Ask yourself what you were doing in 1995 and the answer might depend on how old you were. If you were in your 30s, you were probably enjoying your regularly scheduled midlife crisis and getting divorced. In your 20s? Enjoying grunge and toying with a substance abuse habit, but of course. In your teens? You could've been just getting into Chronic Future.
When brothers Ben and Barry Collins banded together with besties Mike Busse and Brandon Lee, the impact was immediate. While still tweens, they scored a local hit with a song about brattish kids of privilege called "Scottsdale," which they eventually parlayed into mainstream success in 2004 with a song called "Time and Time Again" and a deal with Interscope Records. This good fortune led to a series of individual projects and, inadvertently, a period of inactivity as a group that they temporarily broke this year with a July 18 show at the Bowery Ballroom in New York and now a show at the Rebel Lounge on December 26. The poetic irony is that this venue was once The Mason Jar, where the band played its first show. All indicators say the upcoming gig will be its very last show.
And yet the foursome are by all accounts still best friends who get together every weekend. What are we missing here?
"We never made a conscious decision to stop playing. I think we all just started working on different things, " says Ben Collins, speaking via phone from his adopted new home in Greenpoint, New York. "It's weird to even call it a reunion because we all hang out all the time. We never stopped seeing each other."
Rather than the reunion misnomer, the band prefers to bill it as a 20th anniversary show, as it's been two decades since that initial all-ages show at the Jar and the release of "Scottsdale," the song that for some locals made the young band synonymous with being spoiled rich kids.
"We were just rebellious kids listening to Rage Against the Machine," says Collins when recalling their earliest hit. "To be honest, growing up in that area between all of us, we had weird experience with stupid white rich kids [who] pretended to be gangsters, really. There was a phenomenon back in the '90s that was pretty silly."
Even when a New Times cover story spelled it out that these were hardworking kids with support from a dedicated manager and the Collins patriarch, few people saw behind the headline "Straight Outta Scottsdale." The seething bitterness of local musicians who weren't getting any airplay or major press coverage, sometimes with major label support, was inescapable when indie kids managed to make a dent. Surely, they bought their way in?
Collins puts the gripe into perspective.
"That jealousy came about because we found a tiny little shred of minor success. I feel like in Arizona, specifically in Phoenix, there was always a lot of competition and tension between artists and not a lot of support of one another. I saw that change a lot in the 2000s, and I think that's why you have such a vibrant downtown scene in Phoenix. But there were always bands like Flotsam and Jetsam talking shit about us. After the New Times article, one of those guys wrote a diatribe on a message board about us. I don't know how can you just sit there and knock 15-year-old kids who are trying to make rock music. It's sad, actually."
While not dismissive of the band's early recorded efforts, a listen to 2004's masterful major label offering, Lines in My Face, it's clear the band moved well beyond that starting point.
"We were literally just having fun," Collins says. "We weren't making anything groundbreaking."
When I point out the Beastie Boys had similarly started out with a novelty record about Cookie Puss but eventually overcame their detractors, Collins is quick to assert, "We're nothing compared to them. But we were the same thing, middle-class kids who broke through. I'm sure they got the same stigma."
The stakes got significantly higher than local concerns after the band graduated and became friends with SoCal punk band Face to Face, whose manager, Rich Egan, took on the band. At the time, he was co-owner of pop punk label Vagrant Records, which had artists like The Get Up Kids, Dashboard Confessional, and Saves the Day (in addition to Face to Face) on its roster.
"Rich brought us to Interscope. We did a showcase for Jimmy Iovine, and he stopped us after three songs. Signed us the next day," marvels Collins. "So it was really crazy. We'd been working really hard for it at that point. We'd done two records locally. We think we'd been together 10 years as a band when we actually got signed. And because we had proper management, it all kind of stemmed from there."
While most bands who ride the major label express come off it with more baggage than when they got on, Collins is having none of that.
"The year and a half we spent on Interscope was great," he says. "We did what we did, had a great time doing it, and it allowed us the resources to start our own label, which was Modern Art, and that carried us over to where we are now. We put out the Lines in My Face album in 2004 and toured behind that for two years. Then I started Modern Art with the band Miniature Tigers — that was the first record we put out, in 2007."
When Chronic Future returns to Phoenix, playing on the bill with them will be Back Ted N-Ted, another Modern Art signing and the brainchild of Ryan Breen, a significant member of the extended Chronic Future family.
"There was a while when Interscope was just funding our having this rehearsal space in Tempe off of Hardy [Drive]," Collins says. "We had this huge place they hooked up for us, and there was too much room for us to handle, so we had Ryan just move in and build the studio. So we just had Ryan recording bands like The Cover Up, Miniature Tigers, a number of other artists. A few weeks into it, we were in touch with an A&R guy at Epic Records, and he fell in love with the whole Phoenix scene. He loved all the bands we were recording. He loved Back Ted N-Ted. That's how Epic came to play and launched the label. I really feel that time — 2007, 2008 — was very cool, special time."
When a Brooklyn promoter was starting up a musical festival, he brought up the idea to Collins that Chronic Future could play it as a joke, one which took root with the four members, even though they never ended up playing the festival.
"We started to noticed on Twitter that people were still talking about us. And we did really well with that show. People traveled from all over the place just to see us, so we thought, well, if we're gonna do this again, we have to go back to the place it all started, which was the Mason Jar."
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To, in essence, end everything.
When asked if any more shows or even a long-awaited follow-up record are in the works, Collins laughs.
"I don't think so. No plans," he says.
The show isn't for money or a career boost, just for fun. In that way, the guys doing a show at a club on Indian School Road, a few blocks away from where Collins' mom lives, completes the circle. Just change the numbers when Collins says, "We were just 15-year-old skater kids that just wanted to fuck around. We loved it."