Big Deal

The Format burst from nascent Valley obscurity to major-label glory. Here's how.

The EP closes with "Even Better Yet," featuring a deliberately distorted vocal treatment. The song was "written literally in five minutes waiting to get into the studio," according to Ruess. "Bob was late. We just started playing it for Bob, and he was like Oh, cool, we've got to record that.' So we were rehearsing it, and we were like, Damn, it sounds really good through the PA,' so we miked it through the PA. So it's a naturally shitty sound." While the other tracks on EPare solid in their own right, the Format could have recorded dial tones after "The First Single" and still attracted attention. An account manager at local rock station Edge 103.9 played the song for program director Nancy Stevens, who enjoyed it enough to ask nighttime DJ Andy Hawk to test it out on his "Local Frequency" nightly slot in late April.

"I play one local song every night at midnight, and I ask people whether they like it or not," Hawk explains. "I'm very used to all the bands' friends calling and saying, That's the next greatest thing,' but I've been doing this long enough that I can tell what is real and what is not real. And their response was just overwhelmingly strong." According to the jockey, the phones rang on end for the entire hour, something that doesn't happen regularly.

After the initial test, the Edge played the song in the middle of a weekday. The phones lit up again. The response was so positive that the station threw "The First Single" into daily rotation in June and continues to play the track up to three times a day, every day. The station believed in the Format enough to have it open the main stage at its annual Edgefest on September 28.

Around the same time, the Format began ranking high on Zia Records' in-store sales charts, both as a local and national act. The combination of the band's success at Zia's, especially at the Tempe location, steady radio play on the Edge and continued coverage from thescout.net drew the majors.

Steven Tramposch, Elektra's director of A&R, explains: "Based on the short time and our enthusiasm for the act, we sent John Kirkpatrick [West Coast VP of A&R] out to Phoenix. He came back with rave reviews, and we immediately set up a showcase in Los Angeles for the entire senior executive staff, including the CEO of Elektra."

Tramposch says Elektra has an intricate system for sussing out what is actually garnering an honest response, not idle hype.

"From the very beginning, I've been excited about the music on the EP as a whole. This type of success just reaffirmed my belief in the band's talent," he says. "It represented an undeniably authentic audience reaction to the music, whereas the combination of an astonishing live performance, word of mouth and radio airplay drove people into stores to buy the record."

While this may sound like a paid advertisement, Tramposch seems genuinely excited about the Arizona act. Everything but the ink is dry for the Format. The band hopes to begin recording a full-length album in January and is perusing a producer list supplied by the label.

"It's so weird," says Ruess about the process. "When you've only played four shows, it's crazy stuff. We got thrown into the fire pretty fast."

Means continues the thought. "Yeah," he says. "Everything has happened so fast, I don't think it's really caught up with us yet. It was extremely fast."

You're right about that, fellas. Now go out there and kick ass; we'll all be watching.

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