With experience and luck, local post-punk band River City High appears ready to crash the music-industry party.
Rock 'n' Roll 101
Most bands start slowly, developing their sound at small venues and working out the kinks in front of sparse audiences. River City High sneaked up on Richmond six short months ago and has since set the music scene on fire with a sound so polished you'd think they'd been buffing it for years.
Without wasting any time, this post-punk band burned a four-song demo and took it on the road twice before introducing themselves to their hometown. When they finally gave the obligatory "we're River City High" to a Richmond audience, most of the people probably already knew the name. River City High packed the house at its two debut shows at Twisters, shows that usually amount to glorified practice sessions for most bands.
That's just the beginning. River City High has also managed to get the attention of some influential figures in the music business. An A & R representative at Warner Brothers liked their first demo so much she demanded they make another. RCH did, with Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster and producer Brian Paulson, who has also worked on records for Beck and Wilco, among many others. When Christopher Sabec manager of pop superstars Hanson listened to the band's first demo, what he heard convinced him to send an assistant to Richmond to film the band's LP release show at Twisters on Friday, Nov. 26.
So it goes without saying that these boys are enthusiastic about the show. "It's a little bit overwhelming," says lead guitarist Mark Avery, "but also exciting."
How did these upstarts get this much attention? "You have to go find it," says lead singer and bass player James Menefee. "No matter how good you are, there's no Men In Black of the record industry."
Menefee did get a lucky break as a domestic television intern at Warner Brothers. He says he spent his time there banging on every door in the joint to get the word out on his band.
Hanson's manager didn't just pick RCH's name out of a hat, either. He and Menefee have been friends since 1994.
And the members of RCH aren't newcomers to the business. Avery toured for seven years with the moderately successful Richmond punk band Inquisition, and Menefee paid his dues for as many years with a Richmond all-ages punk show regular called Fun Size.
These two musicians combine a lot of experience. They should at least know how to make good music, if not pull a little on the music industry strings. The experience shows on RCH's first demo. It seems so studied in its mainstream punk marketability that it could be the introduction to a class on how to break into the industry.
Here in Richmond, experience tells you to get the word out on the street that you're a bad-ass band, because this town is notorious for thin attendance. RCH's self-promotion borders on propaganda. For their second Richmond show they plastered hand-drawn fliers around town displaying the band's name on a stage flanked by a mob of drooling teenage girls.
On stage, RCH do more than perform they explode. Musically, the band maintains a perfect tight-rope balance between radio-friendly rock and street-credible punk. One day they could be a major label's dream come true. And with their first LP "Richmond Motel" ready, they are planning their biggest promotional gimmick free distribution of the CDs at the Nov. 26 release show.
Avery says RCH decided to give the CDs away as a symbol of thanks to fans who astonished the band by packing their shows. "These days," Avery says, "when bands are trying to squeeze every penny out of kids with their name on coffee mugs and panties and everything else, we just want to do something for the kids, especially the ones in our hometown."
It's a nice gesture. But intentionally or not, the free CDs are a good marketing idea. With a CD in hand, fans have something tangible to pass on to friends.
So far, RCH has done everything right. But all the potential in the world won't buy a cup of coffee, and the band members acknowledge the fickle nature of the business. "Until there's a contract in front of us," Avery says, "we're not going to sweat it."
Either way, these guys are confident and they seem to know what they're doing. "We already made all the mistakes in previous bands," Avery says. Everything else is
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