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Higher Authority

So thrilling, it's excruciating: Authority Zero endures the making of album number two.
Emily Piraino

Just as sure as you've never heard anyone profess, "I love waiting in a doctor's office because the magazines are topnotch," you'll never hear anybody bragging about the riveting experience of recording an album. After the excitement of who the producer will be and what gear you'll be using wears off, you're faced with lots of hours of flipping through magazines only recording engineers take to the bathroom, lots of antsy fingers strumming guitars, lots of flipping channels on TV with the sound off and lots of waiting for your turn in the big room.

Since the advent of overdubbing, not too many recording sessions can rate on the same excitement level as a presidential assassination, although perhaps that one instance in which Jerry Lee Lewis accidentally shot his bassist in the foot might qualify. You've got historic summits in the recording studio like the "Million Dollar Quartet" sessions, when Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee and Carl Perkins jammed for Sam Phillips' tape machine. But how exciting could that have been if Johnny Cash slipped out early to do some shopping?

So it's no insult to Mesa's Authority Zero to say that watching them stitch together album number two, set for release sometime in spring 2004, is not a thrill a minute. It's only day four of the process, but with basic drum tracks in the can and vocals still a few days away, singer Jason DeVore and drummer Jim Wilcox are happily doing other things and leaving the hurry-up-and-wait game to guitarist Bill Marcks and bassist Jeremy Wood. The band is holed up in the impressive SJS Studios in Scottsdale, situated in the home of well-known radio programmer, consultant and promoter Steve Smith. As Wood lays down his blistering bass track for a new song called "Taking On the World," the world outside is happily taking on dangling Christmas lights over every tree and dribbling basketballs on a smooth driveway down the street. Noise ordinances for such disturbances and the residential location, coupled with the lack of soundproofing, have necessitated a normal, human workaday schedule. No bass or drums after 8 p.m. or the neighborhood bottom-end watch will complain. And no buzz-saw guitars after 10 p.m. The band already has one track in the can where a guitar track stops midway because a neighbor couldn't hear some telltale mumbling on The West Wing.

"I've been here seven hours," says Marcks, bearing up well under the strain. "It's definitely a lot easier to get started earlier in the day."

The only decision he's had to make in the last hour is what takeout dinner to order from Macayo's. Luckily, Miguel, who produced and engineered records by Sublime a decade ago, has just stepped out of the recording booth to offer his professional advice.

"Pescado taco terrifico, dreamed up after a weekend in San Diego," says Miguel (he's so cool, he doesn't need to use a last name professionally), reading the florid description from the menu. "Hey, that sounds like your album."

Miguel is on hand to produce four cuts on the album, while Ryan Green (Lagwagon, No Use for a Name, Swingin' Utters) is tackling the rest.

When last we visited with Authority Zero guitarist Marcks, he and DeVore were sporting Cheshire cat grins over the band's upcoming slot on the Punk-O-Rama tour with Guttermouth, as well as the September 2002 release of their first album, A Passage in Time, on Lava Records, the Warner-distributed label that brought you Kid Rock, A Simple Plan, Matchbox Twenty and Unwritten Law. While Marcks' grin is still in place, it's tempered with reality, much like the guy who lands his dream job and then realizes just how much work is actually involved. There's the difficult business of getting your record added to coveted playlists. There's also the fine art of selling albums by word of mouth; whose word and whose mouth is often anybody's guess. And then add to that the knowledge of how fallible your touring vehicle can be under the intense pressure of a Warped Tour itinerary. Marcks knows that what he wants to happen for Authority Zero is obtainable -- but that the belief that it might happen overnight is long gone.

All told, A Passage in Time sold an impressive 80,000 copies domestically and a mystifying 60,000 copies in Japan, where the band has never set foot.

"It's pretty crazy because they're real fanatics up there," Marcks says. "I know WEA in Japan really likes us. We ran into one of their reps in Florida. I don't know how much actual airplay we get. We didn't get to tour out there, but just judging by a fan's reaction who saw us in San Francisco -- she was a Japanese girl who was tripping because she saw a booth of our stuff -- we're well known."  

Marcks is able to keep tabs on what's going on with the band in Japan through correspondence with a fan there who speaks Portuguese.

"She calls me once in a while to keep my conversational skills up, which suck," he says. "The oddest thing was that she was reading an article in Japanese characters that she was translating in Portuguese. And I had to translate to the guys from Portuguese to English what the article was saying about us. It's the same thing that articles say here. The band was established in 1993 in the garages of Mesa.' It's just weird hearing it in Portuguese from a girl that's 16 hours away. Very strange."

