Ten songs into what was supposed to be a nine-song set, on a lawn between two of Arizona State University's freshman dorms, Greeley Estates singer Ryan Zimmerman is obviously spent. He keeps spitting behind the PA, trying to clear his throat to finish screaming the lyrics to "Not Alone," the last track on Greeley's recently released LP, Outside of This. "This is what happens when we do one more song," he half-apologetically tells the crowd hugging the makeshift stage.
After the set is finished, Zimmerman looks like he's going to vomit, as he often does after Greeley Estates' live shows. Being the front man for a melodic post-hardcore band -- screamo, as it's unfortunately known -- isn't easy on the esophagus. The rest of the band -- guitarists Dallas Smith and Brandon Hackenson, bass player Jared Wallace, and temporary drummer Atom Boyd -- is sweat-soaked and exhausted after the afternoon outdoor gig in the middle of spring's first heat wave.
An amateur affair with no monitors and terrible sound quality, the free show attracted well over 70 observers, either fans of Greeley or students who happened by the barrage of guitar riffs and screaming. Several audience members even drove down from Flagstaff to see Greeley play 40 minutes of pop-inflected manic hardcore -- not bad for four kids from the west side who'd never been in a band until a year ago.
A couple days later, Zimmerman says in a voice message, "Sorry, we're kind of boring. We're just really new to this and we don't have a lot to complain about or bitch about." It's this sort of humility that makes Greeley Estates one of the Valley's most likable bands, as well as one of the most viscerally exciting.
The members of Greeley Estates have accomplished more with their first band than many musicians do with their fifth: opening for post-hardcore heroes like Poison the Well, A Static Lullaby, and The Bled; releasing a slickly packaged and produced CD; attracting fans who will drive for two hours to see them play.
"We feel like kids playing this stuff," Zimmerman says.
The band gets plenty of static from local haters, either for being too green or for playing a genre of music that's currently en vogue with alternatypes, but it seems to have no effect on the boys.
"The kids that we're playing for, I would say for sure, are high school-age and college-age kids," Zimmerman says. "We really don't care what people think as long as the kids that are coming out to our shows are having a good time and we're still enjoying ourselves. We're not gonna act like we know what's up; we still have a long way to go."
Outside of This, recorded at Blue Light Audio by Cory Spotts, mines territory that's familiar to any student of indie rock or hardcore -- at its best, the band sounds like a poppier and more restrained At the Drive-In, with smatterings of Braid, early Get Up Kids, Clikitat Ikatowi, and occasionally a little Blink-182 pop-punk.
"My mom's not really into our music," Hackenson says with a laugh. "She thinks the music's all right, but she can't stand the screaming. None of our parents are really into it, which is a good thing, I think. I think if your parents are totally into your music, then you're doing something wrong."
The boys' moms may not like the screaming, but there's little else abrasive about Greeley Estates. The four core members came together at Grand Canyon University, the local private Christian university. Though their music can't be classified as Christian, it's certainly inoffensive -- no cursing, no misogynism, no pessimism.
"We've had awesome opportunities to meet all these kids -- we hope to have a positive kind of message," Zimmerman says.
"Someone said, 'You're never guaranteed the breath past the one you're breathing right now,'" Hackenson adds. "If we can do something with our music that has an effect on people's lives in the limited time that we're here, and able to make that effect a positive one, we just feel very blessed for the opportunity to make that happen."
Predictably, Greeley Estates' songs are mostly of the lovelorn, heartbroken variety, which is likely the reason for the enthusiasm of fans like those at the band's ASU appearance. A few songs into the set, Zimmerman got a group of squatting kids mouthing along to his lyrics to stand up and crowd the stage to help him sing the chorus to "Through Waiting." Soon more of the crowd bunched up on the grassy knoll where the band was playing, resulting in some good-natured slam dancing.
Despite Greeley's genre and subject matter, there's nothing angsty about its live show. Mike cord wrapped around his right wrist like a rubber bracelet, Zimmerman engages his fans by singing inches from their faces, thrusting out the microphone so they can sing along. After the band's set, the Greeley boys spend a good hour lingering and bullshitting with their friends and fans. It's this sort of bonding with their audience that's propelled the boys so far in such a short amount of time.
Greeley Estates has enthusiastic backers as well -- an independent investor who financed the band's CD, and an intrepid manager, Maria Vassett -- who guide them through the obstacle course of the music industry. But despite their early success, the boys are realistic about the opportunity they've been handed.
"We all believe in the band, but we know this isn't gonna be 20 years of Greeley Estates," Smith says. "If this is a cool five-year thing for us to do, that's amazing. If this fizzles out six months from now, then we're happy with what we did, and we're amazed that we accomplished this much."
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