Fivespeed seemed to have everything going for it three years ago. The five-piece Peoria hard-rock outfit was signed to Virgin Records. Their music was receiving national radio play. They toured nationally, packing in sweaty fans on the Warped Tour. They sold out hometown shows.
Inside the veteran band, though, things weren't going as well. After a decade together, singer Jared Woosley, guitarist Jesse LaCross, guitarist Brad Cole, bassist Matt Turner, and drummer Shane Addington were on the brink of losing it. Soon after Warped Tour, the band's members — ranging in age from 29 to 35 — knew they had to take a break.
Woosley was struggling with a heroin addiction. The band's bickering led to occasional epic blowouts. They had $60,000 worth of gear stolen at a tour stop. Their touring schedule was full, but their bank accounts weren't, leading to a lot of friction. So one of Arizona's most promising local bands began what turned out to be a three-year hiatus.
The Tilted Kilt in Peoria
Fivespeed are scheduled to perform Saturday, August 15.
Fivespeed never broke up, the band says, even if people thought otherwise. They simply checked out for a while.
Shit hit the fan even before they hit the road on what turned out to be a disastrous stint on the 2005 Warped Tour. They lost bassist Rob Anderson just before they played their first date, when he said he couldn't afford to put his life on hold for the band.
"Rob basically hit the wall that we all eventually hit," LaCross says while sitting on Turner's patio in the far west 'burb of El Mirage. "We were just trailing behind him."
No Use for a Name bassist Matt Riddle stepped in for two weeks until the band could fly Turner out as a replacement for the duration of the tour.
"I jumped into the band in the middle of a shit storm," says Turner.
Like Anderson, the rest of the members were dealing with the financial pressures of being in a band, and they wondered how they would pay their bills back home. But the worst was yet to come. During a stop in Detroit, their van and trailer, which contained all their gear (instruments, laptops, cell phones, merchandise, and $2,000 in cash, from merch sales) was stolen from the parking lot of a Hilton.
They grimace as they tell the story.
"Half of that sound was due to the select gear that we had acquired over the years to perfect that live tone — and it was all gone," Woosley says shaking his head.
"I had a vintage Ludwig drum set that we bought on eBay for $3,000," Addington adds. "I can't even talk about it. I have the rim for the bass drum hanging up in my garage. I just can't believe it's gone."
As they turned to the hotel bar to drown their sorrows, some of their Warped Tour peers pitched in, offering everything from gear to stage time. And though they were down, the band finished the tour in a minivan, proving they weren't down for the count just yet.
Virgin offered the band a "small" amount of money for new gear, but it didn't make a dent in their losses, says Woosley.
"That money that they gave us was the money they were supposed to give us to help us with our rent and to pay our insurance on our cars, and that sort of thing," he says.
After returning from the Warped Tour, a road-fried, beaten-down Fivespeed embarked on a nearly nine-month tour. They traveled to Manhattan to perform at the legendary CBGB before it closed, playing for the new president of Virgin Records.
Woosley speculates that the new label president wasn't impressed. The label shelved the band soon after the show.
"[Virgin] didn't drop us, but they retained our rights," Addington says. "After that, we just got into an argument one day. We all got out of the van, and we didn't call each other for a couple of years."
"We were all so tired by then," Woosley adds. "The money wasn't helping us pay our bills, and the pressure from home was really great. Money will tear apart any relationship, whether it's business or romantic."
Money problems suck, but Woosley's personal demons also contributed to Fivespeed's downfall. His heroin addiction was a brutal foe, he says.
"Anyone who reads into the lyrics of this last record can read into what I went through," Woosley says of the band's 2006 Virgin debut, Morning Over Midnight, which followed 2002's Trade in Your Halo. "It numbed me and destroyed me. I was already depressed and thrown through the wringer."
Woosley says he went into hibernation for a year after the band's split.
"[Heroin] just separated me from everything I love," he says. "It completely separated me from music. It made touring horrible for me."
