Far From Phoenix
How did you spend your day of reckoning? Expectant mothers, fearful of a 06/06/06 due date, were asking doctors to induce labor a day or two early to spare their babies from the mark of the beast, which would not only adversely affect those terrible twos, but could keep the lil' devils out of the finer schools later on. Some folks spent the day seeing The Omen remake or buying craven right-wing wacko Ann Coulter's latest tome Godless: The Church of Liberalism. Other evil emissions slated for that day included new albums by Busta Rhymes, Ice Cube, Sonic Youth, Planes Mistaken for Stars, Cracker, Elvis Costello, Cheap Trick, Keith Sweat, the New Cars, and Christian rock band Servant. But unlike Damien or Thurston Moore, who lobbied for an Armageddon street date, Greeley Estates had an album coming out just because it was Tuesday.
"That's not something we tried to do at all," insists Greeley Estates' lead vocalist Ryan Zimmerman, whose band is two days into a headlining club tour in Toronto, where Lucifer has never set foot but Aleister Crowley has. "We wanted to release it before we go out on the Warped Tour, and that was the only date we could get it out." Then he laughs. "But we're not Slayer."
Even so, Greeley Estates' Far From the Lies, the group's first full-length since signing with the Record Collection label, was executive-produced this time around by Dave Sardy, whose résumé includes the aforementioned Slayer as well as the unholy unwashed Jet, Oasis, and Wolfmother, and was produced by Lou Giordano, who's sat behind glass for do-gooder emo bands like Waking Ashland, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Taking Back Sunday. Long ago, screamoficionados discovered that your standard emo calling out and blaming others, when aligned with blood-curdling throat shredding, were two grating tastes that tasted great together, but for the uninitiated, Greeley Estates could be your best point of entrance. And you can hardly ask for a better "National Day of Slayer" theme than Far From the Lies' blistering opener, "The End of All We Know."
"Is this the end of ALL THAT WE KNOW!!!!!!
Will we be left with nothing TO CALL OUR OWN!!!!!!!"
The caps indicate where Zimmerman switches from his yearning, radio-safe register to his terrifying head voice. His champion caterwauling defies description, but if you can imagine Edith Bunker being fed into a wood chipper, shrieking for Archie to leave his comfy chair to rescue her, you wouldn't be far off the mark. At one point, the regular Ryan and the crazed banshee Ryan finish each other's sentences, almost as if he's his own psychoanalyst. Is Zimmerman connecting the voices to different people inside his head? And is one getting paid a lot more by the hour? Does schizophrenia play into any of this? Does he ever lurch into the wrong voice by mistake? Nah on all counts!
"You have to get real intense for the screams," he says. "Live, the crowd's energy gets you going. It's something I don't even think about anymore. 'This is the intense part of the song, so I'm going to scream it instead of sing it.' I don't get into a split-personality mindset with it, but it's probably a good idea. I'd get more intense with it."
Having such a volatile head voice is not the best thing for any larynx. Recently, Zimmerman's undertaken voice lessons to learn the proper way to shred, but admits, "It's taking me a while to break these bad habits. I've been doing it like this a long time."
To translate Zimmerman's modesty back into incredulity, when he says he's been doing this a long time, in his young sensibility that means three and a half years, in which time the five-piece went from being virtual Neanderthals around instruments who dug bands like Thursday and Glassjaw, to professionals touring the same circuit as their role models.
"We first got together and started messing around with songs as a joke," says Zimmerman. "[Guitarist] Dallas [Smith] was just learning to play guitar and he was teaching our other guitarist, and I'd never done a thing with vocals. We wanted to put a show together to play for our friends at a high school homecoming dance. It was pretty God-awful, but we still have some original fans from that original show. As bad as we were when we started off, people in the local scene believed in it and kinda pushed us to where we are now. We owe a lot to the local scene."
First year of college is late for forming your first band, but the boys made up for relative lost time. Back then, it wasn't unheard of to see them playing around town four times a week. In contrast, in 2006 they've spent, in Zimmerman's estimation, about "two or three days in Arizona."
Monochromatic AZ weather can easily blur two or three days together, but these guys had no intentions of slacking even during that two- or three-day window of leisure.
"We were supposed to play a show in Arizona, and we had a rollover wreck and had to cancel," he says with the same measure of modesty as when outlining the group's achievements. Moreover, it's the band's third wreck in six months.
"The last time was in the middle of the night in Albuquerque and a semi truck's tire came off -- we hit it and our RV went over on its side," he recalls. "Everyone was okay, but I messed up my back pretty good. So most of this tour I've been on some fun pills, but it started to get better. We totaled two vans last November. One semi truck hit us in a snowstorm, and they're out to get us, I guess. Most of the time, it's in the middle of the night."
After the in-town CD release show, Greeley Estates embarks on yet another Warped Tour. These tours have created a huge market for bands that barely get radio airplay but thrive through road work and music video outlets like MTV2 and Fuse, where Record Collection is currently running ads.
Here's where you might expect hyperbole from Zimmerman about the new album, which has several killer guitar-hooky songs, including "Too Much CSI," whose title takes CBS-TV's unimaginative prime-time schedule to task without mentioning it once. Brilliant. And they've rerecorded "Life Is a Garden" off last year's Caveat Emptor EP and shot a video for it.
But instead, here's Zimmerman's modest summation of the new record: "It's a progression of what we've done for the last two. There's nothing groundbreakingly new. It's new music, but not a new genre. Dallas Smith, our lead guitarist, has a very pop sense. Brandon Hackenson, our other guitarist, has very hardcore sense. And our rhythm section, bass player Josh Applebach and drummer Brian Champ, are into reggae and classic rock. We're trying to find our own niche."
They're out there looking. 362 days a year. Or 361. No one's sure when the next day off is.
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