Walk down the Phyrst stairs on any given weekend and you’ll find a group of people who never get the Sunday Scaries. Or maybe they do, but they don’t seem to mind. They’ve waited all week for one thing.
Say what you will about polarizing State College cover band My Hero Zero, but the band knows how to connect to an audience. That’s always been the goal for frontman Jason O. — no matter if he’s playing an acoustic guitar in front of Taco Bell, a Sunday night at the Phyrst, or on the big stage at THON.
I kicked myself for putting him him the spot when we barely got to talking — I asked him what he would tell the fans if he could only say one thing. It’s a cliche question that deserves a cliche answer.
“Literally, just one thing?”
I backtracked and told him he could just forget it.
“No. I have one thing. It’s just not about us,” he said. “Our entire performance is built around moving people to a place where they’re not thinking ‘Why are there grown men playing Katy Perry? I look stupid if I put my hands up in the air. I have a bad singing voice.’ It’s easy to get stuck there.”
Although it undoubtedly has talent, My Hero Zero isn’t quite about that. It’s a shared experience of getting out of your head and just being there. It’s also about humility.
“The inevitable conclusion of standing on stage for a long time is that the whole thing’s ridiculous. If you really are examining yourself and the situation we’re in here in life, you can’t arrive at the conclusion that you’re fuckin’ awesome. You’re just a person like everybody else,” Jason O. said.
That vibe, the anti-self importance, keeps people coming back. If a group of guys can get up and perform cringey early 2000s pop hit after cringey 2000s pop hit, why are you taking yourself so seriously? Jason O. recognizes the regulars — he’s aware that people come to his shows when they need to relax.
Ever wonder what he’s thinking up there on whatever stage you see him on? Again, it’s not about him. “How can I make this crowd just a little less judgmental of themselves in this moment?”
Admittedly, it wasn’t always like this. Jason O.’s Buddhisteqsue contentment with himself has been a journey — one that started in front of Taco Bell with an acoustic guitar.
“I used to leave my dorm, take my guitar down to College Ave. from like 1 a.m. till 4 a.m., and play the seven songs I knew at the time,” he said. “After a few years, it got to a point where I was making enough money that it was actually worth it to do.”
As his crowds grew to about 50 people, it felt more like a party than it did a street performance. He’s still shocked he somehow never got arrested.
After college, Jason O. started doing solo acoustic shows. It was just him sitting on a stool playing introspective songs he wrote, which is kinda hard to picture if you’ve ever been to a My Hero Zero show. He missed the party that is human connection, and he came back to life when he found the group.
“A booking agent gave me a call one day and said ‘Hey, this is crazy, but there’s a band called My Hero Zero in State College and their lead singer is moving on. You should just go meet these guys.'”
So Jason O. showed up to this meeting. He showed up in his pajamas for whatever reason. He got the gig as long as he promised to invest in some jeans.
His journey from stool-bound emotional rookie to carefree crowd-pleaser didn’t happen overnight. Standing up was the first step. Then he donned an electric guitar for the first time which went fine. He hit a snag when he tried to front without a guitar — without a physical barrier between him and the crowd, this proved challenging initially.
The crew gave it to him straight, telling him to never do that again because he looked “awkward as shit.” He ended up taking hip hop classes for an entire semester to learn how to dance, but the most valuable lesson was just learning how to not think about everything so much.
It seems like it’s his goal to project this ability to let go on the crowd. Just like the hip hop lessons for him — it wasn’t about the dance moves, it was about doing them and not thinking twice.
My Hero Zero doesn’t exist so you can hear a really good Ke$ha cover. It exists so you can learn to dance along to a really good Ke$ha cover in peace.