You're always told to be nice to the people you meet on the way up, but you can't expect the same etiquette to be returned in the world of punk rock. Take the closing night of the Vans Warped Tour, which saw a stand-off between the not-so-good folks of Pontiac, Michigan, and a band called Thursday, which collected a year's supply of half-empty recyclables after the singer's foolhardy boast of "Bring it on! We're from Jersey -- we can handle it!"
But you don't have to tell that to Authority Zero singer Jason Devore and guitarist Bill Marcks. With bassist Jeremy Wood and drummer Jim Wilcox, they're about to embark on the similarly volatile Punk-O-Rama tour with Guttermouth, Fenix TX, and U.S. Bombs. The guys are prepared to take whatever accolades and shit showers are hurled their way. Sometimes simultaneously.
"There's usually a good, positive vibe at our shows. But, yeah, there's been a couple of mosh-pit incidents," says Marcks, who claims to possess the group's shortest temper. "It just depends on the bands we play with. When we did the Slightly Stoopid show at the Bash on Ash in December, somebody thought it was cute to throw bottles at us onstage. I can take a couple of bottles getting thrown at me, but this little girl in the pit got her head split open with one. I stopped playing and tried to find out who did it. Someone up front was telling me to shut up, and I had some words with him. Then Jason had to keep it in order and get back into the show before the trouble escalated. Jason and I are like the yin-yang of the group. Jason's very calm, one who never worries. I'm kind of a worrywart."
Aside from the black cloud on the blue of this Mesa group's bliss, Authority Zero has had an otherwise-charmed year, much of which has been spent out of town. This month the guys are back for a Tucson show with Goldfinger and a round of in-store and radio appearances in their hometown. It's all to promote the September 10 release of A Passage in Time, the group's first album for New York-based Lava Records. Oddly enough, it was the band's Big Apple publicist who arranged a meeting at Mickey's Hangover in Scottsdale. By 5 p.m., the original plan for an inebriated interview with Devore and Marcks has given way to clear-headed discourse over bottled water and iced coffee. What gives?
"We're coming off a drinking spree from the night before," apologizes Devore. "We haven't lost the will to party."
Nor have Devore and Marcks lost the genuine small-town friendliness that seems to escape most bands after the ink dries on a major indie recording contract. Make no mistake, these are nice guys. They thought enough to share the spotlight with founding member and ex-rhythm guitarist Jerry Douglas, who left the band five years ago.
"We flew Jerry back in from Alaska to perform the couple of songs he used to play with us for the new album," Devore says. "He was stoked, and so were we."
And the band seems genuinely grateful for the friends who have supported them when they were playing to 12 people. When your EP is the biggest-selling local CD at Zia Record Exchange and your song "One More Minute" gets routinely played on the top alternative station, it's easy for fellow musicians to be supportive. But when your second CD is produced by Dave Jerden of Offspring/Social Distortion/Red Hot Chili Peppers/Jane's Addiction fame, that's quite another leap in prestige. Once fellow scenesters get jealous, terms like "player haters" are invented. An Authority Zero interview in KEDJ-FM's summer 'zine revealed the presence of such dissenters in the band's social circle.
"It's changed somewhat," Devore notes sadly. "We keep on letting people know that we're the same we always have been, and we're always gonna be the same and not to worry about it. People like to think that you're gonna change, but we're the same dudes. We still go to all the same places and support all the same local bands."
"We're real supportive of our scene," adds Marcks. "We're actually thinking about putting together a comp of all the local bands and throw 'em for free in our booth, disseminate their music."
A magnanimous tip of the hat to a scene that Authority Zero has been playing since 1994, when the number of gigs per week sometimes outnumbered the people in attendance.
"When we first started, we played every place we could play. We were the house band at the Big Fish Pub," says Marcks. "We played Thursday nights with Arms of the Sun, Lickshots, and that was the most fun we had. We'd play to maybe 10 people every night. We played Jugheads, Bash on Ash, house parties. We used to have a practice space with Hall 13 at the time they were Sink and Eating Divas. Pack the garage and play to 200 kids. We'd play to five in the morning and have no voices the next day."
