ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC-TV) — Rochester’s Elvio Fernandes found fame as the keyboardist for the rock band Daughtry, but he found something else through a project here at home.

Fernandes started Camp ROC Star 12 years ago and it expanded into a year-long program called ROC Star Academy.

Adam Chodak spoke with him about that, along with touring again and his role in a recent hit single that reached number one on the Billboard rock chart.

Adam Chodak: How are things going for you?

Elvio Fernandes: Things are going well. Little hectic, but things are going well. I can’t complain.

AC: The pandemic restrictions have lifted, you’re performing again. How did the first show back feel?

EF: It felt like the first show I had ever done. The butterflies, it was exciting, and I think people needed it. We needed it, and it was therapeutic. It was awesome, I’m at a loss for words because it was so cool.

AC: Did the pandemic provide any creative time for you?

EF: Absolutely. That was when we wrote the bulk of the new album that just came out last year. Chris was working a lot, I was writing a lot with a local friend of mine who’s also a writer and big partner of Johnny Cummings, and it’s funny because a lot of the songs that made it to the record, you would think were written about what was going on at the time and they weren’t, but the universe did it’s thing and one of the songs we had written was a song called Asylum and the hook; the lyric of the chorus was the lunatics have taken the asylum and literally the next day they stormed the Capitol, and it was just these weird signs of this connectivity between what we were writing and what was happening in the world, but it wasn’t intentional. But, yes, it was a time of creativity because you had nothing else to do. We sat in the studio and we wrote and worked in anticipation that things would get back to normal.

AC: And you probably wouldn’t have been afforded that opportunity otherwise.

EF: No, because we would have been on the road. We would have been touring, we were at our second show, we were in Iowa and they said, hey, we’ve got to send you home for a couple days, there’s this weird COVID thing, you’ll be back out in a couple of weeks. I mean, that’s what we were being told, and then two years later… so it was crazy.

AC: And #1 Billboard Heavy is the Crown…

EF: We were very fortunate. That was the second single off of the current album which is called Dearly Beloved and my partner, Johnny Cummings, and I wrote it. The writing process in Daughtry, because Chris is a phenomenal writer so you don’t send him full songs. We did the intro, the first verse, the pre-chorus, the chorus, the music and then we see if something he likes and he loved it and finished the song and their second single. And it was the longest running songs on rock radio last year so it was on the charts for quite a while, which was fun to watch as it climbed and we were fortunate to get it to the top and on iTunes as well and it’s a monumental moment for me as a songwriter for me, for sure.

AC: Have you felt pressure to move to LA, Nashville, New York City?

EF: I did early on, but then I realized that the way the creative process works in the music industry, you really don’t have to be in a certain place. Now, are there more opportunities if you live in LA or Nashville that can come up on a whim? Of course. But the writing process with the internet, you can basically collaborate through FaceTime, we done writing sessions through FaceTime. I have a recording studio in my home where I can record my parts for a song, email it in, or DropBox, so I don’t have to live in another state. To be honest with you, the biggest factor for me, staying here in Rochester, I was born and raised here is that fact that a couple things, I have a music academy here for kids that’s dear to me, I can’t imagine ever leaving that, but also the fact that I’m blessed and fortunate that I’m able to do this for a living and this city has had my back since Day One from Uncle Plum to all of the local things that I did, I always felt the support from friends and family and fans here and I just feel like why leave this, why not try to stay and change the landscape of the future of the local music scene and help and see if I can give back a little bit. I hate the weather, but I’m going to stick it out.

AC: Speaking of helping out, ROC Star Academy. How did that start?

