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Watching the Loveblisters play on the small stage at Last Exit in Tempe, you kind of have to feel sorry for Ethan Hillis, the curly-haired drummer and youngest member of the band. He's barely visible behind the line of the five other musicians -- flanked by keyboardists Jessica Stanley and Christian Martin, who switch their positions occasionally, are bass player Lou Kummerer; songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Rob Kroehler; and guitarist Ryan Casey, the elder statesman at 28 years old. When you're the trapsman for a six-piece band, it's easy to get lost in the shuffling of the bodies in front of you.
It's doubtful that Hillis, 21, minds the relative visual obscurity, though; his band is easily one of the most talented ensembles in the Valley.
The collective's first LP, Silver White Sunlight, released late last year, is one of the finest slabs of music by a local act in recent memory. It's a collection of '70s-ish pop songs that simultaneously channel the aesthetic of Pet Sounds along with the crooning sensibility of Paul Simon and Van Morrison, with a healthy dash of ELO and occasional glam rock touches in the vein of T. Rex.
It may sound like a disparate collection of musical elements, but somehow it comes together in a montage of pop eloquence that seems more suited to bands from a different generation. It's all too common for twentysomethings to subscribe to the flavor of the moment, but the Loveblisters could never be accused of that.
Despite having two keyboardists, two guitarists, and all six members contributing to the vocals, the Loveblisters manage not to overwhelm with their surplus of tonality. Their tightness and a healthy restraint when the song requires it suggest a maturity beyond their short few years performing together as a band.
Onstage at Last Exit, Hillis is shy and aloof while he tinkles his Plasticine ivories. Kummerer is introverted, rarely glancing at the dancing group of boys that are gathered in front of the stage. Kroehler sings and wiggles like he's just recently overcome any insecurities about being front and center, and Casey is even more confident, dancing while he plays his electric guitar. Stanley, the only female in the band, isn't as expressive, but while some bands with one girl would be inclined to either feature or flaunt their double-X-chromosomed member, she blends into the Loveblisters conglomerate of like-minded musicians.
"I really feel like as a band we're destined for greatness," Kroehler says, only half-joking. "We finally got the lineup we wanted, there's such synergy right now, we have the same vision. I've never had aspirations for world domination, to be a huge rock star. I'd much rather at this point be able to do this as a full-time thing -- it's really gratifying."
The Loveblisters have been taking to the road lately, with a California tour under their belt and upcoming showcases in Los Angeles, where not long ago they had a brief, not-so-pretty encounter with a certain has-been pretty boy host from the TV show Extra.
The band was in Newport Beach, out drinking at a local bar and slipping dollars into the jukebox, when Mark McGrath, Sugar Ray's talentless former front man, came in with his entourage.
"Rob was standing around pouting. 'Think about all the great musicians that live their lives in obscurity and nobody knows who they are, and that prick over there has got gold records on his wall,'" Casey recalls Kroehler saying. His bandmates were attempting to placate him with shots, but the effect didn't last. "He'd start going off again," Casey continues. "Then I was up at the bar getting more drinks and some asshole is yelling in my ear, singing along to Guns N' Roses. I didn't know who it was, I'm just like, 'Yeah, GNR rules,' then I turn around and throw up a high five -- it's Mark McGrath. He gives me the dumbest look, he looks like a 5-year-old kid. He's retarded."
The incident ended, unfortunately, with no Sugar Ray blood being shed, but the Loveblisters don't strike one as the ass-kicking types anyway. Their songs are simply too damn pretty, as the record testifies.
Silver White Sunlight is bookended by two beautiful ballads, the opener "Newborn Stars" and the closer "Love to Lose." Kroehler's voice is at its most compelling when he's singing softly, though he's got a range that conjures Elton John's on occasion. But when the band gets excessively poppy, like on the second track, "Devotion," there's a slight drawl to his vocals that complements the rollicking meter of the song.
After the New Times Music Showcase this weekend, where the band is performing in the Best Pop category (which it won last year), the Loveblisters are taking a break from Valley stages to record some new tracks. Though the band is already established as one of the most compelling stage acts around town, the members still aspire to recording a perfect album.
In a perfect world, they would have a big budget to record with -- "Every possible resource at our fingertips," Kroehler says. But it's not a perfect world, and that's not stopping them. "Even if the record is a swan song and goes into obscurity and we never get famous, I would love to look back one day and go, 'I did this -- this is my masterpiece.'"