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"We thrive in an underground environment," says Jesse. "On our upcoming tour, we'll probably be playing a lot of basement shows all across the country. The punk scene here in Tempe is really mainstream and cliquish. That's why it's taken us so long to start playing here. Right now the skapunk thing is really fashionable. A couple of years ago, hard-core, Fugazi-style music was popular, and a few years before that, bands like Social Distortion. It's cyclical. And we still don't really fit in with this punk scene. Anytime we go somewhere else, things are more diverse and all the different scenes embrace each other."
This year, Seven Storey will also have to contend with the growing number of reunited, old-timer punk units hitting the road to cash in on the punk resurgence. Former bashers of such careerist philosophy, the Sex Pistols are now hotly rumored to be hooking up with original bassist Glen Matlock and taking their safety-pin ensembles out of storage.
"It's ridiculous," snarls Thomas, who likens the trend to "U2 breaking up and then reuniting just to do songs from the Boy album. Youth Brigade just got back together out of nowhere. Those guys are really old now."
Despite this distaste for lingering louts in leather jackets, Jesse doesn't care to speculate on the life span of his own band. "We want to be doing this for a long while. There's a certain 'grassroots' route we want to take. Everybody knows it takes three albums to really break a band. Warner Bros. knew they had the foundation with Green Day and put every ounce of promotional muscle behind them [on Dookie]. And it sold, what, ten million copies?"
"We don't want to make any stupid choices early on," adds a determined Lance.
One of Seven Storey Mountain's more notable, if less than inspired, moves so far was playing the Lizard Lounge, a country and blues bar in Prescott. There by invitation of friends in the local outfit the Sport Model, Seven Storey didn't even get to complete its opening set. "The owner never asked us directly to turn down," Lance explains. "He asked other people to convey the message to us, and they never did. So finally he came up to us about six songs into the set and said, 'I can't let you boys play anymore.'"
But Lance waxes philosophical. "Every new place we play, I assume it's going to end in a fistfight. So if it turns out to be anything better than that, I'm happy."
The band has played only one previous gig here, but Long Wong's already seems like a familiar Seven Storey hangout. As the musicians jack in, several patrons yell encouragement. "Turn up 'til the fuckers cut the power off," howls one gent.
For sheer sonic impact, you can't beat the tightness of a three-piece band that knows what it's doing, and Seven Storey blasts through its set. Not even the sight of Thomas' mother taking Instamatic pictures of the band can blunt the anger spewing forth from Lance's monitors.
Lance, who writes lyrics for the band, characterizes his inspiration as "personal politics. I couldn't get into writing fun songs about girls and cars and beer. That would leave me unfulfilled."
Pressing further, I put it to the others. What's the worst possible thing that could've happened to a nice guy like Lance to inspire such rage?
Answers Jesse: "He turned on the TV."
"We're all pretty disillusioned," says Thomas. "There's a certain urgency we try to get across, both musically and lyrically. Kind of a last call to 'wake up and smell the coffee.'"
I've had my glass against Seven Storey's wall of noise for the better part of two months now, and I still haven't been able to extract a specific political or personal agenda from lyrics like "the last time cancels everything" and "strip the skin right off the bone." But like overhearing neighbors throwing furniture at one another, the meanings and reasons behind the ruckus of Seven Storey Mountain are less important than the feeling that all is not right with the world--not even on your own street.
Maybe Lance thinks he prostituted himself for a student loan. Maybe Jesse is pissed off at the jocks who picked on him when he was a punk teen. Maybe Thomas wishes his mom brought the camera with the wide-angle lens. It hardly matters. The rage in Long Wong's tonight is nearly impenetrable, and no one here seems to doubt its authenticity.
The buzz that Seven Storey Mountain is creating around town is also quite real, though not even the guys in the band know where it's coming from. The Art Monk label is committed to "a full-scale pimp to college radio," but locally the band has already racked up considerable alternative-radio play in Phoenix on the strength of its demos.
"We were being played regularly on the Q before it went off the air," states Jesse. "A friend of mine got picked up for possession of marijuana and he said he heard us on an AM radio in the Towers jail."