by Alan Sculley
Since arriving on the scene with 1994's Hints, Allegations And Things Left Unsaid, COLLECTIVE SOUL has made no secret of the fact that their work is rooted in a generation of music some would consider classic rock. Band members have been more than willing to list artists like Elton John, the Beatles, Genesis, ELO and Queen as having flavored their sound and approach to songwriting. While such honesty might be a good policy, it also might be an example of another age-old cliche -- that it's best to watch what you say.
Collective Soul's candor in discussing its vintage musical influences has done little to enhance its critical reputation. Innovation is a valued trait among music tastemakers, and when it comes to possessing a hip quotient, Collective Soul is hardly at the head of the class in today's rock world. The band will play the Fox on Friday night.
Guitarist Dean Roland acknowledged as much when asked what the band's classic rock pedigree had done for Collective Soul's critical standing.
"It's been a negative probably," he says. "Because, you know, those kind of things usually lead to [comparisons] to like heritage rock and oldies."
That said, Roland wasn't about to accept the retro label without launching a counter-attack of his own.
"We always embraced being in the studio and experimenting and messing around with new things," he says. "We've never been one to just settle back and sort of make a record like Pearl Jam makes, just go in and everybody play their instruments, overdub a couple of things and it's over with. I'm not dogging them because I don't care one way or the other. But we've always embraced new technology and looked for new, fresh ways to do things -- a different approach."
Collective Soul's latest offering, Blender, also makes a case of its own for the modern side of the band's music. While the group still traffics in the classic pop song form of concise tunes built around catchy guitar riffs and vocal lines, the feel of the album is anything but old school. The electric guitar sounds on songs like "Happiness," "Skin" and "Turn Around" are decidedly fresh and almost techno in tone, while the signature riffs to "Why Pt. 2" and "Boast" are as gritty as anything from Creed or Everclear. They also embrace a mix of programmed rhythms and acoustic drums, most notably on "Vent" and "You Speak My Language."
About the closest Collective Soul comes to evoking a classic rock sound is on "Perfect Day," a pure pop song that features Elton John trading vocals with lead singer Ed Roland and contributing a perky piano solo (one that comes straight out of John's early 1970s Honky Chateau period).
"He [John] contacted Ed about five years ago just to let him know how he was a big fan. He liked what we were doing," Dean Roland says. "It just kind of grew from that. He lives part time in Atlanta, and the friendship just basically grew from that. We had talked in the past about getting together. Scheduling and everything just worked out this time, and we felt we had the right song."
Blender is the fifth studio album for the Georgia-based band, which includes the Roland brothers, guitarist Ross Childress, bassist Will Turpin and drummer Shane Evans. It's also the fifth straight CD to boast a hit single for the band. Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid produced the chart-topping hit, "Shine." The band's 1995 self-titled second album produced a quartet of hit singles -- "Gel," "December," "Where the River Flows" and "The World I Know" -- and sold more than three million copies. Disciplined Breakdown, their third, was a mild commercial disappointment, falling short of the million sales needed for platinum certification. Nevertheless, it spawned two No. 1 rock singles, "Precious Declaration" and "Listen." Dosage, released in 1998, rebounded past the million mark in sales and included the hits "Heavy" and "Run." The lead single from Blender, "Why Pt. 2," cracked the top five on rock charts.
In sharp contrast to the high pressure, meticulous nature of previous recording sessions, the mood during the production of Blender was decidedly relaxed, reflecting the band's growing acceptance of its place within the music industry. Rather than booking an expensive studio (as the group did for Dosage), Collective Soul instead set up shop in their own rehearsal studio and wrote and recorded the bulk of the material at one time.
"We didn't have the time pressures," Dean Roland says. "The label wasn't expecting a record for another year probably. We were able to rehearse and record all in the same place so we were able to work the songs out. Maybe that's why it was so relaxed and went so much faster.
"We let ourselves appreciate where we were and what we had accomplished," he adds. "We just took a deep breath and enjoyed the process."
Collective Soul and Fastball play the Fox on Friday, April 13, at 8 pm. Tickets: $26.50. Call: 325-SEAT.
