A+ Dropouts goes for extra credit

Cheska Zaide takes her homework everywhere.

And that's not in a manner of speaking — it's a fact.

Cheska, 15, is the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist of teenage pop band A+ Dropouts. But the Huntington Beach resident is also a full-time student and the daughter of parents who place a high value on good grades.

Exposed to the need for time management at a young age, she has since pored over assignments in airplanes and on the road.

"I love math and I love the band, so I'm making it work," Cheska said. "So far, it's going pretty good."

That might be putting it lightly, seeing as the four-piece band is en route to the Philippines to debut at the first annual Circuit Fest: Music and Skate at the Circuit Makati.

Cheska and her fellow bandmates — all 16 years old — Evan Apodaca, a bassist from Huntington Beach, guitarist Lucas Tomlinson and drummer Nolan Forstie, both from San Clemente, will kick off the festival and share the spotlight with This Century, We Are The In Crowd, Mayday Parade and Yellowcard. In return, they will miss more than a week of school.

This opportunity, which Cheska dubbed "awesome," allows the musicians to meet bands that they admire and have been listening to for a long time, she said.

Project manager Cherish Ortiz, whose group, Music Management International (MMI), organizes the all-day concert, said her team stays up-to-date with the latest news on Twitter and also selects bands from large American music festivals. A+ Dropouts was included in the first Circuit Fest's lineup since it has "potential" and its lead singer is part Filipina, which attracts more local fans, Ortiz said.

"It's going to be a day of fun in the sun," she said. "It's all about celebrating the summertime and getting away from the hustle bustle of school and work."

Ortiz added that professional skaters Riley Hawk and Willy Santos will put on exhibitions in between the bands.

"We are bringing this kind of culture and music to Manila as we know it's growing on the urban lifestyle scene," she said. "We are going try it out and see if the kids like it."

A+ Dropouts took shape about three years ago in Virginia, where Cheska spent a couple of years. Upon moving back to Surf City, she revamped the band, which was named by a former member's sister.

"It's like we got an A+ at school and that's awesome," she said. "But then we dropped out to rock out. I thought it was really fitting, and I like the name till today."

Once here, she contacted music teachers and scoured Facebook to connect with like-minded performers. The group, which Cheska deemed a "classic garage band," uses her garage — outfitted with a mini drum riser — to fine tune its sound. So far, the songs are a fusion of pop and rock.

"We're still young and still young as artists," Cheska said. "We are figuring out our sound and will see where that takes us in the future."

Cheska, whose mother, Keena, is the band's manager, is aware of the important role of her team's parents. She also knows that there is no room for distractions due to the demands of a schedule that has taken A+ Dropouts up and down both coasts of the United States.

This visit to the Philippines will be their second one, which Cheska said helps her connect with her heritage. In February 2012, the band played at the four-day LIV5 in Manila alongside Forever the Sickest Kids, A Rocket to the Moon, The Ready Set and The Summer Set.

A+ Dropouts was relatively unknown starting out, but by the time the tour concluded, fans were sleeping on the sidewalk outside their hotel to catch a glimpse of the band.

"There was a crazy amount of people who came out to see us, and it was just the most insane experience," Cheska said. "That's what I enjoy the most — seeing people jump and sing along with us. It's like a huge party."

The lyrics of the group's catchy and high-energy music are inspired by past relationships and people-watching, Cheska said. Newer numbers reflect her most "intriguing" journal entries, which also help organize her thoughts.

Cheska is happy to count Evan, Lucas and Nolan among her best friends — although it's sometimes hard to meet, seeing as the boys are only just starting to drive.

"We bond over music, and it's something I can't share with anyone else," she said. "It's really special."

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World