Blind Ambition

Before Braille is after success, but will it endure major stumbling blocks on its way to indie credibility?

This ain't the way your brother's indie band made its way. Don't indie bands play basement parties and warehouse blowouts until all hours, move a lot of merch to the under-21 crowd and become famous on their own terms?

Tonight, Dave Jensen, lead singer of Before Braille, is feeling less like an indie and more like a pendant, an ornament just hanging with all the other looming fixtures. His band is about to hawk its wares for the good folks at Martini Ranch in Scottsdale. On a normal Wednesday night, you'd be here chugging Miller Genuine Draft to cover bands whose modern rock repertoire dates to the time when A Flock of Seagulls stopped needing hair gel and goes no further. This Wednesday, though, the Ranch is hosting a radio-sponsored, local-music event that Before Braille has agreed to show up for.

"Twenty Four Minus Eighteen," the first single from Before Braille's first full-length CD, The Rumor, has been getting heavy airplay on KZON-FM 101.5. As part of the mutual back scrubbing, the band did an acoustic appearance on jock Tracy Lea's drive-time show this afternoon and is serving as tonight's main course. The place is packed, with nary a minor in sight. In fact, the lip of the stage seems almost too populated with people on the other side of 25; grown adults pound their fists in the air and wait for free tee shirts, bumper stickers and giveaway CDs to be tossed their way.

In the soon-to-be-fast lane: Mesa-based indie band  Before Braille.
Kevin Scanlon
In the soon-to-be-fast lane: Mesa-based indie band Before Braille.

"I'm personally not very comfortable playing places like this because it alienates the under-21 crowd who normally go to our shows," Jensen admits. "The only reason we're doing it is the Zone is really getting behind the record and having us on the radio."

Such appearances are all par for the course when it comes to promoting the band's first album. Since signing with a local label based in Cave Creek called Aezra Records, a band that once embraced a wholly DIY ethic has been doing several things somebody else's way.

All this would be off-putting if the album wasn't fantastic. But it is, a brilliant weave of emo harmonies over crunching, almost progressive rock soundscapes. CMJ New Music Report, an early champion of the group, has already given The Rumor raves, placing the band in the company of Jimmy Eat World and Fugazi. The promotional push is kind of hard for Jensen to swallow; as the head of his own local record label, Sunset Alliance, he's accustomed to doing things hisway.

"I'm probably the wrong person to talk to because I'm the most outspoken one in the group," he says, laughing. "Well, actually that probably makes me the right person to talk to." Aezra Records is wary of any negative publicity, Jensen says, so he minds his P's and Q's at the outset, all the while assuring me that we're getting the most positive side of the story he can tell.

Before joining forces with Aezra earlier this year, the Mesa-based group had been playing in the local scene for the better part of three years, hovering somewhere between "Mesa Rock" and "480 area-core," depending on whose hyperbole you prefer. Jensen began writing songs with guitarist Hans Ringger, and the group eventually fleshed out to include drummer Kelly Reed and bassist Brandon Smith. (Guitarist Reggie Patel signed on after recording of the new album was completed.) Almost immediately, Before Braille began releasing material on various-artist compilations. The first one, Not One Red Light: A Modified Document, was released in February 2001 as a joint project between Scott Tennett's Argonaut label and Jensen's Sunset Alliance. Unlike the train-wreck sensibility of most local Phoenix comps, this one was held together not only by the high quality of the bands present, but by the fact that most of them sprang from the downtown scene at Modified, perhaps one of the few all-ages-friendly venues in Phoenix.

Then came a triple split CD with Fivespeed and Andherson, plus an appearance on the prestigious Deep Elm's Emo Diaries series in March of this year. Around the same time, a write-up in the East Valley Tribune named Before Braille one of the 10 best bands in the Valley. This caught the attention of Eric Cheroske, whose label was on the lookout for a band that could be its answer to Jimmy Eat World.

"They contacted us and wanted to hear a demo, and we sent them the triple split," recalls Jensen. "They saw a couple of shows. Then we recorded seven songs that were going to go into the new full-length we were about to do. And they really liked those songs, and said, If you can give us 10 more songs' (and they gave us 10 days to do so), then we'll front you some money to pay for studio time.' We recorded 10 songs in 10 days, all live except for vocals."

In its haste to get the label the new material, Before Braille didn't even add the embellishments they'd envisioned for the songs, such as piano parts or harmonies. Jensen even sang scratch vocals with dummy lyrics in some places. "They fell in love with those songs, and, about a month later, we had a contract in front of us which we worked on for three or four weeks," says Jensen. "We set up some studio time with Bob Hoag at Flying Blanket Studios, but it wound up taking longer than we thought, about a month and a half, rerecording those songs and adding two new ones that weren't part of the demo.

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