Super Pal Universe/Sara in AUSTIN AMERICAN STATESMAN today!

Band members say their message is a postive one for teenagers: Save energy and pick up trash.
By Claire Osborn

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Austin musician Sara Hickman wanted to put together a band of teenagers who were smart, accessible and friendly and could encourage other children to believe in themselves.

Her idea was so successful that the band, Super Pal Universe, is filming a pilot show for television. The five members have been practicing together for the past year and have played 30 to 40 shows, ranging from the Austin City Limits Music Festival to parties for their own junior high schools.

The pilot show, being financed with the help of investor Alan Luecke, hasn’t been sold to a network yet, but Hickman said she hopes it will air on PBS. She said she plans for the band members to interview local children doing positive activities, including making their own clothes and getting involved in politics.

The band members come from all over the Austin area and practice twice a week. Aubrey Elenz, 14, will be attending Austin High School in the fall and plays the guitar. Evan Slack, 17, is a student at McNeil High School and also plays the guitar. Olivia Bennett, a 13-year-old guitar player, goes to Hill Country Middle School. Jacob Scott, the 13-year-old keyboard player, goes to Dripping Springs Middle School, and Rush Evans, 14, the drummer, goes to McCallum Fine Arts Academy.

None of the band members knew one another before they auditioned for Hickman, but they had done volunteer work with their churches or local charities.

The songs they write encourage teenagers to get involved in the community by doing things such as picking up trash, Scott said. The songs also encourage teenagers to respect themselves and others, Elenz said.

“One song, called ‘Microphone,’ is about being yourself and not stereotyping other people,” she said.

Bennett, who said she is obsessed with the Beatles, said that being in the band and talking frequently to Hickman have made her a better person and “opened her eyes to what’s going on.”

“It’s hard to put it into words,” she said.

The band recently played a party for fifth-graders at a West Austin Youth Association event, and the members left the stage and danced with the audience to make a connection, Evans said. “Somebody wanted me to sign my name five times for them,” said Scott, grinning.

Hickman said she plans to take the band members to visit children who have cancer this summer so they can try to offer positive messages through their songs.

“Children are not blank slates that we fill up. … Kids are brilliant, and it’s our job to help them reach their potential,” said Hickman, who has two daughters.

The teenagers in the band, who also perform some of her songs, have surprised her, she said. “They have become a family,” she said. “They talk a lot and text a lot.”

“Some people have said the band is not edgy enough or Disneyfied enough, but I don’t want it to be either,” she said. “I want them to be real kids.”

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