Aidan Amini and Slaves to Humanity get noticed by KLOS and key music industry people even though they’re still in high school.
On a recent Tuesday, in the middle of science class at Irvine High, a student interrupted an otherwise normal lesson by shouting a triumphant profanity.
“Holy (expletive),” the kid said. He had received a text message from his dad that made him leap from his desk and jump around the classroom in celebration.
His teacher, obviously stunned, confronted the disruptor. A trip to detention was about to be handed out.
“They’re going to play my song on KLOS,” said Aidan Amini.
Suddenly, the teacher’s demeanor changed.
“Holy (expletive),” the teacher said.
Aidan is 15, and he’s the lead singer in the band Slaves To Humanity, which has been together about a year. As this story is being written – two weeks after that pivotal Tuesday – their song “Battleground” is in regular rotation on KLOS 95.5 radio, one of the biggest stations in Los Angeles.
Rock ‘n roll dreams are beginning to get much bigger for STH, which is the acronym that appears in their artwork.
The first play of “Battleground,” which came on the “Frosty, Heidi and Frank” show on Jan. 17, launched a bit of a whirlwind for five kids from Orange County and their parents.
“I just wanted to send you a note saying you blew me away, and I KNOW you are going to make it big,” Frosty Stilwell, one of the hosts of the popular show, wrote in an email to the band. “You’re going to be huge. Talent this big does not go unnoticed. Good for you.
“I will be watching for great things to happen for you, and I just wanted to say thanks for making my day. Your music was an inspiration to all musicians, young and old. And it really, really gave me goosebumps. You are that good.”
KLOS booker Johnny Ice chose to put the band on the air. He said he has received thousands of song submissions (40 to 50 per week for seven years). He could tell STH was different.
“I thought they were great,” Ice said. “When I hear that kind of mix, it was good. Vocally, he (Aidan) is there. I looked at the faces of Frosty, Heidi and Frank. I saw their eyes wide open. They were sitting in their seats bopping up and down. I could tell they (STH) have what audiences like.”
Matt Hensley of the band Flogging Molly was a guest on the show when the song played. “That’s crazy that these guys are in high school,” he said.
Heidi Hamilton said: “This is absolutely amazing. You guys are superstars. You heard it here. You’re going to be at Coachella. You’re going to be wherever you want to be.”
One comment on their newly assembled YouTube channel said, “Young Metallica.” That is the highest of heavy metal praise.
When you think about it, all of this might never have happened without a series of seemingly unrelated events: a challenge from a group of Irvine bullies, a couple band arguments, a car stopping at a stoplight at just the right time, an endorsement from a rock ‘n’ roll kingmaker and a dad pretending to be his kid.
This band, however, may be a little different than some of its hard-rocking forebearers. Slaves to Humanity appears to be comprised of kids who get along with their parents, show up to practice on time, are respectful and don’t seem bent on destroying any hotel rooms.
Think of it this way: Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll … without the sex and the drugs. That’s Slaves To Humanity.
“When I heard them on the radio, I teared up,” said Jeff Akers, father of guitar player Pierce. “It was one of the best feelings I have ever had.”
The parents are involved in the band’s decision making. They consult with the band on what are the best places to play and who they should meet. The order of the set list – they have 13 original songs – is left to the boys.
But there is one rule for parents …
No air drumming.
“That looks stupid,” said drummer Shane Ryan.
The roots of STH start in Brussels, Belgium where Kourosh Amini, Aidan’s father, was a guitar player with a dream to come to America, sign with AMI and become a rock star. He loved Slash, the guitarist for Guns N’ Roses. There was something about the emotions that stirred inside him when Slash played guitar.
He told people his name was Krush, so they could pronounce it.
In 1996, Kourosh landed at LAX with very little money and very little command of the English language. He had a grandmother who lived in Irvine, so that’s where he took up residence.
And that’s where his dream crashed.
He bounced around playing guitar in cover bands, but there wasn’t much appetite for a Belgian guitar god. He was in a Doors tribute band. That didn’t work. He was in a soft rock band called “The Dorks.” Yuck.
