When the black-clad members of Cadillac Blindside walk onstage and light enough candelabras to stock a horror movie set, it's clear this is no run-of-the-mill emo-punk band. By the time the band's frenetic antics and sonic boom blow enough wind to snuff the candles, the skin of the exhausted backpack kids and grizzled punkers thrashing in the audience is blanched pale as the quartet's Minnesota pallor, their clothes stained just as dark with spilled beer.
Cadillac Blindside sprang to life in 1997 in the frigid but fertile Minneapolis music scene. After a year of playing as a power trio, bassist James Russell decided he wanted to join Zachary Zrust on guitar and brought in childhood friend Trent Raygor to take over on bass. "When we were in high school, James and I would throw after-school shows in the park," Raygor recalls. "We'd flyer the high schools, set up the PA right after the bell rang, and rock until the cops showed. We had already been in lots of bands together so it was natural to start playing again with him."
After a year Cadillac Blindside self-released a single, "Rumors, Scandals and Burning Bridges," then embarked on its first tour with friends Amp 176. Returning home, the band signed with label Soda Jerk and picked up drummer Rebecca Hanten to record Read the Book, Seen the Movie, a twelve-song juggernaut that seamlessly blends East Coast emo-rock with West Coast power-pop. Hanten's bouncing drums propel Russell and Zrust's twin guitar attack as it alternates between soaring octave chords, minor key picking, and pummeling power chords. When the record came out in August 2000, the musical climate was much more emo-friendly than when the band formed three years before. Yet for every fanzine that hailed their arrival, there was another that claimed they were bandwagon jumpers. "When people said that we were a Get Up Kids knockoff, we thought it was hilarious," Raygor chuckles. "Back when James and I were playing in the park, our main influences were Dischord bands like Fugazi, Embrace, and Rites of Spring along with NOFX and West Coast pop-punk. We came by our sound naturally."
To support Read the Book, Seen the Movie, Cadillac Blindside hit the road with Texas pop-punkers the Impossibles. After ripping through six weeks of roadwork along the East Coast and down South, the bands pulled up to a club in Baton Rouge, only to discover it was biker night. "We were the first band on, and it was like being a sacrificial lamb," Raygor grimaces. "They hated us. We were too loud for them. Somehow we managed to get out of there before they killed us."
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After escaping Louisiana, the tour moved on to Gainesville, home base to the Impossibles' label, Fueled By Ramen. Once he watched Cadillac Blindside lay waste to the college-town backpack brigade, label staffer Tony Wienbender signed the band. In January 2001 Fueled By Ramen released Blindside's six-song EP, The Allegory Of Death and Fame. Where Hanten's drums moved the songs along nicely on Read the Book, Seen the Movie, here they shake the speakers until even the most rhythmically challenged emo kid has no choice but to shake his rump until the pockets of his jeans wear through. Atop their twin guitars Zrust and Russell added vocal harmonies a barbershop would be proud to call its own.
With both a booking agent and a large indie label behind it, the band promoted The Allegory Of Death and Fame for seven months in 2001 at every type of venue. "We'd do a couple weeks with Less Than Jake, playing to 1500 kids in theaters, and the next couple weeks would be in basements and dive bars," Raygor recalls. Return trips to the same town proved fruitful. "We played the East Coast quite a bit, and by the third or fourth trip out there our audience would be 300 percent bigger." That August Cadillac Blindside did a week on the Plea For Peace tour. "Plea For Peace is a grassroots organization that rallies behind one cause a year and holds a concert tour in order to get kids to sign a petition to further the cause," Raygor explains. Last year's petition calling for the establishment of a national suicide hotline struck a personal note with Raygor. "I have a close friend who committed suicide, so playing the tour meant a lot to me. Hopefully we made a difference."
After spending 2001 on the road, Raygor re-enrolled at Minnesota State University and finished his last few classes for a degree in computer science. In between exams, Raygor joined his bandmates in the studio to record their second full-length CD, These Liquid Lungs. In the opening track, "Wielders of the Poison Pen," Zrust asks, "Back for more again?" then leads the band through an exhaustive regimen of rock calisthenics that leaves the listener's heart pounding. These Liquid Lungs smashes the emo-punk genre by rocking harder than any other band so-tagged while singing stinging lyrics like: "I thought you would be/Insane at twenty-three/Now I'm that weirdo screaming at the train." To enhance the emo quotient, a cello -- the most emo of all instruments -- is utilized in "Save Your Breath." Lest you smell a sellout to balladeering à la the Goo Goo Dolls or Unwritten Law, the band immediately bites back with "Empty Bottle Evening," a scorching rocker that recalls the rhythmic assault of Hammerhead interspersed with the guitar play of Soul Asylum.
With his new degree in tow, Raygor is ready to spend the rest of 2002 touring the U.S., Europe, and Japan with the band. "My folks have done their best to try and get me to take a real job, but I'm not buying," Raygor says. "Rock and roll is meant to cause dissension between kids and their parents -- it's been that way since the beginning." Recently Raygor's realtor father was showing a house to a young couple who insisted on blasting a CD in the living room to measure the acoustics. After listening to the racket for a few minutes, the senior Raygor asked who it was. "They told my dad it was Cadillac Blindside," Raygor chuckles. "My mom told me he got a kick out of it; he'd never in a million years admit it to me."
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