"I could make a transformation as a rock 'n' roll star/So inviting, so enticing to play the part."
David Bowie "Star"
With their flaming-dice tattoos, Buddy Holly glasses, Pabst Blue Ribbon bowling shirts, Marlboro reds, Converse All-Stars and pompadours, Richmond's rockabilly renegades Car Bomb, Inc. could have stepped out of the movie "The Outsiders." But their music is something only the '90s could concoct. A dose of early punk and an unmistakable Southern influence spice up Car Bomb, Inc.'s all-American, rock 'n' roll.
"We write songs about fast cars and loving girls, the stuff rock and roll used to be about," says guitarist Jay Thurman.
After performing regionally for three years to ever-increasing audiences, opening up for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and playing the last gig ever at the highly respected local venue Moondance, Car Bomb is ready to be discovered. In 1996 they released their first CD which was sold in local music stores and internationally through Hepcat Records. Now they're using money earned performing to record a more polished CD in efforts to attract a major label.Play ItSong clips from Car Bomb, Inc."Lockdown"Requires RealPlayer
"It's an exciting time to be in this band right now," says bassist Clay Ashbury. "It's hard not to be excited when I look at our demographics it's white, black, young, old. If the CD is accepted with even half the enthusiasm we receive live, we'll be very happy."
Compared with $5,000 spent on the first album, the band estimates it will have spent around $20,000 after production, manufacturing and distribution on its sophomore release.
"This'll be the best CD that we can possibly make. If people don't like it, we'll like it, and maybe somebody in England or California will like it," says Ashbury. "I think we'd be lying if we said we didn't care if this album was a commercial flop. We want it to lead to bigger, better things."
Thurman and Ashbury played together in high school bands in Richmond and became addicted to performing on stage. In 1992, what almost became a tribute band to The Clash, turned into Car Bomb, Inc. with the addition of drummer Jamie McGuffey from local alt-rock band The Petals and a fan-turned-lead-singer, Lee Reynolds. "I have no musical training," says Reynolds who counts the car and shower as his only previous singing credits, "but I've always felt like I needed some sort of canvas to perform."
So the insurance salesman, the Fed-Ex delivery man, the bartender and the quality control engineer for a cigar company spend their evenings at In Your Ear Studios trying to make their dreams come true.
"If someone said 'Would you rather have sex with the most beautiful woman or play onstage,' I'd play onstage because I'm having a little bit of sex with everybody in the audience and my guitar," says Thurman, explaining the thrill of performing verses the obstacle posed by the studio.
Reynolds puts it another way. "If you come to a Car Bomb, Inc. show you might end up onstage, singing and half-naked. The challenge of recording is translating that experience to CD."
Ashbury sees the more technical side of things. "When you get in here everything changes you pick apart everything and notice things you never heard before," he says. "When you're a starving musician and you're used to playing through crappy P.A. systems, you don't know what you actually sound like," says Reynolds, disappointed with his imperfection as he works on vocals to go with instrumentals already recorded.
"You gotta find a nice medium between the garage and the microscope that is the studio," he says, summing up the challenge live musicians face when recording in a studio. "You don't want it to sound too produced."
After returning from his second smoke break Reynolds says, "When you got beer and people banging into you, you really don't notice how much you suck." Then it occurs to him, this is the first time he's sung sober.
They break while a studio assistant is sent out for alcohol. After 22 takes, everyone seems pleased with the results. "This is what you call studio magic," Reynolds motions to his bourbon. The final version, pieced together from different takes, is played and even though they'd just heard it for two hours straight, the boys in the band can't help but tap their fingers, swivel their chairs and smile."Well then it's time to go downtown to the agent man won't let you down/Sell your soul to some company who are waiting there to sell plastic ware."
The Byrds "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star"
[image-1]Photo by Chad HuntPat McGee has built up a solid fan base with a mailing list of 17,000 through his frequent live shows.
