by Mike Corrigan, Alan Sculley and Leah Sottile

They may be called the Side Project, but there's nothing all that "on the side" about this musical collaboration. Oh sure, the members all have day jobs to support their insatiable artistic habits (who around here doesn't?), but clearly, into the Project is where these four people pour most of their skills, passion, energy and inspiration -- not to mention aspiration. This ever-evolving local group performs at the Met next Thursday night.

Like a proto-planet forming in the interstellar void, the Side Project initially formed from a small nucleus of just two bodies, yet quickly grew in size and gravity thanks to the forces of mutual attraction. Suzie Anderson (vocals, piano) and Parker Moosman (keyboards) first began playing together in August of last year. Moosman claims it all started as a way to explore the various musical directions they might take together -- while playing around with a handful of cover songs.

"We don't do hardly any now," Moosman laughs. "But when we started, we had 'Heartbreaker' by Pat Benatar, 'When Doves Cry' by Prince, 'Love Bites' by Def Leppard. And I remember we wanted to cover 'Cry Me a River' by Justin Timberlake."

"When you first get together," offers Anderson, "you bring your past."

From such humble beginnings, something greater formed. Into the fray came former Flourish bassist Ben Bradford who initially came on board as a guitarist. Rehearsals, recording and live performances (to date, everywhere from small coffeehouses and wine bars to venues like the Big Easy) followed. And the buzz began to spread. An album full of the group's recordings surfaced, a collection of originals and covers called 14. "They were the first 14 songs we did," explains Moosman, who somewhat reluctantly (but fairly accurately) describes the group's sound as "dark pop in minor keys."

At this point, venues were beginning to request the band, which is versatile enough to play it loud or soft as needed. "We can play in a coffee shop," says Moosman. "Or we can play in a rock club. Plus, I think people realized we're reliable."

Enter newest addition, guitarist Clint Burgess, who picked up the Side Project trail as a music writer for this paper.

"I sort of stumbled upon them," admits Burgess, who is also a contributor to these pages. "It was an 'On the Scene' assignment [for The Inlander], and I was expecting to see some other band, which may or may not have been good. I came in and I think Suzie must have been singing at the time. But I was really impressed."

The band had only been together for about five months. But Burgess thought enough of the band and its unique pop-jazz-R & amp;B-trip-hop fusion to approach the members about joining, which he soon did, adding his guitar and recorded loops to the equation. According to Moosman and Anderson, it couldn't have come at a better time.

"Ben missed playing the bass," says Anderson. "He was good on the guitar, but I mean, he's a bass player. So it's worked out really well. And now he gets real bummed out when Clint can't make it to a show because of work."

Fortune has been generous to the Side Project. But the group's rapid ascension on the local scene can be primarily attributed to its do-it-yourself attitude when it comes to everything on the business end: booking, promoting, marketing. In that capacity, Anderson definitely takes the lead.

"I never thought I would," she says. "But I have a real passion for booking shows and promoting the band. It's a high."

That attitude will serve the band mates well in the coming weeks, as the Side Project plans its next move, in this case, to the greener fields of Seattle. The group hopes to make enough dough from the Met show to cover a couple months worth of rent once they arrive there the first week of November. Yet this quartet knows that getting a foothold in the Seattle music scene, where the competition among bands is fierce, is in large part dependent on how persistent they are and how much they believe in their sound and in each other.

"I'm not afraid of that hard work," says Anderson, who seems sufficiently geared up to promote the hell out of the Side Project in any market on the planet. "I'm in the process right now of making up 60 press kits. When we hit town, it's gonna be, 'Look out Seattle, 'cause Suzi's here.'"

Forget the Past -- Despite what you may have heard on the radio or read in the news, Van Halen has not reunited. "This is less of a reunion than it is a continuation." At least, that's the word from singer Sammy Hagar.

"It was like we hadn't missed beat. We picked up right where we left off," adds drummer Alex Van Halen.

But whether it's called a continuation or a reunion, Hagar and Van Halen agree, that's not what's important.

What matters is for the first time in eight years, the four men who made up Van Halen from 1984 to 1996 -- Hagar, guitarist Eddie Van Halen, drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony -- are making music, touring and perhaps most importantly, enjoying the same creative and personal chemistry that ignited the group when Hagar originally replaced departed vocalist David Lee Roth. The guys are playing the Arena on Wednesday night.

