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"I want to break into 'Tiny Dancer' right in the middle of one of our songs and just weird everybody out," Andrew Pringle, pianist and vocalist for the Rescue Plan, tells me after one of the band's practices.
Elton John seems a bit incongruous an influence for the five-piece screamo outfit, at least until you've heard the East Valley band bust out onstage. Sure enough, when I'm riding in Pringle's car later that evening, "Tiny Dancer" is playing on his stereo. It's not that surprising, though. The Rescue Plan's genre-bending philosophy, which mixes jazzy piano with metallic riffage and Pringle's crooning with screamo breakdowns, has made it one of the most compelling bands around in its brief six-month existence.
Except for Pringle, who's 23 years old, the other four members of the Rescue Plan -- guitarists Joe Paulsen and Mike Campa, bass player Nick Muñoz, and drummer Shaun Embree -- are only 18. Embree's dad Mike accompanies the boys to their practice at Neckbeard's Soda Bar, rolling his eyes at their post-pubescent antics but watching appreciatively while they rock out. "Can you imagine where these guys can go in the next few years if they stick with it?" he asks me.
Who knows? With such a unique sound, they could have a good run; what really matters is that the Rescue Plan is killing shit right now for your listening pleasure. While the band runs through its first song, "The Alcoholic Diaries of Mr. Jonah Winchester," it reminds me of early At the Drive-In, with staccato riffs and arpeggios complementing Pringle's minimalist electric piano notes. Pringle's vocals alternate from Afghan Whig-ish soul to a blood-curdling scream. It's all stuff that the kids can and should be reveling to -- party music for the screamo set.
The Rescue Plan came together from the ashes of three different post-hardcore bands -- Baileys Window, The Crimson Romance, and Hermosa Drive -- around July of last year. It was fortuitous timing; they were a foursome looking for a vocalist before they found Pringle and his electric piano on MySpace.com. Paulsen tells me after practice, "I searched all of Arizona and other states around here [on MySpace], thinking that if we found somebody we'd fly them in and have them live with us. I found [Pringle, who previously sang for Hermosa Drive]. He actually hated us the first few days -- the music -- but later we figured out it wasn't really the music, it was a member. But [the other member] got fed up and quit."
They replaced the former guitar player with Campa, who proved to be the missing element. After that, they suddenly clicked. "When we first started the band, none of us ever hung out together as friends," Muñoz tells me. "Since Mike joined the band, I hang out with at least one of my band members every night."
"We all hang out and get wasted," Pringle adds. The camaraderie among the boys is obvious when I meet up with them, all silliness and talking about girls -- "Just tell her to touch your wiener, man" is the advice I hear one dole out to another.
Not every band leads to such close friendships, but the rest of the Rescue Plan's story is also a lesson in success. When Embree was in the Crimson Romance, he had gotten to be friends with Jake Slider, the co-owner of Neckbeard's. Once the Rescue Plan came together, Slider, who manages other bands around town, including the Kerosene Kids, took the boys under his wing and started hooking them up with shows, even getting them on national bills at venues like the Clubhouse Music Venue and the Big Fish Pub.
Soon, promoters around town like Will Anderson of Lucky Man Presents realized that the Rescue Plan would not only play a show on short notice, but it would bring in a sizable crowd of its own, whether to an all-ages show or a bar, thanks to the members' burgeoning promotional skills. The boys are as personable as 18-year-olds come these days, which makes them an easy sell.
"Our best promotion thing is we actually make friends with the people we pass out fliers to -- we don't just hand them out," Muñoz tells me.
Campa adds, "Out of my 10 friends, four of them are onstage with me. So I have to go to the mall or restaurants or whatever to flier for our shows."
"When we meet people and talk to them, they want to come see our shows," Pringle says. "They feel like they know us."
Of course, their approachable, diverse sound is a bigger part of the appeal, too.
"Our music style covers more than a specific genre," Muñoz continues. "You hear from a hardcore song to a song with jazzy piano that slows it down. You have little parts of rock 'n' roll, the breakdowns, those little parts can attract somebody's ear. Doing that, getting all the music genres together has really helped us a lot."
It's not surprising to me at all that the Rescue Plan has amassed a following and developed an amazing chemistry in such a short period of time. Watching them work their way through their practice set at Neckbeard's, I also notice their serious work ethic combined with the earnest ambition of a group of young men with rock 'n' roll dreams.
It sounds like a simple formula, but maybe that's all it really takes.