As the bowling ball plunges down the narrow wooden lane, Kevin Dye, guitarist and lead singer of Bldg 5, pivots on one leg, raises clenched fists and flashes a big-league smile. Before the group of onlookers at Tempe Bowl exhales so much as a cheer, the ball swiftly and unexpectedly yaws to the right, then thuds into the gutter and disappears.
The week has started out miserably. On Sunday, Dye and his bandmates--bassist/vocalist David Cortright, drummer Aaron Grubb and multi-instrumentalist Jason Dell--paid a long-awaited visit to the offices of The Edge. As it turned out, the 90 minutes spent with deejay Greg Paul proved less fulfilling than a trial-size bag of Cheezy Poofs.
"We drove up all excited, ran around shoving CDs in people's mailboxes, scrawling our name on the walls and basically making our presence known," recalls Dye, who's wearing his usual fashion combo: wire-rims, a baggy tee shirt and oversize jeans. "But the next day, 15 of our fans dialed the station and requested 'Clean the Green' off [the band's debut CD] Foundation, and the deejay said he didn't have it in stock."
Dye is clearly on a roll. "Phoenix has an awesome music scene, but it's the only city that doesn't play independent music during the daytime."
Grubb, a Seattle transplant sporting fuzzy remnants of a goatee, offers his take. "They'll only spin your music if a major label is stamped on the back of your CD," he says. "Before we got on The Edge, they were playing the Gin Blossoms and the Refreshments."
It's getting late, and the bar is about to close. Dell approaches with a tray of Goldschleger shots. He sniffs at a sign that says "No Drink, Food, Smoking, Resin or Powder," downs the gold-flecked liquid, then joins the convo. "Yeah, radio in this town sucks."
It's Grubb's turn to bowl, and he's in no mood to field the friendly jabs and taunts emanating from his bandmates. The guys were up partying all night, and Grubb is chasing back a hangover with aspirin and Coors Light.
Cortright launches the first attack. "Man, Aaron, we all got strikes except for you. You're like a pretty bowler, dude."
"Hey, watch your mouth," counters Cortright, who's about twice Grubb's size.
"Shut up, dude," says Grubb, "You're oppressing me."
Adjusting his jeans, Grubb saunters toward the lane and positions himself for a winning shot. Like a wizard staring into a crystal ball, Grubb regards the 14-pound urethane sphere in his hand, mumbles something under his breath, then winds his arm back to the right and scores a strike. The applause is thunderous and genuine. Beer bottles collide and backs are slapped. The week would turn out okay after all.
If you're in Bldg 5, getting to rehearsal can be hairy. The band's compound is nestled in a South Phoenix barrio, the setting for a recent episode of Cops. Dye says he sometimes hears gunfire on nights when the amps are turned down low. One time he and Cortright ran out of gas, when two guys in an El Camino pulled up alongside them, dimmed their lights, rolled down the windows and cranked the radio--sure-fire warning signs of a drive-by. The two musicians ditched their car and broke into a straight run.
It's getting dark as I drive through the wrought-iron gates of the foam factory where the band rehearses. I curve alongside a chicken-wire fence riddled with barbed wire, then pull up to a door marked "Bldg 5" and cut the engine. Cool strains of reggae leak from the corrugated steel walls, softening for a moment the bleak landscape of 20th Avenue and Fillmore Street.
Following the loamy riffs that drift through the empty parking lot, I head to the entrance, where rolls of carpet padding lean against either side of the door like giant cigarette butts.
Inside, I'm greeted by a sharp aural blast of ear-bleed metal punctuated by jagged shards of punk-rock mayhem. Four musicians in their early 20s bounce like popcorn off the walls, barely noticing a shell-shocked onlooker in the doorway.
The members of Bldg 5, as it turns out, are prone to manic mood swings. Foundation is an eddy of schizophrenic anthems that defy expectation at every chord change. It's not uncommon for the four-year-old quartet to segue, midsong, from a perky shuffle into a tricked-out funk riff, then plunge headlong into breakneck ska.
"We don't want to fit into any format," says Dye, his lively blue-green eyes visible through wisps of sandy, shoulder-length hair. "Every song we do is different."
In spring and summer, the small rehearsal room heats up to 115 degrees. Although it's situated in a foam factory, the walls are not insulated, so the band drinks cold beers to stave off heat exhaustion. Besides, rationalizes Dye, "We play with whatever the weather is. You've got to keep with the spin of the planet."
Right now the quartet is playing "Build," a song Dye wrote about Fife Symington before the court found him guilty. "Ya Fife, ya stupid motherfucker, ya get richer while more and more suffer," screams Dye. "In the end, ya think ya still just gonna walk away? We get stronger each and every day."
