretty much start jamming,” Meloney said. “Everyone gets their instruments out and we make a bunch of noise. After 20 minutes of that something will come out that we feel we can a song out of. Once we need a verse we change the chord progression up and record that. Then we’ll start layering things.”

Seven students from Pocatello High School tested their musical creation skills on the Lennon Bus this month, of which seniors Lyndsi Michaelson and Kamiah Salmonsen called it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“This is a chance to have my voice heard,” Michaelson said. “With the sole purpose to have fun, learn a lot and touch a bunch of people, this is super awesome. We’re both seniors and graduating in a week so it’s amazing to go out with something we’ll be able to tell our kids about.

Creating a composition that resonates with listeners and leaves a lasting impact was not something the students took lightly.

“Trying to come up with something that is worthwhile kind of freaked me out a little,” Salmonsen said. “My mind just went blank. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. To be a part of this bus’s history is really awesome.”

Now in its 20th year, Meloney said Brian Rothschild started the program.

“He was working in the music industry for a long time and through that he had a connection to Yoko Ono and he pitched this idea to her and she loved it,” Meloney said. “She thought it was something that John would absolutely love. So she gave us permission to use his name and helped get it started.”

Meloney, Smith and Huisman actually live on the bus for the 10 months of annual touring.

“This is our house,” Meloney said. “We have three bunks in the back where we sleep. We have a professional driver who usually sleeps during the day while we’re working. And then at night we’ll clean up, he’ll come meet up with us and drive through the night. Then we wake up the next day in a new city and do it again.”

In Idaho Falls, Skyline High School junior Marissa Haacke always dreamt of having a career in the music industry one day. On the Lennon Bus, she recently got a glimpse of what that might be like.

“It’s a really great idea for young musicians to be able to have this opportunity to record for free and to have this experience with all the recording equipment,” Haacke said. “It’s a really big honor to be part of.”

After the on-board engineers master the music video, Smith said they post them on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus YouTube channel.

“The whole purpose of the Lennon bus is to just spread music creativity and John Lennon’s message of peace through music,” Smith said. “We’re just really wanting to spread that message and give kids a fun experience in a professional recording studio where they can kind of run free and let their imagination take over.”

He says the engineers facilitate the work, but the students are really the creative force that drives the projects.

Skyline senior Brandon Endsley said it was an honor to work on the bus.

“They’re actually teaching us how to write songs better and how to record better, how to mix stuff together, cut the lows and boost the mids and whatnot,” he said.

Endsley — who writes music, sings and plays the guitar, piano, mandolin, drums and ukulele — says the published videos can help students get some publicity and maybe help open a door for them.

He hopes to either be in a band or work as a solo musician one day, and to “have people actually listen to my music and feel what I’m feeling,” he said.

Haacke, who has been involved in music since she was about 9 years old, also wants to get involved in the industry.

“It’s something that I really have a lot of passion for and something that I hope will be a big part of my future after high school,” she said.

Haacke served as the group’s lead vocalist.

Smith hopes the kids they work with have a good experience. He also hopes they learn more about production and what goes on behind the scenes, since there are career opportunities in those areas as well.

“There (are) many jobs available besides just being a rock star these days,” he said, adding that the educational bus gives students some exposure to those types of jobs.

He encourages people who would like to learn more about the John Lennon bus or to make a bus stop request to visit www.lennonbus.org.