FIVE FOOT THICK is one local band that truly deserves to be slapped with a big fat yellow warning sign that reads: NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. This aggressive Spokane rapcore quintet is as tight and ferocious as a wounded animal trapped in a corner. Its 13-cut CD, Circles, sounds as clean and pounding as any major-label offering these days, and your typical FFT live show is a breathtaking, sonically brutal experience. The band will attempt to shake The Met Theater loose from its foundation this Friday night with an all-ages show also featuring local rockers, Elderstaar and Seattle bands, SP Unlimited and Gravity Check.
Though Five Foot Thick has been blessed with the support of many in the community (including the crew at Local 77, Sack Lunch Studios and legions of devoted fans), the fact is, there would be nothing without these guys -- a group with the chops, drive and ambition to pull disparate elements and personalities together into such a cohesive and dedicated unit.
I recently pestered FFT drummer Silas McQuain at his day job (he and lead vocalist, Bryan Dilling work for the same telecommunication systems company) about his perception of the "glamorous" rock and roll lifestyle the group -- as one of the most popular in Spokane -- must surely be enjoying. What I found (not too surprisingly) is that it's not all champagne and hand-picked M & amp;Ms for McQuain, Dilling, guitarist George Silva, bassist Kris DeMers and turntableist Matt Gonzales.
"This is a hard stage for a band to be in," admits McQuain. "The struggle for recognition and being broke all the time. But we're putting everything we have into it."
That means all the dough FFT makes performing gets funneled right back into the band-- into T-shirts, CDs, van fuel and traveling expenses.
And they have been traveling lately -- all over the Northwest -- though McQuain says, "It's rough hooking up good, out-of-town shows. But there are good things coming in. We've had interest from a few different labels -- big ones. And interest from a management company."
On the home front, local success (Circles has sold 1,500 copies and FFT live shows are usually packed-house affairs) means the band members can no longer accept every gig that is offered them.
"We're so busy," says McQuain. "It's great, but every other day, I get an e-mail from somebody who wants us to play some show. It's hard but we have to say 'no' sometimes because we don't want to burn people out. Sometimes, we need to take a week off so that we can do our laundry."
The lads in Five Foot Thick certainly aren't complaining. This is what they signed up for, after all. And until that big, greasy contract is in their hands, they know they'll be looking at an uphill climb -- with few tangible rewards along the way.
"We totally want to put in our time and pay our dues. We have been and we're willing to because we think it's worth it in the long run. As far as the band goes, we're like a family. It's just been great. We have nothing but a good time together."
Though the group is hoping for something in the way of a label deal by this summer, they're already thinking in terms of the follow-up to Circles, contract or no.
"We're probably eight songs into our next one. Not completed [songs], but eight that we're working on. Even if we don't get picked up this summer, we'll be going into the studio next winter. It's just a waiting game now. We need to be patient, stay together and try to keep focused on our goal rather than getting sidetracked by all the chaos going on around us."
"Fortunately," he says complimenting the resolve of his band mates. "We're more focused than ever. These guys are amazing." -- Mike Corrigan
Five Foot Thick, Gravity Check, Elderstaar and SP Unlimited play The Met on Friday, April 13, at 8 pm. Tickets: $8, advance; $10, at the door. This is an all-ages show, but beer will be available in the lobby for those 21 and over with valid I.D. Call: 325-SEAT.
The guys in Portland area band KILLINGSWORTH are intimately familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the Spokane music scene -- mainly, because they were once a part of it. The Killingsworth lineup is, in fact, chock full of local punk rock expatriates including Ryan Englund and Tony Franz of Oil Filter and 30 Gallons of Beans, Tom McKeen of the Rizzos and Travis Lindholm, who also started his noise-making career around these parts. Their Saturday night show at Ichabod's will be an Easter homecoming of sorts featuring the band's trademark "late '70s fuzz rock mixed with good old dirty punk rock" sound.
Just what have these self-described "drunk rock" lovers from Spokane discovered in the Rose City's open arms? Have they fully traded in their allegiance to Oly stubbies for Pabst Blue Ribbon, the oh-so-trendy malted beverage of Portland's clubland elite? Do these guys still rock? Can they hold their own against the onslaught of Spokane's reigning dukes of old school punk, the Eastside Destroyers and the Hellrods? Tune in to Ichabod's this weekend for the answers to this and many a burning question regarding the continuing Killingsworth saga. -- Mike Corrigan
Killingsworth, Eastside Destroyers and the Hellrods play at Ichabod's on Saturday, April 14, at 9 pm. Cover: $4. Call: 328-5720.