The band's official Web site has little in the way of new news posted, and yes, it also features a bio about them highlighting the garages of Mesa in 1993. But where their portal lacks, ours fills in the blanks with love. Bill Marcks leads us through Authority Zero's last 14 months.

Radio support:

The band has been touring off and on for about a year and a half to support A Passage in Time, earning generous radio play locally as well as in Florida and New York.

"Not a lot in California radio support," Marcks remarks. "We were hoping to get added on KROQ, but we were never added. We were on a couple of times on oddity shows, but that's about it. We're concentrating more on California. We've been getting out there a lot more, and ever since Warped, kids know we are out there. We sell 1,000 records there a month with no radio support, so it's all word of mouth."

Flaming transport:

"We've had a lot of vehicles break down," Marcks reports. "Flights missed. One time, our RV actually [started] on fire somewhere in California on the Warped Tour, and that just beats the hell out of your vehicle. Two people's RVs on that tour actually burned, and they had to borrow equipment. We're riding in a passenger van now, but we'll probably still run our RV into the ground. That's what you do on the Warped Tour. It's pretty brutal going four days on, one day off for two weeks. But it's so good for you exposure-wise. Playing with bands like Poison the Well, Pennywise, and Suicide Machines is the right demographic for sure."

The wrong demographic:

"We did a tour with Everclear," Marcks says later. "The guys were cool when we were hanging out with them, but it just wasn't panning out for us. I think we scared their audience, which were sorta really like Volvo Driving Soccer Moms.'"

Mosh pit for dummies:

The group has a show it refers to as "The Denver Massacre," which goes against the positive vibe Authority Zero usually generates.

Marcks explains: "There were all these young kids that didn't really know how to mosh. We did the Braveheart thing. We split the crowd, and when you give the signal, you have both fronts collide, and they didn't know how to do it. There was a pile of 30 kids. It looked like we were peering into a pit of hell and people were flippin' us off because they were so mad at us. I thought you guys were gonna help each other!' So we had to apologize to the radio station. And security was pissed at us."

The scene back home:

Having been away for most of the year, the "Mesa City" that the band gave a shout-out to in its video seems different.

Last year, DeVore was lamenting about player haters in the old 'hood despite the band's decision to sell other Phoenix-area groups' merchandise at their shows. Now Marcks comments, "There doesn't seem to be much of a scene when we're not here to support it. Lot of bands are breaking up and clubs shutting down."

Working with Miguel and Ryan Green:

The consensus on the last album, which was produced by Dave Jerden of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction fame, was that it didn't quite capture the band as it actually sounds.

"People dig it. But it's a little too overproduced," Marcks says. "There's too many tracks, it doesn't capture our essence much, there's like eight guitar tracks and 9,000 vocals. We call it the Jason Tabernacle Choir. We're trying to keep it more rock and capture what we actually sound like rather than overdo it. That was our first time in the studio, and [this time] we want to be less overzealous."

Says producer Ryan Green, "After hearing them live, it definitely gave me a good idea of what the band was like, and trying to capture what they have and match that kind of energy in the studio is always a chore. We spent a lot of time on song structure and strumming patterns."  

While Authority Zero is spending a lot of time this month matching drum to strum and vice versa, they're only trying to ensure that not a second of listening time is wasted. The band also clocked in a lot of post-production with Miguel in Long Beach, where Sublime secrets such as the sources for some of those heady samples were liberally dispensed.

Possible tracks, possible outtakes:

Although things can change in the next month of recording, the album Authority Zero releases next spring, and hits the road to support, could include any or all of the following items:

• An Irish drinking song the band recorded live at this year's Halloween show.

• A kick-ass track called "Painted Windows" that even kicks ass in the embryonic, Scottsdale-neighbor-interfering stage they played tonight.

• A cover of your favorite Wall of Voodoo song.

• A cover of "El Rey" by Mexican ranchero singer Vicente Fernández. "We should do some ranchero on this album, sing some Spanish," says Marcks.

• The requisite surf tune, which Marcks promises will be on every Authority Zero album. This one breaks him up every time it ends because the last six notes bassist Jeremy Woods plays mimic the woeful Three's Company theme.

• Perhaps they will even heed my heinous suggestion to include the entire Three's Company theme as a tip of the hat to dearly departed John Ritter as a hidden track, to which DeVore can practice falling out of a hammock for the heart-stopping video. Come on, fellas. All moshing aside, take a step that is new!


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