"I tell people that we've been on tour locally the past seven or eight years," laughs Devore, who notes that the five-night-a-week grind didn't run an accruing fan base into the ground. "We'd go to different geographic locations, and it's like touring. We'd gig with bands everywhere. Jugheads is at a rough part of town, but we had rough stuff and chill music as well. We'd play Mesa one night, Tempe the next and Phoenix the night after that."
Such groundwork prepares a band for the sometimes-dispiriting stop on a tour itinerary. "Sometimes you play odd places," says Marcks. "We played a Knights of Columbus Hall on this last thing, which turned out to be a fun, kick-back show, but it was minimal people -- 13 kids. We were playing with H2O and we had fun; we were skating around during their set, and Toby, the singer of H2O, did the same during our set. We hauled out old stuff, covers. It was a good release."
The year's extended roadwork has paid off, with 15 stations playing Authority Zero's new album weeks before its release. "We're number five in Jacksonville, Florida, already," says Devore. "Chicago plays us. And St. Louis played us before we went there. People came out to see us, and I didn't think anyone there knew who we were."
The Authority Zero sound somewhat restores the laid-back intermingling of punk and reggae that alternative radio had in the days of Sublime and the Offspring, before the backward baseball caps turned everything into a grudge match.
"We've assimilated all the music they used to play on KUKQ," says Marcks. "That's where I first heard Sublime's Date Rape' before anyone signed them. We picked up a lot of influences from that station, everything from Pennywise to Rancid to Yellowman." What makes the Zeros' approach unique is the way they switch from Wilcox's speed-typist drumming and Devore's rapid-fire enunciation, as well as the way they incorporate a crazy rest period in every song that lets the people in the pit catch their breath.
"When you're at a show and there's the same constant tempo, it gets kind of boring," Marcks explains. "You gotta let the audience loosen up a bit, so it's not as grinding. And when they think there isn't going to be anything left and we stop the whole song, we just rip into the last bit of our song and keep the place in an uproar. We like to keep it like a roller coaster."
"If we do something in rehearsals and someone says, That's crazy,' that's when we wind up saying, Let's do that,'" says Devore. "The album we're planning ahead to do after this one has things going from ska to punk to polka now. Spanish in it, too. We have a couple of country tunes, too. Whatever doesn't make sense, that's what we want to do."
Marcks' personal goal to speak eight fluent languages has spilled over to the other band members. "Currently, I know only three: English, Spanish and Portuguese," he says. "There's a song on the album called L.A. Surf' that's got some Portuguese in it. I teach it to these guys, so they're picking up on it. And our bassist Jeremy knows sign language, so we sign a little at the gigs. It comes in handy communicating across the room in loud clubs. Drummer Jim Wilcox has taken a particular shine to the gesture for I'll decide.' There's a joke with our drummer [that] he'll decide everything. So he'll always give the sign for that. All the other bands we're touring with wonder what the hell we're doing, and they learn a bit of it, too. Everyone starts doing it."
What often gets mistaken for another language is the auctioneer-like speed of Devore's thrash verbiage. "When my grandma first heard Over Seasons,' she asked if Jason was speaking Spanish," says Marcks, laughing. "Naw, that's English. He just speaks really fuckin' fast."
Early in the project, it was suggested that Devore slow down his lyrical mph so that the words would be more decipherable. Luckily, the producer was having none of that. "That's the thing that attracted Dave Jerden to the project. Dave said, I really like what he's doing. It's a fresh idea; it's original.' He loved the arrangements and didn't change it at all, beyond adding an extra amp here and there and changing the tones. Mostly he gave us a lot of room to be extra creative."
Whether success will change Authority Zero is cheekily debated in the group's video for "The Sky's the Limit."
"It's the theme of us daydreaming, kind of messing around," says Devore. "It shows us in Mesa, sweating our asses off in the desert. Then it goes to this weird scene where we're hanging around a pool, and it's real overkill, the way hip-hop videos are, where people flash around their money too much."
"Then we snap out of it," laughs Marcks. "And we're in Mesa, keeping it real."
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