About a Band

Tolerance: Inspiring rabid devotion in a "street team" of young admirers.

In Phoenix you can more readily measure the passage of time by the limited life expectancy of live venues than by the forward projectory of Valley bands. But there's a group that started out playing battles of the bands, bowling alleys and matinee all-ages shows at the Mason Jar, where the residue cigarette smoke from the night before must've stunted group members' growth by at least a few weeks.

In less than five years, Tolerance is on its third album -- and it's sold 600 copies in less than two weeks, completely selling out its initial inventory on The band currently has two of the 10 top-selling local CDs and is generating major-label buzz as rabid as the returns on the world's most successful chain letter.

And its rose-colored glasses just got redder: The band has been invited to play at the newest of schmoozathons, the Eat'M Festival -- a South by Southwest with slot machines -- at the end of May. It's being staged at the MGM Grand the same week that VH1 Divas Celine, Cher and Mary J. Blige will step on each other's cues and Jimmy Buffett will preach to the converted. And to put things in perspective, at least two members of Tolerance will not be old enough to attend the La Femme show at the Grand.

To hear Tolerance manager Maria Vassett talk about seeing the band for the first time, you'd think it was a million years ago. "I saw them at the Tempe Bowl," she grins. "Their parents told me to come down and see them. It was amazing. They were 17. Not much younger than now."

You don't get much more concentrated expansion and development than in those just-getting-started wonder years from 15 to 21. Someday a teen band is gonna call its first album Time to Shave, its sophomore effort License to Drive, and follow that up with Who's Drinkin'? I'm Buying! And if they hang around long enough to make Caning the Delivery Boy, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum will have to take out the entire Will Smith wing just to make room.

In fact, Tolerance's first album, Die Mantra, contained no references to shaving more than once a week but less than twice. Instead, nearly every song included at least one sentence punctuated with the word pain. It's no longer available, having long since sold out its 1,200 copies. Imagine how persuasive the then-15-year-olds must've been to close the deal. If you think they sold their CD with boxes of school chocolate, you're not completely wrong.

"We absolutely did!" laughs singer-guitarist Corey Spotts. "We walked around school selling it . . . at a couple of different high schools, had 'em at our shows. Playing all the battles of the bands for all the cities. That's how you get gigs when you're that young, and we'd sell them there. Wherever we could, even out of the back of our bikes.

"We were still trying to find a sound. It was probably more poppy, more Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins," Spotts continues. "Eventually, we released our second CD in 2000, and that's when people really started getting into the band and the fan base started to grow and people were really getting behind us, which was really cool."

Not only did the band acquire management , they developed a proactive fan club that will, as the kids say, "do shit for them." This task force is known as the Tolerance Street Team. It sounds like a bunch of kids with buckets who go out and clean off graffiti, but it's actually a legion of teenagers and young adults working promo for a band they like. (To become a member, fill out a questionnaire at One member of the Street Team came to the recent CD release party at Bash on Ash all the way from California to shoot live videos that the band will post on its Web site.

A more typical fan is 16-year-old "tolerance guy7" from Gilbert, who got his membership card on 5/11/02 at 4:29 a.m. and posted six times in his first three days, generally on the level of "how is everybody?" and "just saying hi." The newest member of the 300-strong/30,000-hits-a-month team is "punkrawker4488," who was born in 1988, which means you probably own toothbrushes older than he is. His posts number in the zero range, but when the time comes, there's no doubt that "toleranceguy7" and "punkrawker4488" are going to bring in some new recruits. How else can they face their comrades on the message board -- or the message board administrator, who's also a member of their hero band?

Those who marvel at what has happened for the band need only see that its internal orderliness has trickled down to its fans. Nate Nash, the band's bassist, maintains the Web site and electronic press kit and is the message board administrator. Drummer Adam Boyd takes care of all retail consignment, Corey Spotts mans recording/production and is the liaison between management and the band, and guitarist Mark "Marco" Buzard sends out tour publicity.  

"We run our band like a business," says Vassett. "Everybody in the band has a specialty. And since no one's dropping the ball, it's turned into this amazing business. To be able to sell out on CDBaby or Amazon without major-label distribution is amazing."

"The sad thing about a band is that it's 90 percent business anyway," says Spotts. "You can't sit around and wait for a label to do it for you. Labels can be great, but we're gonna act like the record industry doesn't exist. We have to do this all on our own."

While album number two, Earth in Real Audio, might sound solid enough to the casual listener, its combination of heavy riffing, chorus-filtered guitars and angry megaphone singing were not what Spotts was shooting for. "The whole new metal things with heavy riffs and heavy screaming vocals is fine, and it's cool. I guess we were new-metal on our second CD. People are calling it 'prog-rock' or 'heavy-U2 rock' now, and that's more accurate.

"Earth in Real Audio sounds a little disjointed from song to song. Each song has its own sound, but none of them have the Tolerance sound," Spotts continues. "It was more aggro-sounding, I guess, but it didn't have that extra dimension we wanted. And with Marco we have that, because he's a real technical guitarist, and he's really into Radiohead and Sunny Day Real Estate and all these really trippy bands. We just happen to have loud guitars -- that's why we're a quote-unquote 'modern rock band.' With the first two records, I just picture us in the studio making it. We tried to eliminate that with the new one and get an audio picture instead."

The band returned to Minds Eye Studio to work with Larry Elyea, whose band, Bionic Jive, got signed to Interscope between albums. "Larry was off for that entire month we wanted to record and was able to co-produce with us," Spotts says. "The big part was vocals; I wanted him to push me, and Larry and his wife, Colette, helped a lot with the harmonies. And we just layered lots of sounds. The bass sound is five different bass sounds combined in one."

The atmospheric "One Last Question" off the last album gives some indication of the textures the band piles onto new tracks such as "Let You Down," allowing every buzz to subside before building up the wailing wall again. Lyrically, Spotts takes the you're-better-off-without-me approach to new heights, going from an impersonal, kiss-off answering-machine message -- "we no longer maintain the same amicable attitudes we previously held so sacred" -- into a hushed confessional: "for one beautiful moment, I thought I missed you."

While Spotts stops short of going into a goofy "there comes a time in every boy's life" speech, he acknowledges that he wears his paper heart on his sleeve. "Basically I'm writing a letter to someone. I want to be sort of vague, because I want people to listen to it and take their own meaning from it. The new CD is pretty personal, but it makes it more fulfilling for me.

"Everyone in the band has a soft spot for harder music like Quicksand or Helmet. So that comes through, but the emo tag comes from melody and that we're actually singing about things that matter to us," says Spotts. "There is emotional depth to it. That's why we do it; we don't do it to get girls. We do it to channel everything we have inside of us."

While neither Spotts nor Maria Vassett wants to talk about the offers being lobbed the band's way, they will fess up to getting an endorsement from Fender, carefully adding, "We want to do what's right for the band." They'll test the strategy in September, when Tolerance will be the first unsigned band on the Music Monitor tour.

Even if things were going even better, that aw-shucks feeling would never creep into Tolerance's repertoire. "There's a certain feeling everyone gets, a bittersweet feeling . . .," notes Spotts, who, despite claims of shyness, looks at you directly when conversing. "That's why people like to watch these majestic epic heartstring movies. It's the same thing. You hear a certain lyric in a song or you're watching a movie, and the symphony hits a certain chord that tugs at you. It's the same type of feeling I'm going for. When I'm writing the lyrics, I want to feel that every time I sing it. The song 'Faster Crashes Harder,' which was the first song we'd done with Marco, gets across what I think is the Tolerance sound. Lots of atmosphere. A big grandiose feel. And big, huge guitar sounds."  

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