This Year's Sport Model
If you think the Sport Model is a mod-revivalist band, you're wrong--but it's largely the band's fault. The Sport Model's early live-show handbills were festooned with pop-art images, Who guitarist Pete Townshend's windmill poses, and stills from the Who-derived film Quadrophenia. Kerosene was poured liberally on that fire when the Sport Model doggedly played its first six months' worth of gigs dressed in suits and ties, coming off like ersatz British invaders.
"That got us into more hot water than it was worth," admits drummer Mario Martusciello, referring to the band's tailored-stagewear days. "We played fully suited up just for fun."
"It wasn't so much 'fun' as we were just sick of seeing everyone playing in jeans and tee shirts," counters bassist David Englehardt. "Sort of the way we're dressed now."
A local band such as the Malcontents, a surf instrumental trio with whom the Sport Model often plays, can get away with shark-fin suits because the clothes are genre-specific and meet people's expectations of what they're going to hear.
However, clubgoers seeing the Sport Model early on went away either confused or disappointed when the band's live sound more closely resembled Pearl Jam than it did Paul Weller's Jam.
"I think we were asking for that. We were wearing our influences on our sleeves," Martusciello allows. "We listen to a lot of Britpop, old and new, but we listen to a lot of American music, too. People tend to get the impression we're Brit fans and that's all we'll listen to. We played a show in Tucson with our friends Autumn Teen Sound, and they put a picture of Oasis on the flier under our names."
Anglophiles or not, the members of the Sport Model sit knocking back beers at their favorite watering hole, Scottsdale's Olde English Pub, listening to pay-dirt Britpop selections the guys have punched in on the CD jukebox. A few downed Guinness Stouts have irreparably impaired singer Mike Parkin's dart game against guitarist Jason Garcia. Parkin's last three throws have found only the nonscoring cork area that surrounds the board. "This is actually improving my game," he slurs into his tall glass.
The lanky and shy front man is, himself, the subject of continual misapprehension. "Everyone freaks out because I'm quiet, six-foot-six, and I have dark hair. And people interpret this as . . . well, being menacing," he sighs. "We're really not angry. Maybe at the beginning we were. I was just coming out of a bad band situation and being completely insecure about my singing because I had just started. I'm not the creep I appear to be."
Parkin's frustration with his former group, Scapegoat, reached critical mass when, as he explains, "We did a whole album, but they freaked about putting it out."
Three years ago, Parkin switched allegiance from bass to rhythm guitar, then teamed with his friend Martusciello to form the Sport Model. Parkin became lead singer by default--no one else wanted the job. "The whole reason the band was formed in the first place wasn't even to do shows, but to just release singles," Parkin solemnly states. "And it's taken us three years to finally do that. We finally got material we want people to hear."
The band's first single, "Reality" (backed with "You Should Know"), will be available at Sport Model live shows and local record stores later this month. Meanwhile, those of you without working turntables can sample "You Should Know" on the already-available Best Buy-sponsored local-music CD compilation The Buzz From the Southwest. With its heavily tremoloed guitars, this potent rocker sounds like a nasty cross between a cut from R.E.M.'s Monster, Superchunk, and the Steve Miller Band's "Take the Money and Run." "We gravitate more toward a big sound, arena rock," says Parkin. "It's butt rock. We are butt rock. Two guitars, distortion all the time . . ." He trails off, poking his cigarette into ash. "I don't know what we are, to tell you the truth. Just the sum of the four of us."
"The writing we do is not preconceived," explains Garcia. "We're just feeling what the other person's playing and building on that. It's like when you put gel in your hand, you don't know what it's going to do in your hair. But when you comb it and slick it back, man, there it is."
"What does that mean?" laughs Martusciello, thoroughly perplexed.
