Name Game

They're bad, they're nationwide, but this locally obscure band won't be Vitamin much longer

Vitamin needs a new name.
The Tempe trio is in L.A., finishing the mixing for its debut album, and the members are not yet sure what moniker will appear on that album's spine. They gave themselves a deadline of last Wednesday (August 27) to decide, but blew it off for the time being.

Why the need for a name change? Think of it as a pre-emptive strike against future litigators.

"There was a band in Germany that had the name in the '80s, but they no longer exist and we can't get ahold of anyone with that band," says Tim Anthonise, singer/guitarist for Vitamin. "Not to mention the fact that there's probably a million bands across the United States that are called Vitamin, or Vitamin L, or Vitamin D. If you do actually go out and sell some records, you kind of open yourself up to trademark infringement."

Anthonise and his mates are a bit disappointed about the name change, allowing that they've grown accustomed to Vitamin. But this minor complication has been a lonely dark cloud in a year of brilliant silver linings.

In fact, they've achieved so much so fast that few local-music fans had time to learn the name they'll soon need to unlearn. These guys stand in an unusual--but highly appealing--position: poised to break nationally before they've even broken locally. Think of them as the envy of every bar band on the planet.

It's not that they haven't paid any dues, though. Anthonise only recently felt empowered enough to quit his job of nine years, selling beads at Beads Galore in Tempe. It's just that they invested tons of karma in previous bands and it's suddenly come rushing back, with interest.

Vitamin's roots are in the Tempe band Dish, which later became Verona. That band featured both Anthonise and drummer Dan Lancelot, but neither felt satisfied with their musical direction.

"Basically, I was singing maybe one song, but I was writing most of the material," Anthonise says. "I got kind of fed up with how that was going stylistically. We were looking for a new bass player at the time, and we came across Nick Scropos, and he was playing in a band called Sandbox Supermodels.

"He jammed with Verona for about three weeks, and we just decided to do our own thing. So we decided to be a three-piece, play our own things, not think about it too much, and not second-guess anything and just have fun."

After only a handful of gigs, local studio owner Mike Butler offered them free recording time. This resulted in a powerhouse six-song demo teeming with melodic invention and rhythmic propulsion. Even in this raw demo form, they sound like a radio-ready amalgam of Tempe's biggest rock triumphs. At his most desperate, Anthonise can summon the primal-scream lung power of a Kurt Cobain, and at his smoothest he recalls Gin Blossoms' front man Robin Wilson.

Soon after they completed the demo, local booking agent Charlie Levy sent the tape to a friend in Los Angeles, seeking a second opinion on whether he should manage the band. His friend had just begun working at the embryonic record label Kneeling Elephant, distributed by RCA. The Vitamin tape became a favorite around the office, and soon the band was being courted.

A Kneeling Elephant rep flew over to see the band open for Chronic Future and Matthew Sweet at an outdoor bash near the Arizona State University campus. Immediately, both sides knew they could work together.

"We basically wanted to do a deal with totally normal people that you could talk to, no fast-talkers," Anthonise says. "That's basically how we've approached anyone in the music business. If they were a fast-talker, we turned around and walked away.

"Dish was approached by Judas Priest's manager, and there was a producer that flew out from Los Angeles to work our songs. It was really the opposite of anything I'd want to be a part of. They wanted people to change every single song, to dress a certain way, everybody gets wild haircuts and sunglasses and that whole type of thing. I kind of got burned out on that experience."

Vitamin has spent the last two months laying down tracks at Grand Master Recorders with producer Brad Cook, fresh off successes with Foo Fighters and Counting Crows. Anthonise describes the studio as a "giant wooden garage," replete with kitschy '70s decor and equipped with the same board used to mix "Stairway to Heaven." Although the album is almost ready for mastering, it's not scheduled for release until February, so as not to compete with holiday reissues and big-name releases. Whatever happens, Anthonise refuses to get too worked up about it.

"In the other bands we were in, everything was taken so damn seriously," he says. "Like fliering. In this band, there was no fliering or anything. And everything just kind of rolled our way for some reason. I think a lot of it's chemistry. Once we got the three right people together, everything worked a lot better."

In the mix: Local DJs and remix wunderkinds Markus Schulz and C.L. McSpadden are currently celebrating their first domestic chart-topper. Last week, their remix of the Poe track "Hello" hit No. 1 on Billboard's Club Chart, based on reports from dance clubs around the country.

"We felt that it was good, but we had no idea it'd do this well," Schulz says. He and McSpadden currently are working on the Backstreet Boys' "As Long As You Love Me," as well as an original project called Vertigo Deluxe. The Vertigo Deluxe album--which Schulz says will be "perfect for London radio"--will be released early next year by the European label Positiva. But you should be able to find it domestically this fall on Schulz and McSpadden's Plastik Records.

Rockin' with Rodney: The Beat Angels scored a coup last week when their song "Snot" made the Top 10 most-requested list on Rodney Bingenheimer's KROQ radio show in Los Angeles. The legendary Bingenheimer, a walking piece of West Coast rock history, hosts a Sunday-night show called "Rodney on the ROQ." The Beat Angels' success on the show offers further proof of their burgeoning popularity in the land of la-la.

--Gilbert Garcia

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