Huddled around a conference table on a recent Friday afternoon, four best friends joked around as teenagers do.
Mason Gainer, 13, took an up-close photo of 12-year-old Aiden Marceron, and wondered aloud if he should post it to Instagram. Louey Peraza, 15, discussed skateboarding as Francheska Pastor, 16, looked forward to completing some upcoming exams. Inside jokes flew around, light ribbing occurred and a natural ease between the foursome was clearly nothing new.
Kids will be kids, right? But put instruments in the hands of these rock 'n' roll obsessives, and it becomes obvious there is nothing normal about their drive or talent. They are Bad Seed Rising, a Maryland-based hard-rock group that will celebrate the release of its second EP, "Charm City," with a concert at Baltimore Soundstage on Saturday. The record, which was released Tuesday, is the band's first project for the storied Roadrunner Records (a subsidiary of the major label Atlantic), and the significance of it is not lost on Bad Seed Rising.
"It's kind of mind-blowing," Sykesville's Peraza said of sharing a label with established acts like Slipknot, The Devil Wears Prada and more. "I know there are tons of people who aren't in the same position and have been at it way longer than we have."
That may be true, but Bad Seed Rising — the youngest band ever signed in Roadrunner's 34-year history — is no hobby. Its members are home-schooled in order to make the most of this opportunity. They meet in a Frederick practice space, converted from a construction business' office space, four days a week, on top of taking lessons for their instruments. (Peraza plays bass, Marceron is the drummer, Gainer plays lead guitar and Pastor sings and plays rhythm guitar.)
Despite their age, the members have been working toward this goal for a while. Marceron, of Thurmont, and Peraza have been lifelong friends because their fathers played together in the Baltimore post-hardcore band Shaft during the 1990s. ("I slugged it out for years, and put my heart and soul into it. And now I set up my son's drums. It's quite funny," said Scott Marceron.) Gainer of Ellicott City and Peraza met taking lessons at Columbia's Let There Be Rock School, while Pastor and Marceron jammed together at the school's Frederick location.
"We're the best of buds!" said a grinning Peraza, knowing the truth can feel a bit cheesy to say aloud.
They have only grown closer through experiences Bad Seed Rising has afforded them. In September 2012, the band recorded its debut release, the five-song "606," at the Foo Fighters' Los Angeles studio, with the help of the band's guitarist Chris Shiflett. Last summer, Bad Seed Rising toured with Daughtry, 3 Doors Down and Halestorm. Along the way, they picked up advice from the rock veterans.
"[They say] 'Don't do drugs!'" Marceron said. "Then they say, 'Keep on playing. Don't give up.'"
The charismatic Pastor, who is from Frederick, took note of the musicians' professionalism.
"From watching other people on stage, it's just make the most of everything, you know?" she said. "It doesn't matter who's looking. You're having fun."
About a year ago, Roadrunner's Dave Rath and Atlantic's Pete Ganbarg — both heads of their labels' artists and repertoire divisions — drove to Columbia to see the band play. Marceron's father, a former talent scout for Roadrunner, had piqued Rath's interest after sending him the band's video for "I Won't Be the One." Impressed after the group played some original pieces and "rattled off a bunch of Led Zeppelin songs," Rath signed the group.
While the members' ages often grab the attention of audiences, Rath said it was their ability to play live that left him "totally blown away."
It was "the most competent and talented band that I'd ever seen for that age," Rath said. "It just stood out to me like, 'Oh my God, this is something you don't see every day.'"
Its members are self-aware enough to know their ages are a talking point, but they allow their musicianship to dispel any doubts about their abilities.
"At first they think, 'Oh this is just a kid band. They're just going to be whatever,'" Peraza said. "Then they actually hear us, and it's that push over the cliff. [It's] like, 'Whoa, this is real. It's not some One Direction fake [thing].'"
The EP's release is a milestone, but the band is mainly focused on converting strangers into fans, one show at a time. (Already garnering spins on 98 Rock, the first single, "Hey Kid," is playing a part as well.) Next month, Bad Seed Rising will play concerts at high schools along the East Coast, and in September, the act will play the Shindig Festival alongside Jane's Addiction, Rise Against and more at Carroll Park.
"Our goal is to get them out there in front of as many people as we possibly can," Rath said. "They definitely have enough material for a full album, no doubt about it. But we really feel like the best thing to do at this point is ... just get them out there."
While the presence of hard rock on the Billboard charts has waned in recent years, Bad Seed Rising's members realize its band represents the Baltimore area, a region that still identifies with the sound. It is one of the main reasons the EP is called "Charm City."
But Bad Seed Rising's members know what they can and can't control. No matter the response to "Charm City," they will remain a band most concerned with playing loud rock music — not saving it.
Bad Seed Rising performs Saturday at Baltimore Soundstage, 124 Market Place in the Inner Harbor. Charm City Devils will headline. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 day of show. Call 410-244-0057 or go to baltimoresoundstage.com.