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Since the advent of overdubbing, not too many recording sessions can rate on the same excitement level as a presidential assassination, although perhaps that one instance in which Jerry Lee Lewis accidentally shot his bassist in the foot might qualify. You've got historic summits in the recording studio like the "Million Dollar Quartet" sessions, when Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee and Carl Perkins jammed for Sam Phillips' tape machine. But how exciting could that have been if Johnny Cash slipped out early to do some shopping?
So it's no insult to Mesa's Authority Zero to say that watching them stitch together album number two, set for release sometime in spring 2004, is not a thrill a minute. It's only day four of the process, but with basic drum tracks in the can and vocals still a few days away, singer Jason DeVore and drummer Jim Wilcox are happily doing other things and leaving the hurry-up-and-wait game to guitarist Bill Marcks and bassist Jeremy Wood. The band is holed up in the impressive SJS Studios in Scottsdale, situated in the home of well-known radio programmer, consultant and promoter Steve Smith. As Wood lays down his blistering bass track for a new song called "Taking On the World," the world outside is happily taking on dangling Christmas lights over every tree and dribbling basketballs on a smooth driveway down the street. Noise ordinances for such disturbances and the residential location, coupled with the lack of soundproofing, have necessitated a normal, human workaday schedule. No bass or drums after 8 p.m. or the neighborhood bottom-end watch will complain. And no buzz-saw guitars after 10 p.m. The band already has one track in the can where a guitar track stops midway because a neighbor couldn't hear some telltale mumbling on The West Wing.
"I've been here seven hours," says Marcks, bearing up well under the strain. "It's definitely a lot easier to get started earlier in the day."
The only decision he's had to make in the last hour is what takeout dinner to order from Macayo's. Luckily, Miguel, who produced and engineered records by Sublime a decade ago, has just stepped out of the recording booth to offer his professional advice.
"Pescado taco terrifico, dreamed up after a weekend in San Diego," says Miguel (he's so cool, he doesn't need to use a last name professionally), reading the florid description from the menu. "Hey, that sounds like your album."
Miguel is on hand to produce four cuts on the album, while Ryan Green (Lagwagon, No Use for a Name, Swingin' Utters) is tackling the rest.
When last we visited with Authority Zero guitarist Marcks, he and DeVore were sporting Cheshire cat grins over the band's upcoming slot on the Punk-O-Rama tour with Guttermouth, as well as the September 2002 release of their first album, A Passage in Time, on Lava Records, the Warner-distributed label that brought you Kid Rock, A Simple Plan, Matchbox Twenty and Unwritten Law. While Marcks' grin is still in place, it's tempered with reality, much like the guy who lands his dream job and then realizes just how much work is actually involved. There's the difficult business of getting your record added to coveted playlists. There's also the fine art of selling albums by word of mouth; whose word and whose mouth is often anybody's guess. And then add to that the knowledge of how fallible your touring vehicle can be under the intense pressure of a Warped Tour itinerary. Marcks knows that what he wants to happen for Authority Zero is obtainable -- but that the belief that it might happen overnight is long gone.
All told, A Passage in Time sold an impressive 80,000 copies domestically and a mystifying 60,000 copies in Japan, where the band has never set foot.
"It's pretty crazy because they're real fanatics up there," Marcks says. "I know WEA in Japan really likes us. We ran into one of their reps in Florida. I don't know how much actual airplay we get. We didn't get to tour out there, but just judging by a fan's reaction who saw us in San Francisco -- she was a Japanese girl who was tripping because she saw a booth of our stuff -- we're well known."
Marcks is able to keep tabs on what's going on with the band in Japan through correspondence with a fan there who speaks Portuguese.
"She calls me once in a while to keep my conversational skills up, which suck," he says. "The oddest thing was that she was reading an article in Japanese characters that she was translating in Portuguese. And I had to translate to the guys from Portuguese to English what the article was saying about us. It's the same thing that articles say here. The band was established in 1993 in the garages of Mesa.' It's just weird hearing it in Portuguese from a girl that's 16 hours away. Very strange."