“I quit playing,” Kourosh said. “It was horrible. I became a computer guy.”
He got a job in IT.
Aside from the crashing and burning of his rock career, Kourosh was doing fine. He met a woman – Margarita – and they married in 2000.
On Sept. 4, 2004, they had a son, Aidan.
“I had no musical ambition for him,” Kourosh said.
Something, however, caught the young father’s ear. Kourosh was driving one day, playing classic rock on the radio. He thinks it was a Foo Fighters song, maybe Guns N’ Roses. He noticed Aidan was humming the tune in his car seat. He turned off the radio, and Aidan kept humming the song like he knew it.
Aidan hadn’t yet developed the ability to talk. But he could hum hard rock.
When he learned to speak, Aidan often sang “Had a Bad Day,” the Daniel Powter hit, in his crib. And then came the Beatles. Kourosh took Aidan to see “The Bee Movie” and he loved singing along with “Here Comes the Sun.”
He was 5 years old when the momentous day of his young life happened.
In 2009, Michael Jackson died.
The Amini family sadly watched the coverage on television. Robby Gutierrez, Aidan’s half brother, downloaded the song “Man In the Mirror,” and Aidan played it incessantly on his iPod.
“He comes to us and says, ‘I want to be the next King of Pop,’” Kourosh said. “He was a Michael Jackson nut.”
Bullies won’t win
Here’s the problem with some Michael Jackson nuts … they draw the attention of other kids.
In elementary and middle schools, Aidan Amini, with his leather jacket and high-pitched voice, became a target for bullies. He was a music nerd, and he didn’t do well in sports.
“I was always the kid who was picked on,” Aidan said. “Kids didn’t say things, they just hit me.”
The Aminis met with school officials. They met with leaders of their homeowners’ association. But the bullying didn’t stop.
“I saw my kid getting beaten up,” Kourosh said.
Finally, they moved from one side of Irvine to the other, and they got Aidan involved in an after-school program to keep him safe.
“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if I wasn’t a bullied kid,” Aidan said. In his new single “Battleground,” listeners might think it’s about two lovers who are falling apart. But he said it was inspired by his thoughts of revenge against those bullies.
“So you think it’s over.
Just you wait. Oh no.
On this battleground, where we lost the war.
No one’s gonna take you down but me.”
In those difficult years, Kourosh noticed something about his son. It didn’t have anything to do with fighting or fear.
“He could sing,” Kourosh said.
They signed him up for the School of Rock, an after-school program with a studio in Tustin. Just like the movie, Aidan got to be in several kid bands. He played guitar on “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Eye of the Tiger.”
Then the lead singer in one of those School of Rock bands got sick.
So they handed Aidan the mic.
He remembers singing songs from the album “Kill ‘Em All” by Metallica.
He was 11 years old.
Different kind of band
Aidan sang AC/DC songs, the Black Keys, Weezer. He started copying the moves and vocal stylings of Myles Kennedy, the lead singer for Alter Bridge.
At 13 years old, Aidan formed his own band, Slaves To Humanity. They were pretty good, little kids playing hard rock covers. They booked gigs at some good venues.
But there were arguments and no-shows and the first version of STH fell apart.
That left Aidan with a big problem. He had big shows booked at the Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood and the House of Blues in Anaheim. But he had no band.
So he started asking around. He got a few kids from the School of Rock. He found a couple of others through an online advertisement. In March 2019, Slaves To Humanity was a full band again with Max Hickman, 19, Pierce Akers, 15, Nathan Johnson, 18 and Shane Ryan, 16. Akers attends the Orange County School of the Arts. Johnson is at Orange Lutheran. Ryan is at Huntington Beach High.
Hickman played in the Saddleback Church Sunday band. Two of the kids are straight-A students. Johnson wants to attend medical school.
They wrote six quick original songs and barely had time to practice their half-hour setlist. But the rock gods were kind to them.
“We kicked butt,” Aidan said. “It’s the best we’ve ever played.”
