The Power of Five
Now it's official: America loves its morose anniversary celebrations. Whatever the cursed event may be the Kennedy assassination, the death of Elvis, the Oklahoma City bombing, the murder of JonBenet Ramsey or the release of Invincible, we've come to expect a somber annual reminder and the corresponding media hoopla. The grim September 11 anniversary won't go unnoticed, but perhaps some quiet reflection would be preferable to the proposed Concert for America, with its thus-far dispiriting lineup of performers: the National Symphony Orchestra, Gloria Estefan, Alan Jackson, Placido Domingo and poet Maya Angelou. What next? Celine Dion singing that insufferable Titanic song? Elton John changing the words to "Candle in the Wind" to "Goodbye WTC"? And the question on everyone's mind: Does the gravity of this occasion necessitate pulling Bob Hope and Ann Jillian out of storage?
Miles away from our nation's capital, Fifteen Minutes Fast will mark a considerably less-upsetting anniversary that week. It was a year ago nearly to the day that four-fifths of the band fled an oppressive music scene in Kansas City, Missouri (where the obvious "Missouri Loves Company" license plate has yet to materialize), and settled in Arizona. That same week, they put an ad in this very paper and hooked up with Tempe drummer Jeff Kritzstein to form a group unlike any in this locality.
First off, it's the only group in the state that favors keyboards that sound like those musical greeting cards that keep playing years after you tuck them away in a drawer. Next, in a town with few female singers of note, Fifteen Minutes Fast boasts the winning cry of Brianne Grimmer, who was actually born here but moved two months later. And finally, it's a band that has four lead vocalists and four writers.
I know what you're thinking: Such a daredevil mix of talent has not been attempted since the scary days of Jefferson Starship. But don't worry; there's no scattershot songs about saving whales and mating on the moon here. Instead, this brood presents a unified front both musically and lyrically, judging by the contents of its soon-to-be-released first CD, tentatively titled Remedial Mathrock and produced by former Pollen navigator Bob Hoag.
If pushed to make allusions, the Fifteen Minutes Fast sound most resembles Weezer offshoot The Rentals, but it adds in emo block harmonies and pummeling chords, the kind that Promise Ring fans claim are theirs alone. In the word department, each of the four voices addresses personal worries that ultimately become the band's collective concern. Three tunes are named after colleagues and/or old flames ("Casey," "Jeffrey" and "Shannon"), while another three itemize favorite getaway spots ("Haiti," "Minneapolis" and the less-specific "Getaway"). Only one song is named after the murder weapon in the 1995 serial-killer suspense thriller Seven ("That Thing From Seven"), and at least four tunes question someone's unwillingness to listen without prejudice to some boss new tunes ("Rockstar," "Move Me," "Jeffrey" and "Wait"). "Wait" in particular seems impatient about a stagnant music scene ("I suppose if I had a hit song/You would take the time to sing along" and "Remember when the music was good and people came out like I think they still should"), while "Move Me" takes on K.C. music critics for their holier-than-thou demeanor.
Possibly incurring the wrath of such tastemakers were Mark Anderson and Rob O'Toole, who had an altogether different band called Fifteen Minutes Fast back in Kansas City, which fell apart when "people got too troublesome exercising their personal freedoms," as O'Toole diplomatically puts it. "I left that lineup to join a band fronted by Brianne Grimmer called Lushbox when their guitarist split to get married."
Lushbox was going pretty strong for a while; the group attracted some label interest and won mp3.com's "Best Girl Lead Singer Band," quite a prestigious honor considering how many bands are on the site. Then it was Lushbox's turn to fragment while band members exercised their troublesome personal freedoms. "So what this band boils down to," says O'Toole, "is that we took all the people that played in bands together in Kansas City and weeded out the people that didn't take it seriously."
Serious meant moving the band to Phoenix. A false start with a different keyboardist led the band to Jason Sukut, a guitarist intent on continuing his musical relationship with Grimmer. "After Lushbox, Bree had an acoustic gig playing old Lushbox songs in Kansas City, and she asked me to play guitar with her. We put together a two-person acoustic show and that went really well, so I got convinced with the idea that I was going to move down here and try to finagle my way into the band before anyone else did," he says. "But they didn't need another guitar player, so I started playing keys. I came because it sounded like a weird idea."
Weird and how. With a music scene in Phoenix that offers a dearth of quality bands and a shrinking number of clubs to see them in, you've got to wonder just how much worse the Kansas City scene was.
Sukut admits, "I seriously wasn't involved in the scene there. When I was growing up even in the '90s, there were a lot of bands still trying to do a late Poison deal, and they would sell out 2,000-seat venues. That's what I thought the Kansas City music scene was these huge hair-metal bands. All the bands that are like cult-indie icons, like Ultimate Fakebook and stuff, I never even heard of them in Kansas City."
The group wasted little time in registering itself within the ranks of the top bands in the Valley. At an early gig, the band opened for Phunk Junkeez, and for the past several months, the group has shared a coveted Wednesday-night slot with Gloritone at Long Wong's, following the vacating Ghetto Cowgirl. Those coming early to see Fifteen Minutes Fast are generally surprised to find that, half the time, the veteran Phoenix outfit plays the opening slot. "It's because they're doing an acoustic set, and they enjoy playing earlier," says drummer Kritzstein, the only Phoenician and non-singer of the group (though that could conceivably change).
Kritzstein beat out 20 other drummers to join FMF and was the only guy the group could bear to call back. "And we liked that he listed Cool Keith as one of his favorite bands," grins O'Toole.
On the band's Web site (www.fifteenminutesfast.com), there is virtually no overlap of the members' "favorite bands," except that Anderson and O'Toole both give props to Weezer and Solo Project. Yet this disparate pool of influences somehow coalesces when the band begins working on new songs. Although everyone has the right to veto a song they don't like, each member has the flexibility to arrange things until they come up with an improvement on the original idea, rather than a compromise.
"I think there's definitely a sort of I got a song' pitching going on," says Grimmer. "What ends up happening is that you sneak in and play something, and it's contagious. Everybody likes it. Then it kind of works for some reason, and you just go with it. Lately, we try and write stuff together from scratch, and the first person that comes up with a melody gets to sing the lead. There's lots of harmony with four singers."
The band members exhibit good humor and zeal onstage, even in their willingness to smile and be, dare I say it, goofy for the camera, even though Grimmer confesses, "I think our songs sound happy, but the lyrics are kind of mean."
"Most of the songs turn out to be toe-tapping songs, but it's not something we're limited to," adds Kritzstein. "All of us have fun when we play, not because we want to be perceived as a joke band, but we all aren't doing this so tight-laced and serious. This is what we most have fun doing, so it's naturally going to be fun."
"I've seen some bands locally," says Anderson, "that want to change the world with their set list. And you want to go to them and say, Have some fun already.'"
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