Once upon a time, in a valley hot as hell, two refugees from the Slims wandered a lonely desert path where the coyote's mocking laughter was the only music for miles. Suddenly, from behind an elderly saguaro, the lanky former bassist of Flying 99 appeared, and the rest is history.
The trio named itself the Regulars and, with relentless dedication to original songs, filled the valley with a river of music. But where was the audience? Save the travelers who stumbled across them and the scattered few who got hooked, the Regulars have more often played to the desert's haunting echoes than to the crowd they hoped to draw.
It remains to be seen whether this tale will end happily or become Tempe's next rock 'n' roll ghost story, but the Regulars are marching on, patched together from two bands that fizzled out last year. Bassist Steve Metz of Flying 99 joined guitarist Greg Simmons and drummer Scott Seymann, both from the late, lamented Slims, to form this refreshingly straightforward rock band.
"The songs have to fit in a trio setting, so they have to be very simple, with not a lot of musical melody because it requires a lot more orchestration," says Simmons, a guitar virtuoso whose face is perpetually screened by a mop of hair. Nonetheless, between the band's striking vocal harmonies and Simmons' deranged guitar solos, the Regulars' simplicity takes on a life of its own.
Only together since October--"a Libra band," according to Metz--it seems the members of this neatly packaged trio found one another at the right time. Simmons and Seymann continued playing together after the Slims broke up, but their intentions had changed and both were more interested in composing and arranging songs. Simmons was quickly transformed into a songwriting machine and determined to work on his previously untested voice.
"He was bringing three to four new songs a week," says Seymann, who was also writing and playing his kit with brushes, while using a cardboard box as a makeshift drum stool.
After several months, it was time to add a bassist. Seymann, who has a master's degree in business and works as a sound editor for Fox Animation Studios, remembers how they stuttered to move the band forward. "I was anxious to be playing out, but I didn't want to push anything before it was time," he says. But Simmons needed a shove, and, ultimately, it took Seymann's coaxing to add another musician. "He was real patient, but finally he said, 'It's time. We gotta do it,'" Simmons says.
Meanwhile, Simmons had been working with Metz for about two years at Musicians Discount, a Mesa guitar shop. After Flying 99's crash, Metz had been writing his own stuff and singing with Joe Myers at his Thursday-night Hollywood Alley gigs. "I was just relaxing and enjoying not being in a band," says Metz. But Simmons didn't waste any time, and once the light bulb went on, it was a turbo-powered courtship. "One day, out of the blue, Greg just said, 'Why don't you come over and play some bass and sing some high harmonies?' So I went down and played, with the cardboard box, and I think it's fair to say that it clicked."
After some natural hesitation which lasted all of two days, rehearsals began, a significant song list was built, and two months later, the Regulars played their first set, opening for Satellite at Long Wong's, a date they're quite grateful for. Simmons, who is known for some seriously wailing guitar, recalls his singing debut modestly. "It was really painful because I was used to getting onstage and playing guitar and being comfortable, sounding decent. It was difficult because we didn't sound as good as I thought we could." As a guitar teacher and virtual master of the damn thing, he finds singing much more of a challenge, and much less heroic. But he's not alone with his scratchy blues voice. In fact, he's enthusiastically supported by Seymann and Metz, who not only add honey-dripping harmonies, but also sing their own songs.
Simmons contends that the band's weakest point is his own singing. But he's stubborn--"I don't want to have to rely on a singer to get my ideas across"--and luckily, the Regulars are determined to negotiate the vocals issue. An easy-grooving song such as "Finer Things" works toward a greater contrast between the notes of Simmons' voice and those of the guitars. Also, the focus on added falsettos sung in the chorus, "What you gonna do if you ever find it? What you gonna do if you ever get it? What you gonna do if you ever forget?" points to the accomplishment of the song. Metz's and Seymann's voices act as a bridge, a neutral peacemaker between lead vocals and instruments. Working with that premise, the band will have a better chance of improving, and, for that matter, surviving.
