Good Year for Bad Days

Their record company just dumped them; Fiesta Bowl sponsors think they're dips; but Tempe still love its Refreshments

"The first record I put on when I was writing this was the Cars--the first song is 'My Best Friend's Girl.'"

He walks some bar chords up the neck of his guitar, the same he just played in his own song, but naked and alone, they sound like "My Best Friend's Girl."

He noodles a few rhythms, trying to get the Cars out of his head.
They run through the new song again, easily this time. Clyne titles it "Easy."

"Pure pop," he says.
Then he turns his humor back on himself, free-associating to a Metallica tee shirt that proclaims "Metal up your ass."

"They should have a popsicle coming out of a toilet that says, 'Pop up your ass,'" he quips.

Pop has been the Refreshments' stock in trade, the music for which it is both praised and criticized. The band got its start playing college town bars, where job one is to sell beer and job two is to get the students onto the dance floor--or you don't come back.

Clyne had struggled with a cowpunk band called the Mortals, and several of the songs that later appeared on Fizzy Fuzzy he sang in that earlier three-piece band.

"They were a little tamer, a little greener," he says. "The tempos were a little faster."

Others have said that the tempos were so fast that it was a wonder Clyne could get his mouth around the lyrics.

When the Mortals broke up, Clyne and the drummer, Dustin Denham, linked up with Buddy Edwards, and spent a summer writing songs and trying to fashion a sound. They wanted a lead instrument, anything but a guitar--a violin, perhaps, or an accordion like Camper Van Beethoven, a band they admired. They held auditions, but the musicians they talked to mostly wanted to know how much money they got per gig.

Doug Hopkins had already been booted out of the Gin Blossoms and had left the Chimeras (which would morph into the Pistoleros), and Clyne asked him to sit in with his new band. Hopkins missed the date and then told Clyne that he had shoved his guitar through the roof of Edcel's Attic, a Tempe club. Clyne took that as a bad sign.

Shortly afterward, Hopkins took his own life.
Brian Blush, meanwhile, had been playing with his own band, August Red.
When Hopkins died, Blush quit music altogether and holed up in his parents' condo in Palm Springs.

"The one guy who was the world to me and that represented rock 'n' roll to me was out of the game," Blush remembers. "So I said, 'Fuck it, I quit.'"

A mutual friend of Blush and Clyne suggested that they get together. Clyne had his prejudices about Blush's earlier band.

"It was the jealousy of my youth," Clyne says, "because they had all the chicks, they had all the gigs. They were really popular and we were the geeks."

Blush had a better opinion of Clyne; on his nights off, he would go listen to the Mortals.

"I really became a fan of Roger because not only did he have clever and witty lyrics, but he was fun to watch," Blush says. "It wasn't a power stomp. In fact, it was a pretty sloppy, kind of drunken band, but that appealed to me."

He agreed to audition. The others eyed him suspiciously as he plugged into his big amp, and then they started to play.

"We launched into our first song," Clyne says. "It was immediately imperative that he be our lead guitar player."

Edwards agrees.
"There was such a spark that it freaked us out," he says. "We played the first note and all of us got the same smirk on our face."

The Refreshments played their first gig on January 29, 1993, at Long Wong's in Tempe, hard-pressed to come up with 10 songs. They played regularly at the Yucca Tap Room; the wives and girlfriends would go along and dance, and soon the word got out that there were chicks at Refreshments shows.

Late in 1994, the band members played in a local band contest sponsored by Ticketmaster, and won, earning them a spot in a regional competition in Seattle which they also won. Later at the finals in Los Angeles, they came in first out of 7,800 bands, and won $10,000 worth of recording time to make a demo tape.

They didn't need it. They'd already recorded an independent-label CD, Wheelie, which came out that December and did well in the Phoenix area. It got passed on to the majors.

In March 1995, the Refreshments were invited to play at the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas, a showcase for regional bands, where they were sought out by Peter Lubin of Mercury Records.

Lubin had received a copy of the indie CD from an Austin-based scout.
"The first time I put on Wheelie, I actually excused myself and went to the bathroom," Lubin says. "But Wheelie had a funny way of returning to the disc player over and over, and when you do A&R and have so much to listen to, it's unusual for a disc to keep reappearing in the tray. After a while, I made a mental note that if I ever got the chance, I'd look into the Refreshments."

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