One morning, Ron Cary was driving when he saw a car he recognized. Cary is a personal trainer for some rock celebrities (like David Silveria, formerly of Korn, Jared Watson and Matt Ochoa of The Dirty Heads and Rome Ramirez of Sublime with Rome). One of his clients was Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. Bennington took his own life in 2017.
The car Cary recognized was being driven by Andy Hong, who had been Bennington’s manager. Cary stopped at a light with Hong next to him. They rolled down their windows, said hello and promised to call each other. Hong manages hot bands like the Dirty Heads and Sublime with Rome. He is the former president of the Henry T. Nicholas, III Foundation.
On that call, Cary invited Hong to come to see his son’s band. Cary’s son is STH drummer Shane Ryan.
“Usually, I dread it when people say they want me to see a band,” Hong said. “Most of the time what they play is not very good.”
Not this time.
With this band, he can see huge success. He said STH is “a cross between Guns N’ Roses and Soundgarden with a dash of Stone Temple Pilots.”
“It’s coming for sure, dog,” Hong said in a phone interview. “I can feel the future. I can see it. It’s there. This is a global band.”
Hong said rock ‘n’ roll is in need of a comeback.
“It won’t come back in the hands of 40-year-old acts,” he said. “We’ve got to bet on the youth.”
Slaves to Humanity, he said, is going to be different.
“They’re not about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll,” Hong said. “I don’t want that. I don’t think rock ‘n’ roll has to be self-destructive.”
Hong said he’s scheduled a corporate gig for STH, and he’s invited representatives from Kingston Technology, Hyundai, Coca-Cola, HyperX, Sgt. Pepperonis (in which Hong is a partner) and Angel Force USA (a veterans suicide prevention group).
Their next show for fans will be Feb. 29 at Malone’s in Santa Ana.
‘Hard to be loyal and great’
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Aidan and Kourosh met with Charlie Colin, the former bass player in Train. Colin had heard Aidan sing at a music symposium in Newport Beach, and he wanted to write a song with the kid in his cool Santa Ana studio. It’s a warehouse with guitars everywhere, a mixing board and a Led Zeppelin gold record on the wall.
Colin, who was once a 15-year-old Newport Beach kid with a rock ‘n’ roll dream, started the session by explaining that rock ‘n’ roll will test Aidan’s loyalties. For this song, he wouldn’t be working with Slaves To Humanity, just Aidan.
“The better you are, the better off you and your band are going to be,” Colin said. “Friendship and loyalty are everything. But it’s really hard to be loyal and be great.”
Colin looked directly at the young rocker.
“I love pop,” Colin said. “I love the Carpenters, Elton John … I fell in love with you.”
Aidan had written a guitar riff and a few lines of lyrics. Colin said he was going to help Aidan turn that into a single.
“You remind me of me,” Colin said. “You’re really sweet, and you’re really aggressive.”
Then Aidan started belting out this new untitled song.
“I hope … never to see you again.
These are the different kind
I thought they were my friends.
They stole it in the daylight,
and took my part of them.
Now I know I’ll be all right
because I fight ’til the end.”
A big break
On Jan. 14, Kourosh sent an email to KLOS introducing himself as 18-year-old Aidan Amini. He lied about the age because he thought all entries had to be submitted by adults. He linked to two songs “Battleground” and “Riot Addict.”
He was surprised when he got a callback. What are the odds?
Kourosh was forced to confess.
“This is his dad, and he’s only 15,” Kourosh said.
That didn’t stop KLOS from featuring the song on their “Stay or Go” segment. The verdict was a resounding STAY.
“Hell yeah, dad,” Aidan yelled when he found out his father was caught. “You do it.”
The “Frosty, Heidi and Frank” show may have changed their lives. After the show, Kourosh put two STH songs on Spotify. As of Jan. 27, they had 12,000 streams of their songs. He posted several videos on YouTube.
Now that they’ve had their moment, what is next for Slaves To Humanity?
“We’ve got to push to make it big,” Max Hickman said.
Aidan was more specific.
“We want to play arenas,” he said. “We want a world tour.”
Who’s to say they can’t?