If you live in or around the Baltimore metro area, do yourself a favor and go see a great rock trio called the Karma Sharkz. If you’re a guitar player yourself, pay close attention to the guitarist on stage. He’s pretty darn good. As a matter of fact, he’s likely way better than you. And he’s barely out of high school.
At 18 years old, Austin Haberkam is already the real deal and he’s doing exactly what he loves to do: play guitar and sing in a rock band.
A Family Affair
Austin’s band, The Karma Sharkz, isn’t just any rock trio. He actually gets to share the stage with his dad, Mark Haberkam, who provides lead vocals and drums. Mark is a veteran of the Baltimore rock circuit and Austin grew up watching his dad play. It was his dream to one day play in a band together, so I guess we can say Austin’s living the dream!
“My father is in this band with me and we share a lot of musical interests,” says Austin. “My dad is a tremendous role model in my life and an amazingly modest talent. (The band) is something we bond together doing and it serves as a part-time gig for us both.”
The third member of the Sharkz is Chuck Defontes, another veteran of Baltimore’s rock clubs. Chuck also sings lead and plays bass and guitar, switching instruments with Austin throughout the night. The multi-instrumental abilities of Austin and Chuck, and the fact that all three members sing lead and harmony vocals, really makes the band fun and impressive to watch!
Learn to Fly
By the time Austin came to study guitar privately with me in January of 2008, he had already been playing for about three years, and was accomplished for his age and experience level. His parents, Mark and Denise, knew that they were nurturing a special talent. “A great part of my life was touched by music in my family,” Austin says.
Austin had learned the basics of technique and chords with his first teacher, Ed Smith, and supplemented that by listening to recordings and imitating what he heard as best he could. He had a good ear and was able to eventually figure out songs and guitar solos on his own.
During those Saturday lessons, it was clear that Austin’s fingers were fast and he had great talent, especially for rock music. But like most teen guitarists, his understanding of the nuts and bolts of music – the theory – was lacking. In Austin’s words, he would try and learn songs “by using the guessing game”. He seemed to instinctively know that he would only go so far on natural ability alone.
So we set out to minimize the guessing and maximize his understanding of chord theory and improvisational concepts like scales and modes. We also spent time polishing his picking technique and continued to work on learning tunes – but now we were understanding what made these tunes tick.
Austin really accepted the challenge that I put in front of him; to be the best that he could be, he would need to be strong across the board, where his ‘thinking’ about music matched his playing skills. We had some real “light bulb moments” in those lessons, and Austin was beginning to see that this new, deeper understanding of music was going to benefit him greatly, not only on guitar, but on the bass and piano as well.
Beginnings: Cryin’ Out Loud
Around that same time, I asked Austin to participate in my rock band class/ensemble at Maryland Conservatory of Music. He craved an outlet for his playing and I thought it would be great for the other musicians to get to know him and see what he could do, so he joined the class.
Austin’s first real experience performing in a band was with the MCM “B Group”, where he played classic and modern rock repertoire along with other talented teen musicians. The group immediately recognized that Austin was a very talented guitarist, as well as a solid vocalist.
Then, in the summer of 2009, Austin signed on to play with some of my other students, the teen band, Cryin’ Out Loud. After a few months of intense rehearsals, COL became a professional band with monthly gigs in and around Harford County.
Austin was the band’s founding co-lead guitarist and co-lead vocalist, and performed with them from the fall of 2009 until the fall of 2010. During that time he contributed much of the group’s modern rock repertoire, with songs from GreenDay, Lit, Foo Fighters, Blink-182, and more becoming a signature part of the band’s sound.
“It was with Cryin’ Out Loud that I had my beginnings as a performing guitarist on stage,” says Austin.
In the fall of 2010, Austin was at a point where he wanted to explore some different avenues musically, so he took his leave from Cryin’ Out Loud and formed The Karma Sharkz with his father, Mark, and Chuck Defontes.
“In the early phase of the band, we got together twice a week for rehearsal, as we were driven to get back out and perform,” says Austin. “We quickly bonded and have (played) more than forty shows in less than a year. We now rehearse once a week.”
Austin recognizes that playing in the Sharkz with experienced, veteran musicians is the best musical education he can get. “I am fortunate that God gave me the ability to play with such seasoned players who have many years on me,” he says. “I learn something new every gig when performing with Chuck and Mark. Chuck has also been a great influence on me, as he is a veteran guitarist. The chemistry in The Karma Sharkz is amazing!”
A Day in the Life
By day, Austin is a first-year student at CCBC in Baltimore County. “Right now I am taking classes any college freshmen would take. However, I’m also taking a music theory class that helps me learn new techniques for dissecting a piece of music, or to hang with fill-in jobs,” he says. “I eventually would like to become a guitar teacher and play music with local bands as a part-time source of income. Then, as a full time job, I am interested in becoming an electrician.”
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