The Regulars' negotiating dynamic is also characteristic of their songwriting. "I'm really proud of the fact that we all write and we all sing. It's dominated by Greg's stuff, but the motherfucker writes four songs a week. I'm happy with that," Metz boasts about their prolific guitarist. Metz adds, "It isn't showing any signs of slowing down or stopping."
Yet there's almost always tension in negotiating your way around another artist's creative investments, and the Regulars experience that difficulty. Seymann explains, "Greg is very diplomatic and democratic, and our rehearsals are usually, too, as much as it can be when one person who brings in their own creation has to have some authority about it."
Regulars rehearsals hinge on creative compromise. After all, Simmons prefers to be alone for the initial inspirations of songwriting, Metz digs a spontaneous group effort, and Seymann does a complete demo of a new song at home, keyboard and all, before he even thinks of bringing it to rehearsal. Cooperation doesn't always come easy, but they are making an honest effort. Each band member gets equal time and treatment of his new songs, and they strive to agree with Seymann, who says, "I leave the ideas open to interpretation."
The song "Turtlehead" exemplifies the band at its unified best, with its complicated drumbeat and bass line, testy guitar melody and carefully arranged vocal harmonies. Seymann says of its origin, "We had an instrumental groove going and looked at each other and went, 'Wow! That was cool, we can do something with that,' and I had mentioned something that somebody had told me at work that day, the idea of Turtlehead. It's about poop." Seymann's lyrical idea and the band's accidental tune hatched a new song that reveals a band with an arguably healthy sense of humor about its own music. The chorus bounces, "Turtlehead--got some asshole wrapped around your neck."
The Regulars are a finely tuned engine humming good ol' pop songs. They politely execute cleanly arranged rock tunes in a fairly eclectic repertoire. The crowd-pleasing song "Falling Down," a quirky tune written by Metz, is vaguely reminiscent of Syd Barrett or early Who in its cleanness of melody and playfulness with tempo. With his song "Polyester Preacher," Simmons gets away with an uncharacteristically funky, ska-based rhythm, and lyrics with an interesting narrative and character. "I want to try to write stories. I want to create characters and all that stuff," says Simmons.
With such diverse ingredients, the music still manages to stay simple. The crispness of sound most closely suggests the smell of recently washed clothes, a freshly laundered towel. Stylistically, Simmons' playing is a strange hybrid of Stevie Ray's whining blues notes crossed with a touch of quick rockabilly licks. Aside from Simmons' occasional flash-guitar moments (which happen to be quite amazing), the Regulars are missing the extraneous strumming which commonly clouds well-written songs. "Greg doesn't write songs with a lot of space for gratuitous solos, so we try to throw a couple of jams in here and there so we can show him off," says Metz.
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For such a new band, the Regulars have made huge leaps in their music. But they remain virtually undiscovered by Tempe and have yet to establish a solid fan base. With two scheduled slots--Sundays opening for Satellite and Thursdays at Hollywood Alley--and three rehearsals a week, the band's self-promotion activities are almost nonexistent. The Alley graduated the Regulars from Tuesdays to Thursdays recently, hoping to give them more exposure. "We make them so much money at the Alley that they have no choice but to ask us back," Seymann wryly says in reference to the one dollar the band made at a gig in early May.
Soon we may see the Regulars on the big screen. A 15-second spot of them performing their song "The Way" was filmed at Nita's Hideaway for the film Hack, directed by Connie Maverick (singer for the Slims), debuting in October at Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival.
It seems likely that buzz on this band will leak out slowly. In the meantime, as the Regulars continue their stealth immersion into Tempe's music scene, don't expect any ticker-tape parades. But the frustration of undeserved obscurity is one of the things that drives them forward. It's hard not to think of his band's plight every time Simmons leans into the mike and croons, "It's a sad condition. It's a fire that sees me through.