Kellen Fortier amuses his Where Eagles Dare bandmates. While the other four members of the Valley punk band lounge at Coffee Plantation in Tempe, Fortier, their guitarist, excuses himself to quench a growing thirst. He returns with a neon sensation. The bizarre concoction doesn't go unnoticed.
"He's got a purple drink!" shouts bassist John O'Hagan. "You're like a Care Bear! What the hell is that?" The others laugh.
Fortier smiles and casually defends himself. "It's a blueberry-vanilla Italian soda," he says. Never mind that he wears a Dokken concert tee shirt and sports a rough-looking beard. Fortier's comfortable enough with himself to indulge in a little yuppie flavor.
In a way, his behavior is consistent with Where Eagles Dare's sales pitch. The five have ventured in and out of various bands and toiled as soldiers in the Valley scene for years, but they say now is the most optimistic they've been collectively. Life for punk here is the strongest it's been since the mid-1990s, they say, and Where Eagles Dare is (so far) the healthiest band they've experienced. They've found their punk calling in life.
"This is the first band I've been in where we didn't break up after six months," says singer and lyricist Jaesyn Schiller, who at 28 is considerably older than his very early 20s compatriots. "We have five guys who are committed to the band."
Where Eagles Dare, named after a Misfits song (or perhaps an old Clint Eastwood film), is devoted to a punk style known as "hard-core," one of the only bands in Arizona devoted fully to it. That makes them stand out, one of the reasons they'll be playing on the AZPunk.com stage as part of the punk-friendly Vans Warped Tour, which comes to Peoria on Tuesday, July 15.
With hard-core, the songs are short, but the energy is not. The tunes rarely blast for more than 90 seconds, and within the songs, there are enough screaming interludes and manic chord changes for a musical asylum. The point, the members of the band say, is to be as intense as possible and to provide an outlet for fans to go berserk. In other words, the faster the music is, the more democratic the shows become. Or something like that.
"It's a really fun style to play," says Fortier matter-of-factly. "There's so much energy involved in it. There's like an emotional release."
So far, that release has been an obscure one in the Valley, according to Chris Lawson, co-owner of AZPunk.com, the area's main punk advocate. "It's starting to definitely pick up as more kids get into hard-core," Lawson says. "Where Eagles Dare has a lot to do with that. When they play, they totally grab you. It's like a wall of energy, and it's like that the whole show.
The band demonstrates its whiplash chops -- and a surprising appetite for athletic metal riffs -- on In a Thousand Words or Less, a relentless 13-minute EP released last year. It "slows down" only once, on the scathing three-minute "Ears Still Ringing," on which Schiller shows off his abstract lyricism ("Go live my dreams/I've got no time to waste/I've already injured eternity enough").
Lawson says the band shows hard-core's progression from a rebellious, obnoxious way to speed up traditional punk to something more musically intricate, using more than three chords and a heightened ambition.
The combination of hard-core's speed and thoughtful songwriting is definitely what sold O'Hagan on the band. A longtime friend of Fortier and drummer Myc Fromm, O'Hagan attended the two-year-old band's initial batch of shows. He'd dance and spin and yell and generally serve as an in-crowd instigator. When the group's original bassist quit, it seemed natural for him to step into the mix -- to the detriment of its fan base.
"I was almost bummed when he started playing with us because I'm like, half the kids that came to the shows are playing in the band now," Schiller jokes.
"People would say, Dude, nobody's gonna dance for you anymore,'" O'Hagan offers. "You're killing your local support by you joining the band.' It's kind of funny now because we get one of the better responses of any band in the scene."
"He makes our band so much cuter," Fromm yells. This is not a serious conversation, and the band members give the impression that none of their interaction is ever serious. O'Hagan just flashes his soft smile and shrugs his heavily tattooed shoulders.
O'Hagan says he's also received feedback about the band from, of all places, Japan, where an online distributor has helped Where Eagles Dare sell more than 40 copies of a CD. "I've talked to a couple of the kids that bought our CDs. They're sending pictures of their copies of the Where Eagles Dare CD from their rooms in Japan," he says. "And I'm like, Oh my God!' That's so weird."
O'Hagan isn't a total puppy, though. Schiller recalls one gig the band played a few months back in Las Vegas. The band, swept up in the intensity as it is, thrashes, leaps and screams its way through its shows. On that night, O'Hagan got so swept into the emotion, he accidentally clocked Schiller between the eyes with his bass. Blood, the bandmates say, gushed everywhere, and Schiller, in a daze, continued to lie onstage, singing and screaming as best he could.
"Then John, thinking Jaesyn was being all artsy and writhing around on the floor, went up and kicked him," says Fromm, who wears a Misfits tattoo on his arm.
The incident, in a way, sounds like an apt metaphor for the band. O'Hagan says he and Schiller are both control freaks and that they butt heads often. Their squabbles give the band its musical tension, something that is making the sound more melodic and focused. In fact, the band just recorded a new two-song demo, which it plans to use to shop for a better record deal. They also are writing a batch of new, more full-bodied songs for a planned full-length album.
"Our EP is pretty straightforward, energetic hard-core, that's what it is," says Fortier. "We still play that. We just have other influences. We can't stay the same."
"A lot of people look down on a band because they change their sound or whatever," Schiller adds. "It's ridiculous to think that a band would keep their sound the same. For the most part, bands change, and the people in the bands change."
To that end, all five actively participate in side bands, including an acoustic project called Die, Die My Darling -- yes, the Misfits references are popular with these guys. Sometimes, the musical excursions, informed by other punk, classic rock, metal and singer-songwriter styles, pile up too quickly for them to keep count.
"I'm singing for a band called George Moshington," O'Hagan says.
"I'm playing bass for that band," Fortier says.
"Are you?" O'Hagan responds with a perplexed look.
Despite that confusion, one thing is certain -- Where Eagles Dare is the full-time commitment and musical meal ticket.
"We all have a big interest in making the band all that we do," O'Hagan says, adding that the band just purchased a 1985 Ford Clubwagon for touring, a rite of passage for any serious band. "We really want to take this to a national level as much as we can."
That entails upcoming tours of California and the Mountain Time Zone, managing jobs and schoolwork (Jaesyn is "seriously employed"; others are enrolled in local colleges), putting up with an eternally crabby Fromm ("Sometimes, you've got to go against the world, you know?" Fromm says sheepishly) and, at least for shy-guy guitarist Brett Romo, constant ball-breaking.
"Brett's got his hair to worry about," Fromm teases.
"And yeah, Brett's got a lot of time he has to spend on his hair." Schiller extends the ribbing.
Romo, hiding most of his brown locks under a green ski cap, says nothing, glancing with a facial expression that suggests, "I put up with this crap every day."
With all the fight and chatter and vitriol pouring from the other four, Romo probably figures he doesn't have to talk, and besides, that's something he can let the riffs he and Fortier cook up do for him. Schiller, for one, can dig that.
"I'm living this band," the elder statesman says proudly.
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