EF: That started back in 2009 and it started a one-week summer camp and that was when I had my local band before I joined Daughtry, it was called Uncle Plum. Anytime we would do like outdoor, family-friendly events I got into this habit on the last song to bring as many little kids as I could up on stage and I remember we would do Give It Away by the Chili Peppers and in the middle of the song, I’d have the kids jumping up and down singing the chorus and then we would like break it down a little bit and I would ask the kids, Which one of you kids thinks you have what it takes to be the next rock star? All the kids would raise their hands and I would pick the smallest, cutest kid, bring them up front and say, Look, I’m going to hand you the mic and count to three and you take the mic and you do whatever you want, you can say give it away now, you can dance, you can jump, you can scream, this is your moment, then I’d point to the audience and if this was a family-friendly event there was a lot of people out there, the Chili festival, all these little festivals, and I’d say your job is to make this kid feel like a rock star so I’m going to count to three and let’s do this and I would hand the mic over and it was life-changing because the kids would just beam with like this is amazing! And the crowd is screaming going nuts and right then and there you realize that kid is never going to forget that moment ever so I was laying in bed that night and I said how can I continue this? How can I continue to give these kids an opportunity to feel like rock stars because, look, we live in an age where unfortunately how cool you are is determined by likes on social media and stuff like that that is just so damaging. So I started a one-week summer camp and the whole premise of the camp is that we’re going to make you feel like a rock star so one Day One we picked the kids up in a limo or a tour bus, we drive them around and then we go to whatever venue we’re doing the camp at they play for us a little bit and then we form bands. Alright, band number one, guitarist, drummer, singer, they have to hang out with their band all week, they design a logo and then they pick two songs that they’re going to perform on Friday, it’s their first gig, in front of a live audience. And it’s the most rewarding thing by far I’ve ever done and the feedback I would get was I don’t want to wait a whole year to do this again, this is my favorite thing in the world so we turned it into a one-week summer camp to year-long academy which basically it’s the same thing we have bands, we’re up to 14 bands, we have solo artists, we have kids who just take lessons, who aren’t ready for band experience yet and each band has a professional musician. My staff is incredible, like some of the best local musicians who do this for a living, and they coach these kids and they work on their set list and then we provide multiple gigs for them. They’re playing the Lilac Festival, they’re playing the Hilton Carnival, they’re playing at Iron Smoke, all these cool venues, I’d say maybe 10 gigs a year and it’s life-changing, for me and the kids, there’s no better feeling than when you see a kid who doesn’t think he or she is cool because they’re not the quarterback of the football team, they’re the kid in their bedroom playing guitar, now they’re on stage playing in front of a crowd doing a guitar solo or singing or whatever and feeling that adoration and that feeling I’m fortunate to get when I step on stage, it’s the greatest thing ever.

AC: It’s not just a lifelong memory, it’s a lifelong skill too…

EF: Yeah, and I tell parents because it’s like travel sports, what are the chances they’re going to go pro? But if your child leaves my program with this much more confidence than he or she came with job done, that next relationship, that next job interview, they’re going to feel better about themselves and that’s really what we’re doing.

AC: So when you watch the movie School of Rock, you’re like…

EF: We watch it every summer during our summer camp, we have a big projector screen in our facility and that’s one of the movies we watch and it’s so much fun.

AC: When it comes to Daughtry how have you been able to maintain the cohesiveness?

EF: We are a pretty tight-knit group of people. They’re a second family. As crazy as it sounds, there are years when I spend more time with them than my own family, which is another conversation, it’s tough to deal with, but it’s the reality of this business. So we’re really tight, we know each other really well. We know what buttons not to push on certain days. You’re traveling in what a 300-square foot bus with 5 people so we know every little intricacy about each other so the creative process, there are no walls. And we respect each other. There are times when I don’t like that idea and that’s fine, but we’ve been fortunate to not have any huge fights or anything like that, we respect each other and that helps the creative process because there’s nothing worse when you’re trying to be creative and there’s tension in the room, it’s difficult, but we’ve been lucky.

AC: Where do you see it going?

EF: I see it going as far as we want it to go, to be honest with you. There’s been a resurgence for us which has been great. This latest record that we just put out, this album Dearly Beloved, is the first album we’ve done on our own independently without the pressures of a major label telling you what to do which is not cool sometimes because they’re the bank and you constantly have people chirping in your ear saying you to do what Maroon 5 is doing, you need to do what Train is doing, you need to do what this band is doing, write with this person, they’ve got hits and you start to lose who you are. And this record we said we’re doing it ourselves, we’re going to go back to our roots and play the music that inspired us to be musicians in the first place. And that’s what we did and by far the response has been overwhelming and the crowds have been better. We’ve been invited to play some incredible rock festivals, we’re going over to Europe in June to play Download Festival in the UK with bands like Iron Maiden and Kiss and huge names, Green Day and Shine Down and huge rock bands so I feel like it’s almost like a new beginning for us and we’re excited about it. So where can it go? If you keep putting out music that people like and stay true to what you do it can go as long and as far as you want, but that’s the question, how long do you want to do this? That’s hard to answer.


You can watch the full interview here: