Dropping school for rock and roll

Some college students dream of leaving school and touring with a band. Others, like Louie Diller, simply go for it.

Until spring 2008, Diller was a GW student in the Elliott School of International Affairs, with a concentration in international affairs and a minor in jazz studies. But instead of returning for his sophomore year, he made the decision to head home to California and tour with his band, Dizzy Balloon.

“For my birthday in third grade, my parents gave me a copy of The Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road’ instead of a Super Soaker,” the drummer recalled in a phone interview. “At first I was really pissed. Then it became a sort of guilty pleasure.”

The Oakland native began his musical experience playing the trumpet from third to sixth grade. He said he was content with the instrument until he heard his brother play the drums.

“I thought, ‘I have to play that . It sounds so good.’ ” Diller said, adding that he then asked his brother to “show me what you’re doing.”

His brother obliged, and Diller fell in love. It was not long, however, until Diller’s brother forced him to play piano so they could play together. Much to his surprise, Diller fell in love with that instrument too.

“The possibilities are endless with the piano,” the 19-year-old said.

The makings of a rock star began at the Oakland, Calif., middle school attended by all the members of Dizzy Balloon. The band continued to play together throughout high school and their freshman years of college.

The other four members of Dizzy Balloon dispersed to schools like University of Southern California, University of California Santa Cruz and Massachusetts Institute of Technology before taking leaves of absence this semester.

Taking a leave of absence “wasn’t an easy decision. If I had taken time off and played with a mediocre garage band that didn’t really gig that much, I’m not sure if that would make it worth it to leave such an awesome school like GW,” Diller said.

But because Dizzy Balloon had a possible record deal in the works, Diller said he thinks he made the right decision.

Sophomore Chris Phalen, Diller’s freshman year roommate, remembers the day he realized that Diller might leave GW.

“One day he got off the phone and said, ‘I might not be coming back next year,’ ” Phalen said.

Now Diller and his band have hit the road, touring with The Jakes of Irvine, Calif., and playing shows in central and southern California. They have played their “eclectic rock” music for audiences at Stanford University and University of California Santa Barbara, in addition to other local venues.

“He’s living the dream,” Phalen said.

Diller said a typical day on tour begins with breakfast at a “good-ass diner,” followed by some sort of physical activity, a bit of recording and a mid-afternoon jam session. Once the West Coast sun has set, Diller and the band set up their equipment, “play a crazy show, hang out and party till 3 a.m., then the same the next day.”

“It’s literally the coolest lifestyle ever,” Diller said of his new routine. “I could do it 365 days a year, easily.”

But for Diller and his band, the true test of success looms in the near future. They are scheduled to play in a Los Angeles showcase for Downtown Records, which has signed successful acts such as Gnarls Barkley, The Cold War Kids and Mos Def.

“With everything that’s happened, it’s validated my suspicion that there’s something in this,” Diller said. “If we dedicated our life to this, we could be really successful.”

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