The Band Stripped Bare
Carey Peak wants to start a revolution. A rock and roll radio revolution, that is. Sitting in a tiny Fort Lauderdale rehearsal space dominated by a set of drums, Peak explains that he and his band the C60's are striving to deviate from the cliched sounds of the third-generation grunge bands that have overrun rock radio -- and to steal their thunder while they're at it. "I think radio sucks right now," contends the compact bleached-blond Peak. "One of the great things about the early Eighties was that nobody knew what was gonna happen in music, so anything anybody did was flying. But nobody's excited about rock and roll any more, and that's where we and the bands we are into step in. We'd like to be a band that defines a genre."
The genre that the C60's -- bassist/vocalist Peak, guitarist James Hadzopulos, drummer Gary Norton -- would like to establish is one of clean, stripped-down punk-pop that fills a gap Peak sees existing between energetic ska and punk groups on the one hand and radio-friendly bands such as Counting Crows, the Wallflowers, and Matchbox 20 on the other. "A gap," he notes, "that could be filled with bands that have energy but can be commercially successful without being overproduced. It's not enough to get signed and sell records. We want to keep moving forward, to be a band with a distinctive sound."
The C60's play catchy hyperpop laced with familiar -- yet not easily identifiable -- new wave riffs and rhythms, all crammed into the three-minute pop-song formula, as evidenced on Indecision Anymore, their tentatively titled thirteen-track CD due out later this summer. For example, "Remote Control" boasts a jaunty punk-rock guitar line and some saucy lyrics about the power of seduction ("I'm not looking for a consolation/I think about you during masturbation"), while "Straight Low" and "Nothing to Lose" ("Bikinis in the sunlight/Operation Cellulite ...") recall American new wave bands like the Go-Go's and the Tubes. Elsewhere on the album, "2 O'Clock Drop" comes closest to straight-on Ramones-style punk (dig the falsetto "ooh-ooh-wee-ooh" chorus), and "All Around Down" lends a ska beat to a Cheap Trick-like melody.
Peak points out that friends have likened the Fort Lauderdale-based band's sound to the Presidents of the United States of America's 1996 hit single "Lump," to early XTC, to Weezer without distortion, and to the Rentals without keyboards. When audience members started making comparisons to early-Eighties XTC -- a sound Peak says he and his bandmates were not familiar with -- the trio went back and listened to that band and other new wave pioneers, such as Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello. "I think we were tapping into that in a Nineties fashion," he asserts. "Nobody's ever said we sound like a retro band, but they do identify some retro influences. But we think it's hard to go forward without going back." What really thrills Peak is when someone compares the C60's to other new bands that dare to defy rock radio's current standard: "Every time you uncover another band doing it, it's cool, especially if they didn't know someone else is doing it too, because it means people all over the country are feeling the same way."
The guys in C60's started feeling that way long before playing their first show in January 1996, about a year after Peak, Hadzopulos, and Norton -- formerly three-quarters of the alterna-grunge band Dore (DOR-ee) Soul -- decided to re-form in a new incarnation. (By the way, the name C60's refers to cassette tapes, which, as Peak points out, caused a revolution as the first medium to threaten the record industry's bottom line by making it possible to duplicate existing albums at home: "[Industry execs] freaked out, because they thought people would never buy albums again.") The trio had already played more than 300 live shows together in the five-plus years of Dore Soul; that band released a tape in 1993 that sold more than 2000 copies locally. They were also lauded at regional awards ceremonies such as the Southeastern Music Conference, the Slammie Awards, and the South Florida Rock Awards.
Dore Soul dissolved in late 1994, owing to personal tensions, artistic differences, and management problems, but not before the members began working toward a new direction in their music. "Jimmy was bored with distortion on the guitar -- he was going for cleaner tones -- and I was so tired of screaming that I was going for cleaner vocals," Peak remembers. "We were getting into bands with a poppier sound and realizing that it was the common ground we all had, that we were more into good, melody-oriented songs than whatever trends everyone was following."
Peak, Hadzopulos, and Norton took about a year off to write new music, then signed with a new manager -- Hadzopulos's childhood friend Charles Kleinicke -- and began practicing. While Peak admits that the C60's have drawn inspiration from myriad sources, including Ben Folds Five, Superchunk, and other "happy, clean-sounding" bands on the music scene in Chapel Hill (where manager Kleinicke lived at one point), he explains that during the band's formative stages the members went out of their way to not listen to the radio and other local bands -- and they consciously avoided the musical patterns they established in their old band. "To me, these songs are undeniably better than Dore Soul's," Peak contends. "They home right in on the meat of the song -- a catchy melody, good hooks that you can't get out of your head, no fake emotion, each instrument sounding like what it's supposed to sound like. That's something I don't hear when I hear the radio or watch MTV. Even some of these punk bands that are supposed to be purists have layered guitars and distorted vocals."
After polishing their sound for a few months, the C60's performed a raft of shows at Squeeze, Rose's, Churchill's, and the now-closed Prop Room at the Theater, enjoying support from old Dore Soul fans, including Holy Terrors' singer/guitarist Rob Elba, who offered the C60's a standing invitation to open for his band. Another musician who lent his support was singer/songwriter Matt Mahaffey of the Tennessee-based band Self, for whom the C60's opened in their first-ever show. "From the first time he saw us, he totally understood what it was about," notes Peak. Mahaffey understood the C60's so well, in fact, that he helped them obtain a deal with the Tennessee indie imprint for which he records, Spongebath Records, and agreed to produce the band's debut album. "He pretty much put our vision into words," Peak adds. The C60's recorded the album live at Criteria Studios in North Miami, laying down thirteen songs in as many hours (with very few vocal overdubs) in an effort to capture the raw energy of their stage shows. Peak allows that upon hearing the recorded material, Spongebath questioned the band's decision to go for such an unproduced sound, using no effects; to soothe the label's concerns, they offered up the soundtrack to the 1994 early-Beatles biopic Backbeat as an example of what the C60's wanted to sound like. "We were able to keep the vision pure," Peak says. "We don't believe in scrutinizing over the songs. It's rock and roll; you gotta leave in some sense of urgency.
"People might hear us and think we're dumb, but we aren't musically illiterate," he continues. "We know there's a lot you can do with MIDI and samples and drum machines, and I don't have anything against that type of music -- we screwed around with all of that in Dore Soul. But at this point in time we are questioning what is different, so we just want to do something fresh and new. When was the last time you just heard bass, drums, guitar for what they really are? We were even thinking of calling the album Go Back and Walk, like your mom tells you when you're a little kid, because you have to walk before you run."
Following the late summer release of the disc, the C60's plan a national tour, for which the band has already developed a wily marketing strategy. "We open for a radio-friendly band like Tonic or the Verve Pipe, then we steal their audience," Peak schemes half-jokingly. "I think the average radio listener would like us." Then he reconsiders: "We want people to look at us and wonder where this band is coming from and possibly not even like us. If you don't like us, that's almost a good thing. You will like us, you just don't know it yet.
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