Rich Orofino, 17, was walking through the halls of Northport High School last year when he overheard Matt Louis, 16, playing a Bob Dylan song on a piano in a practice room. That was the serendipitous moment it all began.
Orofino, who writes songs, was impressed and invited Louis over to his house to jam. Then they wrote two songs together. Next they formed a rock and roll band. On Saturday, that band, Kodiak, will play its biggest gig yet: The teens will open for the Billy Joel tribute band Mike DelGuidice and Big Shot at the 1,573-seat Paramount in Huntington.
“We’ve had crowd surfers, stage divers. I’ve jumped off the stage a few times during solos,” Louis says of Kodiak’s previous performances, most of which have been for Northport High School or community events. “When we get on stage, the bottle opens up. We see the crowd’s reaction, we go into the first song, and we’re on.”
The four-member band will play seven original songs during a 30-minute set, including titles such as “Duck Island,” written about an island in Northport Bay near Orofino’s house, and “Killers,” which discourages teens from committing suicide. In addition to Orofino, a high school senior and the lead vocalist and songwriter, and Louis, a high school junior on lead guitar, the quartet includes Northport High School senior Jonah Cohn, 18, on drums, and Northport High School graduate Jack Burns, now a freshman at Binghamton University, on bass guitar. Burns will return to Long Island for the gig.
Orofino has been writing songs since he was in ninth grade and says he hopes to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston or the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College next year. He writes songs to express his emotions, about events such as breaking up with a girlfriend or friends having “awful thoughts” like suicide. “It always kind of helped me with whatever I was going through,” he says. “It was the most healthy outlet for my emotions.”
He took an electronic music and audio production class at Northport High School in 10th grade, a comprehensive music theory class last year and AP music theory this year, all with teacher Frank Doyle. “Rich’s ability to turn his heart into a melody and a lyric that means something to him is profound. He is the most incredible songwriter I have ever seen in my years teaching,” says Doyle, who has been teaching for 22 years. “I’ve got my two tickets purchased.”
Louis just moved from Ohio last year, and Orofino knew Burns and Cohn from growing up in Northport.
The band is called Kodiak because Orofino says he wanted the name to set a mood. “I wanted you to hear the title and think of the image,” he says. He says he loves snow, and he always wanted to visit Alaska. The band’s first CD, called, simply, “Kodiak,” has a photo Orofino took of snow-covered trees on Duck Island on its cover. The band also has two singles and one extended play release with four songs. The music is for sale on the band’s website, kodiakband.bandcamp.com
Orofino credits the band’s opportunity to play at The Paramount to “persistent emails” and ambition. He contacted the venue through the “Hit Us Up” email link on its website, saying the band would love to be an opening act. They sent videos of themselves performing.
“We try to promote local bands as much as possible,” says Krystin Ubertini, booking manager for The Paramount. “Kodiak is really talented.”
The band members were first offered a chance to open for a show last year but had to turn it down because Orofino was going to be in Nicaragua on the concert date; he went with Northport High School’s Students for 60,000 community service club to build houses for Nicaraguans. “They hated me,” Orofino jokes about his fellow band members. Louis protests: “No, he was helping the world.”
Now they have another shot. They’ll be paid $350, they said. “We would have done it for free,” Orofino says.
The band practices two to three times a week in Orofino’s attic. They all love older rock music, songs by Lou Reed, Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan, and they joke that Louis looks like Mick Jagger because of his hair. The boys say they love the “family” feeling of playing together. “It’s kind of like we’re in a gang,” Orofino says.
“We’re always strolling together, kind of like a posse,” Cohn says. Cohn plays varsity lacrosse for Northport High, but says stepping onto the stage with his three friends is far more exciting than stepping onto any sports field.
“We want to stay in the band as long as we can,” Orofino says. “But college is creeping up.”