Here Comes the Groom
Like a five-headed Joe Millionaire, Ticker Tape Parade, an average-guy amalgam of pizza deliverer, construction worker, data entry clerk, tee shirt printer and "between jobs"slacker have been doing their best to put together their own million-dollar sound in preparation for attracting the most eligible suitor.
For most of the past nine months, the band has been rehearsing the same eight songs. The members have been practicing five nights a week after clocking out at their day jobs, honing and refining the same handful of catchy power-pop songs until even the neighborhood kids can be heard humming along with the melodies as they pass the noisy garage on Aaron Wendt's suburban Tempe street.
"We're really committed to what we're doing, and we like what we're doing," says Wendt, the band's chief songwriter and the reluctant leader of the democratic pack. "So we don't mind the long days."
Already the band's hard work is beginning to pay off. Their locally produced EP You're Creating a Scene, a six-pack of rough-edged melodic pop released in February, is now stirring up mass word-of-mouth interest as is the band's live show, following an impressive string of dates at influential California clubs like the Troubadour in West Hollywood, the Chain Reaction in Anaheim, and Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco.
"The best thing about our last West Coast tour was that when we got back, we had all these phone messages from labels, managers, publishing companies, booking agents," says Wendt. "I mean, word is really getting out there about us."
This week, they return for a hometown show at the Marquee Theatre after playing an L.A. showcase that a lot of record label A&R biggies are expected to attend. By the time Ticker Tape Parade gets back to Phoenix, they may already be hitched to a major label.
It's a marriage the band has been preparing for since forming last May. They're ready. They're committed. And they're willing to do the hard work necessary for a lasting relationship.
But before all that, they threw their south-of-the-border bachelor party.
Topher Bradshaw grins broadly when asked to name the most memorable show the baby band has played to date.
"That's easy," says the lanky bass player, looking around at the rest of the band members, who each sip on thrifty servings of water and iced tea at their favorite neighborhood sandwich joint, the Plaid Eatery. "Mexico!"
Even though the event occurred recently enough that some of the guys are still flushing the alcohol out of their systems and two of them are still trying to shake off memories of their Midnight Express-like stay in a Puerto Peñasco prison Bradshaw recalls the quintet's spring break gig in Rocky Point wistfully.
"It was a blast!" he laughs, as the others nod in agreement. "We had free hotel rooms [at the plush Plaza Las Glorias], free drinks, free food --"
"And lots and lots of boobage," adds Dan Hargest, the band's keyboard player who, with drummer Sean McCall, was half of the duo who wound up handcuffed by the federales for getting into a shouting match with the event's promoter.
Apparently, after the second day of all-inclusive debauchery ("Three-fourths of the band was drunk during any given set we played," notes Wendt), Hargest and McCall began following promoter Walter Dolan back to the hotel, asking about the $600 they'd been promised, when Dolan ordered hotel security to have the boys arrested for disorderly conduct (well, Hargest had fallen off the stage twice before tailing the evasive booker).
The guys spent only two hours in jail, thanks to a quick bailing out by Tempe businessman Jeff Barthold, whose energy drink company Liquid X sponsored the bash. But that was just long enough to etch indelible memories of hole-in-the-ground toilets, random macing and guard-approved Fight Club matches between the rowdier prisoners.
As Homer Simpson might say: Mmm, rock 'n' roll . . .
For band members who had spent the van ride down to Mexico taking turns reading aloud from the Mötley Crüe tell-all autobiography The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band, it was the stuff of rock dreams.
"Already, we've had some great adventures," Bradshaw figures. "Stuff we'll always remember. Like, Jeez, remember that time we got locked up in Mexico?'"
But it was also, clearly, a last fling for the band, part of Wendt's strategy to get their Behind the Music moment out of the way first so the guys can concentrate on the hard work of making it in the music business in the new millennium.
Indeed, even the Rocky Point gig was accepted with TTP's hard-work ethic in place.
"It was like, if we do this show on Saturday and Sunday, by Monday morning we can have enough money to pay the insurance on the van," says Wendt.
