9 Volt Leads the Charge

Tempe power trio proves that it really is a fine line between clever and stupid

"I'd started rehearsing with [bassist] Jeff Criswell and wanted to do my own thing. Jeff got kicked out of Verona the month before. It was more of a personality conflict that [drummer] Dan Lancelot and Jeff were having. So Jeff wasn't doing anything. He was happy as hell to come over and play. Let's kick ass."

While there may have been some animosity at the time of the split, it's long since subsided, and both bands remain good friends. Collins does recall some good-natured bitchiness after Gloritone got its deal a few months before 9 Volt did. Both shared the old Verona rehearsal space for several months until "they literally kicked us out of the room. All of a sudden, they needed to kick us out because they needed to rehearse every night of the week," he says, laughing at the haughty memory.

To both bands' credit, each made a clean break, material-wise. "Gloritone started from ground zero and just threw everything away," states Mitchell. "We did too. 'Closer' was the only song I wrote in Verona which we still do."

Collins came into the picture itching to play in a kickass rock band after spending years toiling in funk and fusion outfits like Housequake and Deadly Arnaz, which later became Ethel before settling on the lactose-intolerant Ice Cream Headache. Collins reminds us that he also got kicked out of Satellite, a favorite band among the college kids. "I started that band with Stephen Ashbrook and brought in his whole first-lineup band. His next rhythm section came as a package deal, and it just clicked for them."

After one cursory look through a kitchen cupboard for a name, Mitchell, Collins and Criswell formed Sauce, playing out in Valley clubs for a year and a half. "We didn't draw that much," Collins admits. "We've never been a great promotional band. Jeff was a family man at home, and we all had full-time jobs. Nobody really wanted to do flyers. We did some demos which we duped and gave out at shows."

Sauce had songs getting regular airplay on The Edge ever since the group had something recorded. "We had tons of calls when we went on Gregg Paul's show," Mitchell adds. "Tons of chicks called in, saying 'send us tapes, send us that.' They were all underage, so that didn't help attendance."

"Nobody was really interested in Sauce," says Collins with a shrug. "It seemed like everybody at the shows was really into us, but there never was that many people. All our friends have their own lives going. Five or 10 years ago, we had friends you could count on to yell woo-hoo. But now everyone's married with kids and shit, going, 'I gotta work at 8:30 in the morning.'"

Luckily some working stiffs at NMG/Pavement Records approached them after a show. They zeroed in on "Stupid" and signed the band to its alternative label, Crash Records, which had a distribution deal with Private I Records, which has the deal with Mercury Records. Crash then sent the trio to Illinois to record with celebrated AOR producer Gary Loizzo, who'd worked with such multiplatinum acts as Styx and REO Speedwagon but was itching to get his hands dirty in the murky waters of post-grunge rock.

"We wanted something very raw," says Mitchell. "I didn't do a lot of overdubs. We captured the band live. It's actually a little shinier than what we sound like live. Raw energy like an Everclear, Foo Fighters sort of sound. Not a super-spendy album, which is what we got."

Once the album was mastered, bassist Jeff Criswell decided to quit. "He kind of freaked out because he's got two kids and he was afraid if he went out on the road he wasn't going to make enough money to support them. That's an understandable concern."

So was replacing Criswell. The search proved a laborious one, which explains why the album art gives the impression that 9 Volt is some kind of Hall and Oates pop duo--they literally couldn't find a bassist right up to the time the art was being printed. "We were fucked for pictures. We used the shots we did because Jeff is in the background and you can hardly see him. They put the song titles over him on the live shot. It's a shitty picture."

Also hindering the production of the album was the name-change thing. "That set us literally two months behind," says Mitchell. "Crash said we need a name by Monday. As soon as we decided on a name, I had some ideas for a logo and I had an artist who did our demo logo. I put major pressure on him, and this poor guy went three days without sleep and came through."

9 Volt wasn't even on the 10 pages of names the band rifled through.
"Phlegmgarden and Pokeweed were two that were up for consideration," Mitchell snickers. "Crash Records liked that Pokeweed since it's got the sex and the drugs in it." Collins' wife came up with Battery, but when that seemed to suggest assault and battery, she chimed in with 9 Volt.

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