The youngest and most enthusiastic member of the group, Garcia joined up in January 1995. By sheer force of his energetic personality, Garcia, a self-confessed mod in a town where there simply aren't any, provided the band with a necessary visual focal point while mike-shy Mike was still feeling his way around front-man status. Garcia's impressive and heartfelt montage of Townshend's best windmills, leaps and splits made the Sport Model a band to watch as well as listen to early on.
"I lived in a fucking box as far as my taste in music was concerned," Garcia confesses. "Until this band came about, I didn't know about any other kinds of music [except mod]. These guys made me listen to more kinds of music than I ever have my whole life. These guys have molded me more than I could've molded myself. These guys turned me on to Swervedriver, Gwen Mars and Blur."
Still, no amount of Blur recordings will drive a man to smash his beloved ax to smithereens. Garcia's inevitable collision course with audience expectations and autodestruction preambles led him to make this dunderheaded ultimate sacrifice one night last June. But he didn't do the deed in Tempe, where audiences probably wouldn't be looking at the stage long enough to see it; rather, he chose San Francisco. Or it chose him.
"We smashed our shit at the Transmission Theater in San Francisco because it felt good," recalls Garcia. "It was a huge scooter crowd who didn't care that we didn't play Britpop and really got into us anyway. I didn't really want to do it, but people were just egging us on and it just felt right. I rammed my Epiphone hollow body into my Marshall combo. Those amps are like a brick wall. Crunch! People wanted more, and we gave it to them. It was nice seeing people rush the stage and grabbing little pieces of our instruments."
"That didn't lead to any autodestruction trend," Englehardt points out cautiously. "We can't afford that trend." Englehardt joined in the onstage melee by tossing his bass at the wall. Parkin couldn't resist participating in what he now calls "that stupid rock 'n' roll fantasy thing," and he kicked over his amp. Only Martusciello, who admits to being "too chickenshit of risking even the tiniest scratch" on his drums, failed to self-destruct.
If anything, the equipment-trashing experience was a turning point. Having proven to itself it really wasn't a mod band, the Sport Model just settled into being plain ol' modern. While the music retained its aggressive edge, the band never put wanton exhibitionism above musicianship. The members have always been topnotch players, and it's quite riveting to watch the skilled ensemble plow through a song such as "Unusual," which features an extended rave-up in its middle. Instead of reducing their guitars to kindling trying to express the song's innate frustration (most of the Sport Model's lyrics seem to be about being misunderstood in a relationship), the band members take control of their instruments as if they were master craftsmen on This Old House, coaxing feedback from their amps like they were building an addition onto the garage.
When the subject of establishing a substantial following in its hometown comes up, the band allows that it is resigned to eking out a living in a stagnating club scene that prefers sweating to the oldies to tuning in to something new and original. "I'm glad we're doing the single and going out of town more and more often," asserts Englehardt. "Fuck it, you do what you can, go out of town, have your fun, especially with the heat rolling around."
For Martusciello, "Phoenix is about friends coming to shows. It should start there and grow."
Along with outfits such as Autumn Teen Sound and the Lemmings, the Sport Model plans to present "Night of 100 Hooks" shows, which will feature four pop bands and a DJ spinning pop selections chosen by those same bands. (The groups also are scheming to publish a monthly newsletter called The Vic--after Queen Victoria, natch--which will report informally on their activities and those of like-minded bands.) "If there's only a hundred people in town that are into the same type of music we like, by controlling the bill and the music in between sets, we can keep them there and entertained the whole night," theorizes Parkin.
Keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for the Sport Model. Its members are honest and self-effacing about the stylistic mistakes they've made. But now, seemingly, all of their missteps are behind them. After its 45 has been out there for a while, the band will concentrate on recording a full-length CD. "By that time," kids Garcia, "industry terms like 'agro' and 'emo' will have run their course, and the world will be ready for a band that's like us. Agreeemo!"
The Sport Model is scheduled to perform on Friday, June 13, at Hollywood Alley in Mesa. Showtime is midnight.
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