PEMBROKE — It was 13 years ago that the four young men who comprise Pembroke-based modern rock band Driven joined forces in the pursuit of rock super-stardom. Thirteen years, two albums, countless live shows and one Carolina Music Award later and the young men, who are now in their mid-30s, believe that what they have created together is something with far more value than fame and fortune — a family.
In 2001, Driven vocalist Mark McKinney and guitarist Jesse Jones, both in their early 20s, met through a mutual friend and began discussing getting together for “jam sessions.” It wasn’t long after this that the duo became a trio, when another mutual friend introduced them to drummer Rodrick Locklear, and less than a month after that, while attending a show at the now closed Misfits rock venue in Fayetteville, the trio ran into fellow Pembroke-native Joe Locklear. Joe Locklear expressed interest in joining their jam sessions as bass player.
“Pembroke isn’t the biggest place for musicians,” Jones said. “So we tried him out and within the very next week we had our very first show at Misfits.“
From the start, the group admits that they had a lot to learn about songwriting. The band’s first demo release demonstrated that while the foursome knew how to thrash around on instruments and scream improvised lyrics, they had not yet found maturity as artists. In 2006 the group finally released its debut album, entitled “Eleven: 11,” which though not widely released, garnered the band its first bit of serious attention from regional venues. The group credits the album with having earned the opportunity to open for national acts, including Hoobastank, Smile Empty Soul, 10 Years and The Exies.
2011 remains, arguably, the band’s biggest year. After years of developing a loyal regional following, both with live shows and online networking, the band was invited to the Carolina Music Awards ceremony in July. The Carolina Music Awards is an annual award ceremony held in Raleigh that serves to honor artists from both North Carolina and South Carolina, with winners being decided by online voting. Driven took home both “Best Music Video of the Year” and “Best Rock Band of the Year.”
“Really it was unexpected. We went down to the award show and really never expected to win anything,” McKinney said. “We were sitting in the audience and just talking about how it was just nice to have been able to attend. I mean, it was really nice. It was a red-carpet event, it was at the Progress Energy Center. Only 10 bands made the cut that year … But to actually win? That was crazy … Hard work pays off though. For me that is a win, that is the community and your peers, the area music industry saying, ‘hey you guys are doing good.’”
Fresh off of its big wins, Driven teamed up with music producer Jamie King to release a sophomore album “Redeemer” at the tail end of 2011.
“From the first album to the latest album, if you just listen to the music there is an obvious difference in the abilities on display,” McKinney said. “… A major change … big time change, really. For the better.”
The album received critical acclaim from indie-music.com and “Magazine33,” which both praised the singles, “Memory,” and “The Wait.”
“You can tell from our early work that all we wanted to do was be a heavy rock band. We started out really crazy heavy and then we actually learned how to write songs,” Jones said jokingly. “You can tell how we have learned as songwriters. Life plays a big part in that. Your music changes as you change.”
Jones feels that with all four of them now being married and with children of their own and day jobs, they are able to bring more experience and perspective to the songs they write today.
“We were heavy rock as a young kids, but when you’re in your 20s you don’t know what heavy is,” Jones said. “Life happens, you learn about family, love, structure, having a home and those are things you can pick to write from. When someone has lost a loved one, divorced, you can write from that. You couldn’t do that as a 20-year-old. You haven’t lived it.”
Today Driven has slowed down its live performances with many of them branching out into other bands. Both Jones and McKinney long to see the day when Pembroke’s live music scene can be on par with other college towns, feeling that the pursuit of music has kept them on the straight and narrow and given them an extended family.
“We will always be brothers,” McKinney said. “I love these guys. I couldn’t ask for better musicians to play with and better guys to do it with. I feel like family. We act that way. We laugh, we cry, we get mad, we attend kids’ birthdays … What is important is that you’re doing what you love with the people that you love and for me it is about making a legacy. I don’t want Driven to be forgotten. I want it to always be remembered. I want it to be remembered through the music.”