Small Town Confidential

by Alan Sculley and Clint Burgess

Norwood, Ontario is home to all of about 1,500 people, yet this tiny Canadian town was home base for Three Days Grace, the rock band whose 2003 single, "I Hate Everything About You," is still in Billboard's Top 15 after peaking at No. 2.

"There were a lot of people in Norwood who loved to play," says the band's singer-guitarist, Adam Gontier. "Every small town has people who grow up listening to music and who want to play music but don't really feel like they've got a way to actually get out and do it."

Gontier and fellow Norwood native Brad Walst (bass), who first got together in high school with drummer Neil Sanderson, never felt the dream of a music career was out of their grasp. After graduating from high school, they moved to Toronto to pursue music under the name Three Days Grace. It took them several years, however, to get the breaks they needed to get their career in gear.

A key step came when the group was introduced to Gavin Brown, a songwriter and producer who had been the drummer with the Canadian group Big Sugar. Brown agreed to produce the group's first set of demos and became actively involved in helping them to strengthen their material. Writing sessions with Brown produced "I Hate Everything About You," the song that earned Three Days Grace a publishing deal with EMI (in February 2002) and an eventual recording contract with Jive Records, which earmarked the tune to become the lead single from the band's debut album.

The single is a representative sample of the material on Three Days Grace. Other songs ("Just Like You," "Let You Down," "Burn") offer variations on that basic musical approach: Terse, hard-hitting guitar and assertive bass lines provide a dark backdrop for verses, while choruses bring a more musically upbeat and hooky element to the songs. Thematically, they deal with agitation, frustration and tension.

Gontier, who shares songwriting duties with Walst and Sanderson, says he has always found it more natural -- and therapeutic -- to write about darker topics. And he feels his small-town upbringing -- where one's secrets, misadventures and troubles often become public knowledge -- helped foster these type of lyrics.

"I think it mainly comes down to growing up in a small town," Gontier says, "where you don't really have much of a choice. You've got a couple of options. You're either into sports or music. And we used music as an outlet. That's the way I've always come up with things, when I'm angry. That's the only time I even want to write."

Writing angst-ridden songs, of course, is a common practice among modern rock bands. But Gontier insists Three Days Grace isn't fashioning its music to fit trends.

"We always have written honestly," he says. "Everything on the record is genuine. If people relate to it, that's basically all you can ask for."

Flogging Molly -- Ouch! -- Ireland conjures images of rolling green hillsides, dramatic coastal landscapes and rich, dark beer. It doesn't really convey "punk rock Mecca." Somebody should tell that to Flogging Molly, certainly one of the most famous of the Emerald Isle's punk rocking units. Next Monday at the University of Idaho, this band of international misfits will alternately bludgeon and caress listeners with their unique take on punk and other genres before crossing the Pacific for a Japanese mini-tour.

Flogging Molly blends a zest for traditional Irish drinking songs with the one-two punch of riotous guitars and strong vocals that truly provide a "Guinness-soaked musical body blow." But that is where the stereotypes end. The band incorporates much more of the elements of traditional Irish folk songs (accordion, mandolin, fiddle) than would seem possible for a group that doesn't even play folk music. Vocalist Dave King's weighty lyrics (chronicling the effects of growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in the rough and tumble neighborhoods of Dublin) add further bite.

The group started developing their brand of Irish punk back in 1997, making a discrete entrance onto the underground scene with a self-produced live album that caught the ear of legendary rock producer Steve Albini. The group subsequently released two albums with Albini at the helm. "Swagger" (2000) put the band on the map and propelled them onto bigger and better things -- one of those being a slot on the Vans Warped tour.

The Warped tour performances exposed the band to a variety of potential fans just in time for the release of its second album, "Drunken Lullabies." With its sound honed and its fan base established, Flogging Molly continued its rise into the record-buying punks' collective consciousness. To further the cause, the band wormed itself onto every late-night television show from here to Dublin including Conan, Kilborn and Kimmel.

Yet when it comes to music that kicks you in the stomach and leaves you crying for Mommy, Flogging Molly has few peers. Additionally, the band's diverse instrumentation leaves room for growth out of punk's dead-end streets and into the more traditional sounds of Ireland. And who can't identify with a good drinking song.

Publication date: 03/25/04

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