Salt Lake musicians and music lovers alike have long wondered why the Osmonds and SheDaisy have represented the better part of Utah’s nationally recognized talent, often blaming it on apathy, demographics, egos, in-fighting and a lack of taste and talent. The lamentable truth is, all of the above applied both individually and—brace yourself—in concert. And worse, no clear solution availed itself. No matter how many great bands existed, the Salt Lake music scene would remain quiet and virginal until a band with that Special Something showed up.
In the past eight years, several bands, including Honest Engine, Swamp Donkeys, Clover and The Obvious appeared destined to break out and officially activate the Salt Lake scene in the national arena. However, all three bands would be defunct or barely active by 1998-’99, at which time club-goers’ affinities were migrating toward disco cover bands and white-bread funk, effectively cock-blocking original rock bands and sending some toward the friendlier music town of Portland, Ore. It was back to the drawing board, although seeds for a new scene were already germinating.
Recently, an almost entirely new scene has materialized, and although mostly underground, it is the most promising. Some of the same problems remain, but interest and activity has increased and several new punk and indie bands such as the Red Bennies, the Trigger Locks, Alchemy, The Wolfs, Thunderfist, the Jay Johnson Band and Erosion are gaining momentum. It’s a new and thrilling game, although most of these bands—despite being some of the best the state has ever seen—aren’t likely to break the scene nationally, at least on an MTV scale. For that to happen, it will require an “It” band, one that would achieve a level of success that would lend credibility and draw attention to the scene.
Introducing No Release: Vocalist Jeremy Stanley, guitarist Brian Christensen, bassist Tom Collins and drummer Josh Zirbel. Together since 1999, the band has amassed a loyal fan base via their passionate, if derivative, Zeppelin/Tool/U2/Pearl Jam/Smashing Pumpkins-influenced sound, finely crafted songs and increasingly tight live performances. In their relatively brief existence, they’ve already sold through the initial 2,000-disc pressing of their self-produced debut CD. Two singles from the album, the anthemic “Sun Rises Down” and the plaintive “Some Desert Night,” are getting airplay on 20 specialty shows in and out of state, including X96, 102.3 The Blaze, 88.1 The Edge, KLBJ in Austin, KATT in Oklahoma, and 99.1 The Buzz in Burley, Idaho, where the band recently played to a crowd of 1,000 with fellow locals Royal Bliss. Not only that, but they’ve attracted the attention of one-time SLC radio exec and industry player, Steve Walker (A Perfect Circle, Smashing Pumpkins), who has the band poised to enter a major-label bidding war.
Walker, since taking the band under his wing early this year, has helped them maximize their potential, stopping just short of literally whipping them into shape. “Steve was the first guy who was perfectly honest with us,” says Christensen.
“He [said], ‘You guys could be good. Right now, you suck,’” Zirbel chimes in.
Christensen continues, “[He’d] say, ‘This sucks what you’re doing,’ comparing us to bands that he’s worked with that happen to be [major bands[. He’s not comparing us to his friends’ bands or bands we used to be in. He’s more about the bands on the national scene and how they behave. We had to learn the difference between getting up and playing songs and knowing how to make it a powerful show.”
No Release’s work ethic and natural talent would ensure that Walker’s faith and guidance wasn’t misplaced. The band has dutifully implemented Walker’s suggestions, cutting time between songs, stepping up self-promotion activities, revamping their website (www.NoRelease.com), and investing in gig enhancers such as a light show and smoke machine. In Stanley, No Release has the archetypal prowling, earnest alt-rock frontman. Both his stage presence and lyrics evoke Eddie Vedder, Bono and even Jim Morrison. Christensen’s muscular riffing and Collins’ and Zirbel’s formidable rhythms surround and complement him. No Release has “It.”
“We’ll just blow your O-ring out, now,” Collins cracks. “We have a smoke machine, so it’s all over.”
Walker also sent the band to record a six-song demo at Falcon Studios in Portland and Room One in Seattle with producer Rob Daiker (Slowrush, Camaro Hair). There, No Release’s songs would gain a certifiable Hi-Pro Glow, all prettied up for commercial airplay. Now, more than ever, “Sun Rises Down” and “Some Desert Night” positively thunder. “Motive,” the consummate fist-pumper, throbs. The mid-tempo ballad “Perfect” and two more tunes, “Slow Down” and “Clone” are equally stunning. The disc would become a calling card, as Walker promptly sent it to friends and other industry contacts to gauge their reaction, which was instant and intense.
“Immediately, he was getting amazing responses,” says Joel Christensen, Brian’s brother and the band’s co-manager. “Interscope and Epic were the first to show a lot of interest. Soon after that, Sat Bisla of [trade publication] Album Network contacted us, saying how impressed he was with the demo. He wanted to know if we’d be interested in being included in a monthly column and sampler CD featuring new unsigned bands. Steve and I discussed it with the band and everyone thought it was a great idea.”
As soon as the issue—which is distributed to labels and radio stations across the country—was out, the phone started ringing. Nearly every major label wanted a promo kit and a copy of the demo. Elektra, Epic, Reprise, Warner Bros. and MCA have all voiced interest. Walker has since signed on to co-manage the band and Lisa Socransky of renowned entertainment law firm Davis, Shapiro and Lewitt has been retained as the band’s legal counsel. It all points to success, but the band maintains a cautious balance of humor, modesty, poise and hopefulness. Sure, they’d like to be famous, but at the end of the day, it’s about making music.
“It’s not like we want to shove it in anybody’s face,” says Collins, adding the band doesn’t feel like they’re any better than other local bands. The label interest, says Christensen, is “all bullshit until somebody puts a contract on the table.”
Not that there isn’t pressure. “As the tension builds, we all feel like we’re walking on a tightrope,” says Stanley. “My only goal is to keep getting better; to keep learning and keep writing songs and be glad I wrote them. Longevity, yeah. Totally. But without selling my soul.” u
No Release. The Phat Tire Saloon, 438 Main, Park City, 435-658-269, 9 p.m. Dec. 21-22, 9:30 p.m. Liquid Joe’s, 1249 E. 3300 South, 467-JOES, Jan. 23, 9:30 p.m.