Above Dye's Fender amp, a large crimson banner bearing a hammer and sickle has been stuck to the wall. Opposite, above a Grateful Dead poster, a bumper sticker shrieks, "Deforestation: the door to hell!"
At a time when protest bands are about as common as Princess Di sightings, Bldg 5 rallies around numerous domestic and global causes. Songs like "Freedom Sleeps in the Arms of Diversity," a reggae tune about oil spills on the Columbia River in Washington, "Strive," a funk-rock song about poor living conditions on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota where Dye once lived, or "Clean the Green," a jazz ditty about legalizing marijuana, defy alterna-rock's sour-pussed pessimism with lighthearted vengeance. It's as if Woody Guthrie's angry spirit came back in the form of four fun-loving, politically correct, weed-smoking, beer-drinking children of the '90s.
"We're fun people, but we're not idiots. We read a lot to find out what's going on," says Dye, who will tell you to get information from the Web, not from newspapers, because "then you're not destroying natural resources to gain knowledge."
The political stuff is Dye's brain child. When he was 13, his family moved to Germany where his father operated telecommunication satellites for the military. At 16, Dye became part of Berlin's musical underground, playing guitar with ultra-left-wing groups like Elk Faction and Mainline (several of whose members later joined the metal group Accept).
"We were pro-IRA, and we took heat for creating fliers that would depict actual photos of bombing scenes," Dye recalls. "We'd get phone calls to our studio telling us we'd be reported to the police if we didn't stop posting fliers.
"Don't get me wrong," he adds. "I don't support death of any kind. I'm not a bomber, I'm a musician. If I can make bombs with music, it's a whole lot easier than going to jail. In fact, my biggest idol is Bob Marley. He'd go onstage with 15 people in his band, and they'd all have military uniforms on and be angry and yet their music would be so happy."
After Dye graduated from high school, he moved to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where he became a supporter of the American Indian Movement (AIM). At 22, he relocated to Phoenix, where he sought a forum for his political convictions.
Cortright explains what happened next: "The way our band got together was pretty wild," he explains. "Aaron and I auditioned Kevin, then a few weeks later, Kevin moved to Montana and Aaron took off for Seattle. I was really bummed. I was the only one in the city. Then one Friday Kevin calls and says he's back in town. The following Wednesday he breaks his arm and he can't play."
Only two weeks after the duo hooked up, Dye was hit by a car while riding his bike. Doctors operated three times, replacing a shattered wrist and elbow with titanium plates. Dye continued to rehearse almost immediately. "I didn't want to take time away from the band, so instead of getting the bones set and wearing a cast for six weeks, I just rehabilitate my arm by lifting weights."
Grubb rejoined the fold, and the trio added Dell, who plays sax, congas, trombone, trumpet, cowbells and an unidentifiable whistle Dye brought over from Germany.
These days, when the foursome isn't playing, it's snowboarding in the backwoods of Arizona, which Cortright likens to being on the set of MTV. "The snowboarding crowd is a bunch of trend-watchers," says Cortright. "There are too many people wearing the same clothes. They go to the mountain and put on headphones and listen to Stone Temple Pilots. We go to the backwoods and smoke weed."
"We're worried about playing our weed card 'cause we don't want to come across as a marijuana band," cautions Dye. "Out of 20-something songs, we only have one about marijuana."
"Yeah, we want to write about people being oppressed, not a plant," clarifies Cortright. "But we do support Prop 200, which lowers the prison time served by people busted for possession."
Dye and Cortright have a vested interest in the overturned proposition. Recently, the pair were driving to rehearsal when a female cop pulled them to the side of the road. Cortright explains: "I had some pot and I wasn't even high. I pulled over, and this lady cop comes up to Kevin's side and says, 'I snuck up on you, huh?' We were like, 'Right on.' And she was like, 'I smell marijuana.' And I'm like, 'Nope, sorry, don't have any.' So she looked at my car and told me she had a nose like a dog. So I was finally like, 'Okay, here it is, I have some.'"
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The cop cuffed the pair, instructed them to lie belly-down on the asphalt, then dumped the pipe and set them free.
"She didn't like Kevin," recalls Cortright.
"It's 'cause I was wearing a shirt with mushrooms on it," says Dye.
"And he was talkin' shit."
"Hey, I just say the way I feel. If I can make $10 million off this band, I'm going to move out of America and wage my own personal war against this country," counters Dye.
Don't you ever sleep?
"Naw, we're too busy launching a media blitzkrieg.