Freshman Cavves drummer helps set the rhythm of Wichita


Ella Dominguez

Wichita State student Jackson Relph is a drummer for The Cavves.

The Cavves have risen right alongside Wichita’s music scene. The band literally grew up with it.

As the city entered its cultural renaissance, members of The Cavves were in Catholic high school writing their first songs. In 2016, they were finishing school. They played their first 70 shows in dive bars and coffeeshops in the span of a single year.

Pulling the essence of the city and channeling it into their music is something the band learned early on. In the background of every show, channeling the precision of that pulse, was drummer Jackson Relph, now a freshman at WSU.

Relph embodies the band’s passion and hometown pride to its core. Often regarded in jest as “the band’s 13 year-old drummer who just graduated eighth grade, by front-runner Sophie Emerson, Relph is the youngest member of the band by a year.

As the most youthful in a band that embodies the wonderful rowdiness of growing up, Relph holds a unique position in The Cavves. He feels like his age doesn’t hinder him. Instead, he gleefully states that his bandmates see him like “the nerdy little brother” of the group.

Relph’s musical journey started in middle school, when he got his first drum set from a fellow churchgoer. He started carrying sticks with him everywhere he went. As Relph puts it, “You never know when you’ll hear a sweet lick that you’ll want to learn immediately.”

This habit stood out to Emerson, who was a sophomore in high school at the time.

“[Relph] literally walked everywhere in our high school with drumsticks,” Emerson recounted with a mischievous smile. “He took a pair of drumsticks to every f****ing class and it really pissed me off. I was like ‘oh my god, who’s that? And why is he f****ing drumming on literally everything?’ It annoyed the s*** out of me.”

Knowing his skill set, Emerson requested Relph to replace her as drummer in another band, The Schemes, so that she could be the bassist in another group. When it came time to compete at Battle of the Bands, Relph’s drumming led The Schemes to victory over Gemini. That’s when Emerson knew she had to play with Relph. The resulting band eventually became The Cavves. Guitarist Matt Bennett and bassist Troy Toon joined soon after at Emerson’s request, when she spotted their musical talents.

Now, the group is tighter than ever, and Relph tends to shower his bandmates in compliments during conversation. “Troy just has a really amazing understanding of music, I don’t know…” Relph said. “I have a little man-crush on Troy.”

Relph adores Toon’s multi-instrumentalism, Emerson’s keen knack for song structure, and Bennett’s ability to shred solos throughout every track, he said. The Cavves’ music is meticulously crafted yet remarkably carefree. As Relph put it, the band’s music is “not about being perfect.” That’s one of Sophie’s goals in writing music: ‘F*** the world, have a good time.’”

“But it’s not all sunshine and parties,” Relph said. “Beaches” really hit that home.”

“Beaches” is a surf rock jam masked in sunshine. Its lyrics show a poetic vigor that add a melancholic weight to the track. “We never went down to the coasts, stayed up in broken homes where you and I were all we had, but that’s okay because we learned to swim,” Relph reads off of the top of his mind.

Relph doesn’t personally relate to the sentiment of coming from a broken home as Emerson’s lyrics read. His ability to connect and empathize with her words is a part of what makes Emerson refer to Relph as her little brother. It’s what ties the band together and pulls them even closer to the community.

Since their formation, The Cavves released one recorded project titled “Learn to Swim,” which led to the band’s first tour in January of this year.

Relph was a senior in high school at the time, and the band had been planning the tour for months when the unthinkable happened. Relph found out that he couldn’t go on the band’s first tour just minutes before they were scheduled to leave. The hardest thing he had to do was to face his bandmates and tell them the bad news.

“It was pretty sad,” Emerson remembere. “He was the most silent I’ve ever seen him like he did something really wrong.”

Reality put a stop to Relph’s rock star dreams for the time. He was told that he wouldn’t be able to graduate high school in time if he missed a week of class for the tour. His absence created a rift in the band that took time to recover.

“It was awkward coming back to practice the next week,” Relph said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be the end of it. We knew we had to move past it but it was still kind of a fresh wound that was still bleeding.”

Finding a drummer wasn’t too much of a hassle. Replacing Relph’s ever-present energy was the problem.

“It was not the same,” Emerson said. “It was not the same without our little guy.”

On The Cavves’ second, and Relph’s first, DIY tour of the year, the band made a quick recovery. Fall-break allowed Relph to reap the benefits of the music he helped create. The Cavves embarked on band shenanigans and were even involved in a minor fender bender in the rental van. Despite small hiccups, they rocked their nine-state tour all the way up to the WAVE grand opening — their homecoming show.

Near the end of the WAVE set, Relph jumped ahead during the song “Beaches.” It was a minor blip in time that he easily recovered from, but his increased aggression made it very clear that he took it to heart. He continued to beat himself up over it, feeling as if he “let the hometown crowd down.” He recalls his father’s reaffirmation for the night being, “‘dude, you’re your own worst critic ‘cause everyone out here loved it.’”

On top of everyday college anxieties, completing homework, and going to symphonic band practice, transitioning to a recording artist briefly put Relph’s insecurities in the forefront. The time in the studio increased the pressure that Relph puts on himself musically.

“Listeners get a lot of information about you just by how you play. They don’t have to see you, they just have to hear you. That’s intimidating,” Relph said. “I’m excited for people to see us evolving. We’re getting older and growing out of old habits.”

Post-tour, Relph has many broken drumsticks to his name. For him, they carry lifelong memories. Despite occasional insecurities, Relph maintains a constant hyper-attentiveness to his musical growth. He looks towards his dreams of one day crafting a set to play on Audiotree or NPR and creating a post-grunge band to call his own. For now, he’s staying passionate about rocking on. He hopes to keep making his hometown proud.