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Jensen, singer and guitarist for Before Braille, was so enamored of the driving but melodic emo-punk attack of Five Speed that when he helped put together last year's impressive local CD compilation Not One Light Red (with former Modified manager Scott Tennant), rather than releasing it on a label of his own, he put it out on Five Speed's imprint, Sunset Alliance. It was all part of his plan to set up a connection with the group whose music he admired so much. What Jensen didn't plan was that in 2001 he'd actually end up taking over Sunset Alliance himself.
"The guy who actually owned Sunset Alliance at that time was planning to let the label die," Jensen says. "He did a number of good things, but he'd extended every resource he had, and so the label had become dormant. So after some agreements and contract stuff, he agreed to let me take it over.
"In the beginning, my main incentive was working with Five Speed, but I found out later that it was kind of a case of saving the label, and there were other bands on the label that I liked, too, like Redfield and Stereotyperider, so it turned out to be a lot better in the long run to be able to work with all the other bands as well."
As Five Speed's most ardent fan, as well as its label rep, Jensen has reason to be feeling pretty festive these days, considering that the local quintet is on the verge of releasing its debut full-length CD, Trade In Your Halo, on his Sunset Alliance label. It's a long-awaited effort, coming more than four years after the band's December 1997 formation, with a powerhouse six-song EP and triple-split album only raising the stakes, and expectations.
The new 11-track collection -- recorded over a period of five months with producer/engineer Larry Elyea at Mind's Eye Digital -- confirms Five Speed's place in the first rank of contemporary punk-based bands, heavier and harder than such local underground rock standard-bearers as Jimmy Eat World and Reubens Accomplice, but with a similar appreciation for finely wrought songcraft. At the peak of his screaming intensity, as on the vitriolic "Field Guide to the Night's Sky," lead singer Jared Woosley approaches the angst level of the current spate of I-hate-my-parents rage rockers dominating the alt-rock airwaves, but without leaving the whiny aftertaste of such millionaire crybabies. The group's uncommon flair for rich vocal harmonies, best exhibited on the choruses of the gut-wrenching "Quitter," is its strongest musical debt to the Jimmy Eat World template of mixing the pretty with the harsh.
The rhythm section of drummer Chad Martin and bassist Rob Anderson handles the dramatic metric shifts, while guitarists Jesse Lacross and Brad Cole show a command of dynamics that escapes many young bands rooted in the louder-faster-more tradition.
Martin, the band's newest member (he joined a little more than a year ago), says the band's musical chemistry is bolstered by the compatible tastes of its members.
"There are a lot of common bands between us," Martin says. "Jesse, he's the biggest music snob in the band. He doesn't like much. But Brad and I, actually all of us, come from the punk rock side of things. Old hard-core and punk stuff tends to be what I'm into. I'm not into as much new stuff, mainly because I don't buy very many records."
For his part, Jensen has always been an unorthodox mix of exhibitionistic performing flea and aspiring record-biz entrepreneur. Even before forming his current band, he was a local celebrity of sorts as the dancer for campy hard-rock titans Jesus Chrysler Supercar. Jensen, dubbed "the sixth Chrysler" in these very pages, made a habit of turning up at high-profile Jesus Chrysler shows in a yellow NASCAR jumpsuit and flailing his body around with a manic sense of abandon that was alternately frightening and hilarious. At Jesus Chrysler's volcanic 1999 SXSW showcase, he added a red foam-rubber hat to the ensemble (an apparent nod to the Texas crowd that singer Mitch Steele branded "hillbillies" from the stage) and basically stole the show.
Jensen says he inadvertently fell into his role as Jesus Chrysler's designated dancing boy.
"I just followed them around, 'cause I enjoyed their shows so much, and I'd start dancing, just for fun," he says. "The show before SXSW, they'd asked me to go on tour with them, to be their roadie, and they got me that outfit and helmet. And I was just there to sell merch and stuff, to draw attention. But I got kinda crazy with it, I guess, and enjoyed myself so much that I started jumping around and I caused sort of a scene. So they said, 'You should try that at SXSW.' So every once in a while, I'd do that at their bigger shows."
His willingness to create a spectacle is matched by a more reflective side, a conscientious drive to document a local music scene that he believes is underappreciated.
"I've always been interested in the local scene, so I always wanted to have a label to be a part of it, or to help out," he says. "And then I had a band of my own, so it became a way to release music with my band. And all these bands are doing so well, it's something I really want to do on a full-time basis, just have a record label and take it as far as it can go."
Jensen's next big plan for Sunset Alliance is to put together a compilation that will merge a handful of his favorite local artists (Reubens Accomplice, Fine China, Seven Storey, etc.) with approximately 10 of his favorite national -- and international -- indie bands (such as the Omaha, Nebraska, group Cursive, and the Swedish band Fireside). It's part of his strategy to expand the reach of the local scene, to allow local bands to be heard by people who would never know about them otherwise.
"All these bands are touring all over the country, and in some cases they're going to Europe," he says. "And a compilation like this will be a way of getting local bands into households around the world."