The band's not looking to get rich quick, either. "A lot of bands do a show and they're like, Okay, let's each take $20 so we can go get some food,'" says Hargest. "None of us intend on getting even that small slice until pretty far down the line. Because the band needs money; we need to invest in ourselves."
Nor is the band trying to make a lot of fast cash on the projects they have invested in. "Sure, we have a CD that we think is worth a lot more than four bucks," admits Wendt. "But at this stage of the game, it's more important for 20 kids in Anaheim to buy our CD because it's only four bucks than for only four kids in Anaheim to be able to afford it because we were greedy and wanted 10 bucks for it. It's way better to get the music out there."
Ticker Tape Parade hasn't been sending their EP unsolicited to the labels -- "They'd just throw it away if we did," Wendt says, shrugging. Instead, the band has stuck to playing live shows around California as much as they can, in the hopes that enthusiastic word of mouth will round the fat cats up on their own.
"It's a lot better for them to hear from their buddy about this crazy Phoenix band who draws 200 people on a Tuesday night at the Troubadour than for us to be calling them up saying, Please, please check us out. We're big in Phoenix. Here's our demo,'" says Wendt.
Still, even with the attention the band is beginning to get from the majors, Wendt is a little skeptical of his suitor's true intentions.
"It's great that labels are taking a closer look at Phoenix now, but we all know what they're looking for," he winks. "I'm really leery over whether the next band out of this town that does well on a national level will be appreciated for their own style or just be tagged as another Jimmy Eat World."
Certainly, if there's any band primed to follow in the footsteps of Mesa's contribution to the national pop charts, it's Wendt's Ticker Tape Parade.
The guitarist worked with Jimmy Eat World's leader Jim Adkins before forming his own band, and the two clearly share similar formulas for catchy song craftsmanship.
"Jim and Aaron have been writing songs within two feet of each other for a long time, so yeah, there's gonna be some similarities between us and Jimmy Eat World," says Hargest. "But then some people said they sounded like the Gin Blossoms when they first started, so you just can't avoid the comparisons. There are similarities between all the East Valley bands because there's been convergent evolutions."
As Wendt explains it, the impressive number of bands that have emerged from Tempe and the East Valley in the years since the Gin Blossoms' early '90s breakthrough all share a similar pop-rock sound simply because they've all crossed paths at one time or another.
"It's one of those incestuous scenes where everybody's played with everybody in past bands," he explains. "Plus we all have friends in different bands. We're friends with Bob [Hoag] from Go Reflex, and we're friends with Before Braille because they're right down the road from Bob. It's a healthy scene, because whenever one of us sets up a show somewhere, it's like, Which two or three of our friends' bands are gonna be on the show with us?'"
"There's no competition," Hargest adds. "We're all just trying to help each other out."
If there's one common thread among all the East Valley bands vying for national attention, Wendt says, it's not in the guitar arpeggios or the hook-laden choruses. "The one thing we all have in common is we all own vans," he says, laughing. "Vans that we all intend to drive out of here in someday and go on tour."
In fact, Wendt, Hargest, Bradshaw, McCall and lead guitarist Jesse Everhart have come to judge the seriousness of a new East Valley band by the vehicles they drive to the clubs.
"The difference between a band with some serious star potential and the kind of band that's gonna be jealous of your Saturday night spot at Nita's Hideaway is that they don't own a van," Wendt quips. "They're not on the same page that we are."
"One of the reasons everybody gets along in our scene is because none of us are really competing to play at the biggest bar in town," adds Hargest. "None of us really care."
Bands vying for national success in the alternative pop game have their sights set on other things. "The best thing about our being friends with Jimmy Eat World is they have a link to us on their Web site," says Wendt. "That's huge."
That and the TTP van, which Wendt hopes to someday soon take on the highway for the band's first nationwide tour.
"We own a '97 Ford Club Wagon, nicely equipped with a Triton V10 engine, and the ability to haul all our gear and sleep three comfortably while doing 85 miles per hour uphill," he boasts. "I love our van."
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