Four on the Floor

Crushed signs seven-album pact, gets abducted by aliens

"Cut! Take nine!"
The black Dodge Ram lumbers across the desert floor and stutters to a stop. Inside, the four members of Crushed are laughing so hard, tears cut trails through the dust and makeup caked on their faces. Filming for the hard-rock outfit's forthcoming CD-ROM has been under way since early morning at a remote desert location north of Phoenix. The mercury is now rising above 110 degrees and the director, flown in by the band's San Francisco-based indie label, is rapidly losing his cool.

"Look, you guys," he shouts across the sand. "Here's the scenario: You're on your way to a gig, when suddenly you enter a black hole. You get out of the truck, you see a spaceship and you run toward it. How hard is that?"

Take 10. The band scrambles back into the 4x4. The director, deliberately pacing the ground, makes little attempt to hide his irritation. To him, this is just another shoot. But to Crushed, it's a novelty. Until now, sci-fi acting was not a band requirement. That changed last July, when the Phoenix group inked a seven-album deal with 911 Entertainment. Now, singer Mark Lauer, guitarist Mike Halland, drummer Jeff Garten and bassist Mike Brown are being instructed to chase down an invisible spacecraft in the desert like Klingons in a Star Trek episode. And they're not exactly grasping the concept.

The director comes up with a gonzo idea. "Okay, pretend you've just seen a couple of three-breasted alien women aboard the spaceship," he yells, gesturing toward the top of a large rock, "then go for it!" It works like a charm. The four men of Crushed ascend the rock like a swarm of killer bees is stinging them in the ass. The director sighs in exasperated relief.

Post-video shoot, the band holes up in Garten's rehearsal pad, a cozy room tucked into the back of the drummer's north Phoenix home. Perched on top of his guitar amp, Lauer jokes that copping a ride on an alien saucer wouldn't be the strangest thing the band members have done ever since it made the quantum leap from club band to recording artists. Lately, he says, the members' lives have been a maelstrom of contract negotiations, label showcases and interstate flights.

"Growing up in American suburbs, we always thought of rock musicians as stars," says Lauer in his trademark raspy voice, punctuating his speech with tense, high-energy body language. A former member of the gothic-pop band Undertow, Lauer is examining a promo copy of the band's CD, scheduled for release early next spring. Long, auburn hair falls across his pale face, which has turned thoughtful. "We never thought of them as having to worry about things like publishing deals and management contracts--we just thought they rocked out and made a lot of money."

Crushed's self-titled, indie-label debut resounds with Lauer's dark energy and well-crafted poetry. For all the muscular attack of "Crescent Draggin' Wagon" and the stopwatch-precision tracks like "Lit," the album's real excitement has more to do with emotional depth than wrecking-ball power chords or rhythmic stunt work. In a lesser band's hands, the murky balladry of "Copper-Colored" or "Stars & Tinsel Rust" might seem contrived and self-indulgent. But Crushed strikes a balance between deep introspection and full-bore metallic bluster that brings to mind the best elements of White Zombie, Korn, and Dead Can Dance.

The foursome currently awaits the kickoff date of its first international tour, scheduled for early March. Although Crushed--which takes its moniker from a Cocteau Twins song of the same name--already has enough material to fill a second album, the members continue to write new music in the meantime.

Lauer compares the band's writing process to a car wreck. "It's just a huge mess, and we'll work on it until someone comes up with an idea to make it click. It's usually Mike [Halland]. He's a nonstop riffing machine."

The front man says he can only write songs one way: "On the floor in front of the TV with the sound off."

"Uh, naked?" asks Halland.
"Yeah, with a French tickler on," says Brown, leaning against a speaker with a smirk on his face.

"I'll bet you go over there with a cheap bottle of wine and see if Mark will put out," Halland fires back.

Lauer lets the conversation take its downward spiral, then continues in a serious tone. "I don't usually write lyrics based on my personal experiences. When I write, I think of a movie going on in my head and I pick a character, then imagine I'm that person. I really didn't have a terrible childhood or anything. There was no abuse, just good moral values, so I have to use my imagination to identify with the characters in the songs."

The singer takes a deep breath, then shoots what could be a "settle down" glance at the two Mikes. "Ours is the only album of the new year," he says, "that's not going to have a parental advisory sticker on it."

The forthcoming disc will be available in the "enhanced" multimedia format, which means listeners can drop it into a CD-ROM drive and witness an interview with the band, view a performance of the song "Serpentine Coil" taped at Boston's in Tempe, and watch Lauer and company wriggle between tweezers as aliens perform vital experiments aboard a flying saucer. The disc will supplement band gossip and video clips already available on 911's Web site, echoing the personalized approach Crushed has offered its listeners since the band formed four years ago (Crushed gave away 1,100 copies of its 1993 self-titled release and currently maintains an extensive mailing list).

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