The rest of the band members were aware of their singer's addiction, Woosley says, but couldn't help him.
"They weren't stupid," he says. "I slept all the time. They tried to help in their own way, whether it be with anger or a threat. The lies started to snowball, and they catch up to you after a while."
The singer says that it took him some time to get off heroin, but he finally snapped out of it. "I came to my senses," he says. "I've been clean and sober for two years."
While the band members took time away from each other, they went back to work — LaCross at a design company. Addington managed a telemarketing office, Turner painted drywall for his father-in-law, Cole did vinyl graphic installations, and Woosley tried it all, even officiating rec-league hockey games.
It didn't take them long to return to music. Woosley joined the local act Giantkiller and, later, formed Paper Airplane with Turner. Addington and Turner reignited The Desperate Hours, a side project that remained dormant when Turner and Addington toured with Fivespeed. And Cole jammed with Art for Starters, the new band of former Before Braille singer Dave Jensen.
"We had that bug again," Woosley says. "We weren't making music with Fivespeed, so we were all looking to other outlets."
But they never fully let go of Fivespeed.
"It took three years, basically, to get our lives back in order," Woosley says. "Everyone had little problems, whether it be drugs or alcohol or anything like that. I slept on Jesse's couch for, like, a year and a half."
After the wounds had time to heal, Woosley and Turner got the wheels turning for an unofficial Fivespeed reunion show by reaching out to the rest of the band. They began practicing again and found themselves jelling in no time.
"We realized we were on the same page again," Woosley says. "Once we were all in the same room, we decided to make it a full-time (gig) again."
"We all got along great, and we were joking and laughing," Addington says. "I don't think I stopped laughing during our first few practices."
The band was invited to open for the now-defunct Stereotyperider (which once included Addington on drums) at the Yucca Tap Room in February. It was their first show in nearly three years.
"We hopped onto that show, like, a couple weeks before it went off," Woosley says. "We had been practicing for two to three weeks. It was brand new that we were thinking about doing this again. We didn't promote the show at all. We just wanted to see what happened. It was awful. We played awful, but a lot of fans came out and so did a lot of our friends."
The band found that people were still interested in seeing Fivespeed perform. Fans from other cities drove in to watch their "reunion" performance, Woosley says.
"People who really cared came out of the woodwork," he says. "Before, we were too wrapped up in paying our bills or not paying our bills, and the stress and the arguments and the little things that we took for granted, to really notice how much people cared. We let those things affect the way we noticed a response from the people who lived in the same hometown as us."
And the group's MySpace page started blowing up on a national level, Turner says.
"There were people from out of state that were upset that we weren't going to their towns," he says. "We got a lot of 'when are you going to tour again?' We had comment after comment just asking, 'Are you guys back?' 'Tell me you're back,' 'I need to hear a new record.' There was a lot of that nationwide, rather than just a local response."
After all they went through individually, Fivespeed seems pretty fun, Addington says.
"I've always felt that music starts from people first, and, right now, we're all getting along great and we're all having a great time, and I think that's why it's so fun to write and to practice," he says. "We endured one of the hardest runs you could endure for a band."
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"We lost our identity," LaCross says. "But now that we revisited and came back, it's like we do have an identity. We're playing for us again. It was like we were trying to make too many people happy and not ourselves. We forgot what we were writing about and what for, and everything started sounding mechanical and nobody loved it. It's kind of like that saying that, 'If you set something free and it comes back' — to me, that kind of holds true."
And as for a new disc, Woosley says one is in the works for 2010. This time, though, Fivespeed will go the independent route.
"We will never give up our rights ever again," Addington says.
"The only good thing that came out of all of that is that we really learned what we don't want to do," LaCross says of working with Virgin. "We let everybody else take control of our band, and we lost it. We went into it very naive. We thought these people were going to help us and guide us and give us direction and it was none of that . . . This is ours, and nobody is going to tell us the way we're going to play — ever, ever again."