Many are the bands profiled in these pages who ask what a bunch of musicians has to do to get a cover story around here. Sometimes it’s by sheer popularity. Sometimes it’s sheer luck, a slow news week when some guitarist turns out to be more visually appealing than a drawing of a judge’s gavel.
Authority Zero might not have achieved the national breakout of Jimmy Eat World or Gin Blossoms or even Roger Clyne, but this Mesa foursome was able to accrue and maintain a loyal following nationally and internationally and survive a hostile record business climate for 20 years.
But that hasn’t stopped singer Jason DeVore from using an app on his phone to suggest what it would look like if Authority Zero graced the cover of this very publication.
When it’s suggested by a certain insider that something a little more controversial might be needed to secure a cover story — homicide or, at the very least, hiring a killer like that As I Lay Dying cretin— DeVore, without missing a beat, offers new bassist Mike Spero as the killer for hire as soon as he walks through the door.
“Mike will take one for the team,” he says in mock seriousness.
It is in fact DeVore who has been taking one for the team for the better part of 20 years as the only original member of the group left standing. More on that Agatha Christie mystery later.
We’re sitting in the living room of 1212 House, the home purchased by manager Brian Sandell for showcasing live acoustic performances and hosting radio shows. It also is where Authority Zero will record demos for its next studio album, which it will begin recording in October with producer Cameron Webb. Before this will happen, the band will play a 20th anniversary show at Club Red, which will be recorded for a live CD and DVD.
“We’re further along than we were for the last studio album,” says DeVore, even though doing demo work means lead guitarist Brandon Landelius and drummer Sean Sellers (who also plays in Good Riddance) have to fly in periodically from Amarillo, Texas, and Santa Barbara, California, respectively.
Authority Zero has maintained its older fans but has an active new fan base coming into play overseas that discovered the group long after it was signed to a major label, fans who have binged on the band’s entire discography.
“It’s a growing market for us,” DeVore says. “Spain is really digging us. They just go nuts for us. Australia. Belgium. Overseas, they really have the old-school ethic and mentality.”
With old-school mentalities come old-school expectations that DeVore can meet but doesn’t want to repeat. “Those are songs we wrote when we were super-young. They were juvenile songs in a way, but there was complete honesty, too. Now you’re really hoping that people are open-minded to new ideas and not wanting to hear the same record over and over.”
If you were going to document how the record industry landscape has changed over the past 20 years, you could hardly ask for a better test subject than Authority Zero, who squeaked in on the last days of the old model. Signed to Lava Records, an indie subsidiary of Atlantic Records in 2002, the band released its first album, , which sold 250,000 copies worldwide. That was considered a sales bust in 2002, but any record label would probably reward every band member with a Lexus for those sales figures now.
Shortly after the release of the band’s second album, , came DeVore’s realization that major record labels “don’t give a shit about you. It’s a matter of wanting to put the record out [and] push and market you when they think the time is best, and if you don’t go along with it, they shy away from you.”
Lava, hungry for a radio hit, strong-armed the band to do the radio-safe thing of releasing of a cover song, Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio,” as a single. DeVore thought this would ultimately doom the band as a one-hit wonder.
Even though Stan Ridgway himself said, ‘I really like what they did with it. The music industry needs more angstful youth like these guys,” the band wanted to be known more for its original music. With the first ripples of dissent came a corresponding lack of interest from the label. Shortly after the release of , which Authority Zero already had toured behind, Lava dropped the band.
Unable to self-finance an album, the band went the independent route in partnership with Big Panda Records. “Our manager at the time, Brad Patrick, and his partner, Randy Buzzelli, didn’t need to take us on. They were managing Jay Z!”
DeVore still laughs at the absurdity of it.
“We were under Bling Bling Management and we’re this small punk kind of reggae ska band out of the small town of Mesa. How the fuck do we fit in with this picture?” DeVore says. “They were cool guys. It was a fun project for them. They helped us get the whole Atlantic/Lava thing going, and they wanted to see us continue to do well.”
Alas, they never got to meet Jay Z or entertain an Authority Zero fragrance or clothing line.
From there, it became a confusing environment with management and lawyers also being the band’s label. When Authority sought outside legal counsel to try and separate this conflict of interest, the lawyer faction of Big Panda got wind of it, dug up every penny the band borrowed that was put toward the record, and slapped them with the bill.
“It was a complete hardship, a heavy burden on the band, not having made any money on the record sales,” says DeVore. “The only solution was to work off the debt, do a lot of tours, hometown shows, and big festivals with a higher pay grade and put it all toward the debt.”
Not getting paid for a couple of years had a disastrous effect on the band members, all of whom had families and mortgages at this point. If the band split up and declared bankruptcy, as though it were a big corporation, that debt might have gone away, but it was never an option for DeVore.
“There was a part of me that said, ‘I’ll be damned if I let the music industry destroy all the great things we built from our childhood dreams till now. I’ll be damned if I let that monster win.’ Two years and it still wasn’t over when the final original member left the group. So all the debt rested on my shoulder.
“It’s been weird. You start with your buddies in high school, super-young and dumb, and you never picture yourself with anyone else but those guys. But the 20-year anniversary is not about each individual member. It’s about all the members who’ve been a part of it to help us stay alive, put up with the bullshit, and sacrificed a lot to do the 20 years of music.”
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After the band’s most recent album, , was made with Ken Seaton as manager and Hardline Entertainment behind the band, it seemed more cost-effective for the band to do things more locally. Thus the switch to management with Sandell, a trusted confidant who even played guitar with the band at one time. “We always had our roots here. With new and fresh ideas coming up locally and getting people involved, it seems like our local music scene is starting to flourish a bit more,” Sandell says.
The band has back-to-back tours in Europe (with NOFX and Strung Out) and the third annual Summer Sickness tour here in the States. After that, Authority Zero’s double live CD will be ready for release. A double live album! When was the last time you heard those words in tandem?
“But don’t worry,” assures DeVore. “We’re not gonna go back and overdub all the fun stuff to make us sound better than we are.”
Authority Zero is scheduled to perform Saturday, May 16, at Club Red in Mesa