Seven Storeys Underground

Can a band too loud for Prescott find happiness in Tempe?

It's January 29, but no one here's calling it "Super Monday."
All last week, Tempe had been under siege as blimps of every shape and sponsor circled overhead like buzzards, and beer-guzzlin' NFL enthusiasts of every shape and temperament took over the streets below. Throngs of out-of-town Dallas Cowboys fans have already ridden into the sunset, but, according to one longtime local resident on the deck at Long Wong's, "There's still more of them than us."

Not to mention enough oversize inflatable beer cans to make you feel like Gulliver in the land where giant hops and barley grow.

Tempe in the aftermath might seem the last place in the Valley you'd expect to find Lance Lammers, Jesse Everhart and Thomas Lanser playing a gig. Collectively, they're known as Seven Storey Mountain--a name inspired by the writings of Thomas Merton, the metaphysical ex-Trappist monk--and their music is hardly the good-time fare that's had frat boys grooving in pitched tents along Mill Avenue this past week. Seven Storey Mountain is serious, man--three dedicated musicians concentrating their aggressive energies like stiffened fingers inside a clenched fist. Hard to believe it, but the trio will soon squeeze its monolithic sound into the tiny confines of Long Wong's--a live room where even the wrong acoustic guitarist can elicit cries of "turn down!" from the barmaids.

Ah, but we needn't worry. The Mountain turned up the juice at that very establishment the previous Monday to tumultuous response. Reported among the Wong's patrons that night were none other than a tableful of Pittsburgh Steelers corporate brass and actor Johnny Depp. Since no invitations to play the Viper Room were forthcoming, it's a safe bet that Edward Scissorhands cut out before the band's blistering set.

At least now he can buy the recording. Seven Storey Mountain's self-titled debut EP was released February 15 on the Richmond, Virginia-based label Art Monk Construction. The CD hype sheet promises that a national U.S. tour and a full-length CD are supposed to follow this spring.

It's a week later at Wong's now, and no celebs are in sight, which is unfortunate. Just as the members of Seven Storey Mountain seat themselves in the dining area and get ready to tear into their pre-gig meal, the band's contribution to the recent Arizona music compilation Exile on Cameron Harper Street blares from the corner speakers.

While Jesse (bass) and Thomas (drums) bop without a hint of self-consciousness to the in-your-face urgency of "Your Lips," Lance (guitar/vocals) prefers to ignore his recorded performance and stares intently at his food. "Hearing myself on tape tends to make me a little nervous," he admits.

It's hard to reconcile that the voice raging "don't look back to find your anger" over Wong's sound system belongs to the same mild-mannered young man who is politely asking the waitress for a side of fries. It's this dichotomy between expectations and execution that makes Seven Storey Mountain so riveting. That and the diversity of the band members. "Lance has got that collegiate, almost yuppie look," Jesse asseses, "whereas I look more like a criminal."

While Jesse doesn't have a record, Lance was a collegian and, several months ago, opted out of the group to pursue his studies in business and graphics full-time, until the lure of rock proved his scholastic undoing. Soon he returned, and the three were Seven once more.

Jesse, on the other hand, has stuck with the band. His faith was reinforced five years ago when he attended a friend's 18th-birthday party and saw Green Day play in his pal's living room. "I knew they would be huge just hearing that guy's voice."

While both Lance and Thomas still have graphic design as Plan B, Jesse has only music and his posterior to fall back on. "And delivering pizza," he volunteers, referring to his day job. "There's a guy working with me in his late 60s," he grins. "Probably been deliverin' pizza since before mozzarella was invented."

Ironically, hearing "Your Lips" between mouthfuls of veggie burgers opens a floodgate of memories for the guys. "This was the first song we wrote with Thomas when he joined up a year ago," Jesse remembers. "When we were recording this very track, Lance had already split, and I became the vocalist. We were halfway done when we decided we wanted Lance back in the band."

Thomas picks up the tale. "So we scrapped everything except for my drum tracks." In the interim, Jesse switched from second guitar to bass, developing a style that involves a lot of chording and interweaving with Lance's six-string lines. The harmonics he creates against the guitarist's barrage of blown speaker distortion is Seven Storey Mountain's chief secret weapon.

"I don't do that thwacka-thwacka, string-slappin' stuff most bass players do," he reveals. "I don't know how to. And I don't want to learn it, either."

Lance and Jesse are no strangers to Arizona's ever-changing underground music scene. The two have played together in various bands on and off for six years, most notably in a hard-core ensemble called Stand to Reason. They also did time as Driver, a more groove-oriented rock band that morphed into the current unit.

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