Whether they are reunited or just continued, the first fruits of this take on Van Halen have now surfaced in the form of three new tracks on a greatest hits collection, Best Of Both Worlds, which spans both the Hagar era and Roth's stint in the band from 1974 to 1984.

"These songs came out as pure, spontaneous inspiration, and I think they speak for themselves," Hagar says of the new material. "You say, 'Hey, are you guys up to par, what you were before or anything like that?' Listen to the three new tracks, and I think it just will give you every answer you need."

Alex Van Halen says the new live show features the largest stage production ever for the band, while Hagar promised that the shows themselves will be better than ever -- in part because he has come to terms with singing songs from the Roth era of the band.

"This set we're playing right now is better than any set we ever played before, because I used to be a little sensitive to the old material. Everyone knows that, & Oacute; Hagar says. "And we only did two or three [Roth-era songs]. Now it's like we have a whole different outlook on everything. It's like, 'Let's make this the greatest songs that the Van Halen fans have ever heard.'"

The reunion went into motion near the end of last year when Hagar was in California. He realized Alex Van Halen lived close by and decided to give the drummer a call. He insisted that he didn't have an agenda to resume his life as Van Halen's singer.

"I made the call to Al, but it was not in any business sense. It wasn't like, 'Hey, let's get back together,'" Hagar says. "I happened to be in Southern California with my family vacationing at a resort, at the beach. And I was talking to somebody else, and they say, 'Hey, do you ever talk to those guys,' and this and that. And I'm going, 'You know, I've been saying this for a hundred years. I'm going to give Alex a call one of these days.' And then I finally did.

"And when I did, we talked for so long, it was like, 'Hey why don't you just come on down here.'" Hagar recalls. "And we hung out with our families, and it was just awesome. Like I say, there was no business. It was not that at all... It was just, 'Wow, I really miss this friendship.'"

Soon after that, Hagar called Eddie Van Halen and arranged to get together with the guitarist -- a visit that quickly led to a jam session at Eddie Van Halen's home studio. At that point it was obvious Van Hagar would once again be a band.

"We jammed for like five or six hours until my voice was completely worn out, "Hagar says. "It was the four of us getting together that inspires everything. The chemistry between the four of us is very, very special, and even as long as we did it, you kind of start taking it for granted. Then you come back and you know, you forget about it and you walk in and you go, 'Oh wow, this is exactly like it always was.'"

Hagar and Alex Van Halen both say that any lingering issues from Hagar's split with Van Halen were swept aside once the band members got together, and any hard feelings are completely in the past.

"The whole point of being older and time going by and water going under the bridge, whatever it is, you kind of forget even what happened or why you were mad to begin with," Hagar says. "We were together for a long time, you know, 11 years.

"So when you spend that much time with somebody, you really do have a deep friendship," he says. "And all of a sudden, you realize, 'Hey forget it.' We decided rather than go to therapy like some of these other bands, and dig up the dirt, we said, 'No, no, here's what we're going to do. We're going to pretend like it never happened. We're going to, like, rise above it.' And that's really what we did." -- Alan Sculley

Musical Warmth -- As we get ready to welcome winter into our driveways and our front yards, it might be comforting to know there are places out there that are actually colder than Spokane. The Karelian Folk Music Ensemble is a trio of singers and musicians who know how to pass those long winter nights. That's because they come from a much colder part of the world: Petrozavodsk, a city in the Russian Republic of Karelia.

The three men -- Alexander Bykadoroff, Igor Arkhipoff and Arto Rinne -- are all graduates of the Petrozavodsk Conservatory. They sing in Finnish, Karelian, Russian and "Finnglish," incorporating the intricacies of their unique culture (Karelia borders both Finland and Russia). And by "folk" music, we're talking the real deal here: These three perform everything from ancient epic songs, Russian village tunes, shepherd's melodies and Finnish dances. And their talent hardly stops at guitar-strumming and songwriting; these Karelians play on Finnish harps, wooden flutes, Russian and German button accordions, the jouhikko (Karelian bowed lyre) and various stringed kanteles (Finnish-Karelian harp). By the end of the night, we guarantee your mind will be off the looming season, and you'll be begging to get your hands on your very own button accordion. -- Leah Sottile

Publication date: 10/14/04

Royale Duo @ Nighthawk Lounge (CdA Casino)

Fri., April 16, 9 p.m. and Sat., April 17, 9 p.m.
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