Allison is a digital reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times

Tauranga band makes top eight in Smokefreerockquest

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A group of Tauranga high school students have beaten out 700 competitors to secure a place in the Smokefreerockquest Top Eight - though the band almost broke up before it even started.

Funk and blues band, AhJeez, made up of four students from Tauranga Boys' College and Bethlehem College, placed second at the Bay of Plenty regional finals and secured a spot in the top eight with a 15-minute video featuring four original songs.

It was a "hard slog" at the start because of their busy Year 13 schedules.

"We were thinking about opting out but we're really stoked we didn't in the end," Ben Mollison, the 17-year-old lead guitarist from Bethlehem College said.

Ben placed first in the soloist category of Smokefreerockquest last year.

The band formed just weeks before the first heats in May and only just "scraped it all together" on the day of the audition, 18-year-old Bethlehem College drummer Brodie McDowell said.

"If we had too much practise we wouldn't have the same sound," bass player Mitchell Nemeth, 17, from Tauranga Boys' College, said.

Lead vocalist Elijah Taula, 17, who made it to the judge's retreat in last year's X-Factor as a singing duo with his older sister, said they were "surprised" but "stoked" to make it as far as they had.

Everything about the band was "pretty last minute"- even the name.

"It came out of exasperation with not being able to decide on a name," Ben said.

"We were thinking 'ah jeez it's hard to come up with a name. Then boom. AhJeez," Brodie said.

They said it reflected their mood and was applicable to so many of their experiences as a band.

The boys had two weeks during the school holidays to make their video submission and write two new songs for it, but in an 'ah jeez' moment, Brodie got "absolutely smashed" in a game of rugby.

"He was concussed and couldn't play so for the first week we had to sit around, try write the songs and pretty much wait it out," Ben said.

Now the band had made it into the top eight and would be performing in the finals in Auckland in September they were ready to put in the hard yards.

"We had been practising every night at my house for two hours in the week before the video submission," Mitchell said.

"Now we're hoping not to do things last minute and make our performance as good as we can," Ben said.

The boys all had some form of musical aspirations for the future and Smokefreerockquest would be a "good foot forward in the music industry", Elijah said.

It was also something they could have fun with, a good way to finish off their last year at school, he said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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