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Pat McGee is more than a musician, he's a shrewd businessman who's just about to cash in on his investment.
Immediately after graduating from college in 1995, McGee became a full-time musician, never letting a day job cloud his dream. The acoustic storyteller could be found at bars around Shockoe Bottom, armed with his guitar, mailing list and sweet, raspy voice. After positive feedback, he employed a backup band in order to play larger rooms and flesh out his first album, "From The Wood."
"I've been getting calls [from record companies] since my first record came out, but I wanted to get a band together and put out another record, maybe two and then do the whole signing thing," says McGee who has finally settled on Giant Records, a division of Warner Bros. "I kind of had a plan to build a fan base before signing."
In 1996, McGee put together the permanent lineup bassist John Small, vocalist/keyboardist Jonathan Williams, percussionist Chardy McEwan, vocalist/guitarist Al Walsh and drummer Chris Williams and called it the Pat McGee Band. Play ItSong clips from the Pat McGee Band"Can't Miss What You Never Had""Could Have Been A Song""Girl From Athens"Requires RealPlayer
Since then, the band's success has gone completely as McGee planned. They've gained a huge grassroots following by playing college towns from Massachusetts to Florida to Colorado. Their ever-growing fan base flocks largely because of McGee's wise marketing strategy: He allows fans to tape shows, keeps a 17,000-person mailing list, sends a newsletter twice a year, maintains a Web site and sells merchandise at shows and on the Web.
PMB released two more independent albums, and several of their songs have been featured on MTV's "Real World" and "Road Rules." They've performed at the H.O.R.D.E. festival and were the first unsigned band to sell out the 7,000-seat Wolf Trap Amphitheater in Vienna.
All of this, under the clever direction of founder, frontman and manager, McGee, who has carefully studied music-industry trends. He can recite release dates, album statistics and band trivia to support anything he says. The PMB is his baby it's no wonder he's done his homework. The band hired an attorney last December to field calls from record companies and in May a deal was signed with Giant Records.
"It didn't really make much sense to jump off and hope that the radio was gonna catch us," McGee says, explaining why they didn't sign with a record label sooner. "That's the biggest misconception, that now that we're signed, we're going to be on the radio, there's a much better chance of it, but it's not a guarantee."
When the band interviewed at different record labels they were often given sampler CDs of the label's artists. "Sometimes they shouldn't do that because to a band like us we're saying who are these other bands? What happened? Is this going to be me? Are you going to hand my disc to someone three years from now and they're going to say 'Who the hell is this?' It's even worse when the album is really good and you think, what happened? The reason you hear all the time is that a band didn't get prioritized."
With that in mind, the PMB looked for a label that would give them priority. Giant only has eight other bands on its roster, plus it can tap Warner Bros.' resources. McGee says that since the band had so many fans already, they will be given a favorable amount of creative control.
"We're not going to come out with a Backstreet Boys album or go into hard rock. Hopefully we'll find the right producer that's the big thing who's going to say, 'I understand what you're doing,' and the label will just support it, because we already have the fans, we already know what they like, we've been doing this for three years," he says. "To [the record company] it's really more about the single. After you work on the first two or three singles you can pretty much do what you want, as long as there are radio tunes they can use to market the band."
McGee's big year isn't over; he got married in July and began recording in August. But no kids until his touring schedule calms down, he says.
"I just hope that we make a record that we're really, really proud of. As well as we've done with as little as we've spent on our other records, we should be able to deliver something really strong with all the money that we're going to spend on this one," he says.
The album is scheduled for release in February and will feature mostly new songs with old favorites like "Rebecca" and "Passion" as possible singles.
"Hopefully radio will pick it up but if it doesn't, I'm not going to kick and scream about it. We'll do what we normally do, we'll go out and tour," he says. "That's how we're going to make our living anyway. Bands don't make a lot of money off records unless they're multiplatinum."Jump to Part 1, 2, 3 Continue to Part 3