First to Eleven, a cover band from Erie, Pennsylvania, brings the movie “School of Rock” (2003) to mind. Encouraged by their music instructor at Rock School Studio, five pupils from the same school formed a band. At the time, the members were aged between eight and ten years old. In 2013, they were joined by fourteen-year-old singer Audra Miller.
At present, First to Eleven has 1.42M YouTube subscribers. The group’s most popular cover, Guns n’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, has 49m views. These are impressive figures. For a cover band based in a declining rust-belt city sometimes referred to as “Dreary Erie”, they are truly remarkable.
First to Eleven started out as M4 (Mini Men Making Music). In 2015, M4 won the Tri-C High School Rock Off at the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in Cleveland, Ohio. A year later, M4 returned to the competition as First to Eleven (after discovering that an Australian band was also named M4). Under their new name, the band won again. After winning the 2016 Rock Off, First to Eleven were invited to play on the Vans Warped Tour, this being the largest traveling music festival in the United States.
First to Eleven decided to release a video to introduce themselves to the audiences that they were about to encounter on their first big tour. Guitarist Matt Yost explains:
“[We thought] let’s try this YouTube cover thing. Let’s see if we can reach anybody outside the town and see what we can do. Our first cover was “Heathens” [by Twenty One Pilots], and it just blew up pretty immediately. … We were like, okay, you can actually grow an audience online.”
In 2017 and 2018, four of the original five members of M4 left for college, leaving only Matt Yost and Audra Miller in First to Eleven. Ryan Krysiak, the band’s mentor, stepped in on bass, and Sam Gilman was recruited to play drums. With the line-up settled, First to Eleven has released a new video, and sometimes two, every week.
To achieve this level of productive consistency, the band stockpiles videos by recording and filming songs in batches. Despite this production-line approach, First to Eleven strive to keep the music fresh and their videos personable. As the band puts it: “We take your favorite songs and put a fun extra twist on them, with heavy guitar riffs, hard hitting drums, fun melodies, and even mashing up different styles from different songs”.
In February 2021, now grown-up, Miller, Yost, and Gilman announced they had signed a recording contract under the name Concrete Castles. They were quick to explain that Concrete Castle is a vehicle for original music and that First to Eleven will continue as before. They also explained that Krysiak had opted out of Concrete Castles as he has a family and does not want to tour.
The members of Concrete Castle have earned their chops – as First to Eleven, they covered over 200 songs. Concrete Castle’s debut album “Wish I missed U” was released in September 2021. Videos by the band are popular on YouTube. Meanwhile, as promised, First to Eleven continues to post a new cover song video every week from their Rock School Studio base in Erie, Pennsylvania.