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Fine China's Big Break?

Back in the spring, when I first heard Fine China's new album, The Jaws of Life, I fixated on the idea of hidden Phoenix treasures. The album's great from the first listen -- moody, Brit-styled pop, but by a band based here. The album's easily one of the best local...
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Back in the spring, when I first heard Fine China's new album, The Jaws of Life, I fixated on the idea of hidden Phoenix treasures. The album's great from the first listen -- moody, Brit-styled pop, but by a band based here. The album's easily one of the best local releases of 2005 -- the perfect way to launch Fine China into the national spotlight.

That got me thinking about the imaginary line between "local bands" and "national bands."

Maybe we're more prone to distinguish between local and national here in Arizona because, well, the rest of the country hasn't figured out how much good stuff we have. It doesn't even really matter whether they're on a label -- a lot of our best bands stay under the radar.

Here at home, we might make special exceptions for hometown acts that we wouldn't make for outsiders. We forgive them their flaws, their low budgets, their shitty demos -- because we've seen them give a kick-ass live show, or maybe because we hear true potential in their songs. We wonder whether any of them have been added to the bill when a "national band" comes through on tour. Who knows if they'll ever be the next big thing?

But bands like Fine China don't need any special consideration. They just need more exposure.

On Thursday, December 8 -- tonight, if the New Times you're reading is hot off the presses -- Fine China's going to get just that when a two-minute clip of their song "My Worst Nightmare" airs on The O.C.

As in, the super-popular weeknight soap opera that's made the indie rock gospel as widespread as Chrismukkah. The O.C. is the reason Death Cab for Cutie is practically a household name, and its influential soundtrack has even spawned a series of Music From The O.C. CDs, already on volume five.

Sure, there's backlash -- in the form of snarky amusement, with most of the alternative music press poking fun at the show's trendiness, melodrama, and waifish beautiful people. I've only ever seen a couple of episodes, and it struck me as the 21st-century retread of 90210 and Melrose Place. But when it comes down to a local band getting a tiny piece of hype, I'm not too jaded to be happy for the members of Fine China.

Hey, they don't watch The O.C. , either.

I met up with singer/guitarist Rob Withem and bassist Greg Markov a few days after they found out their song was going to be aired on national television. They were glad, but not blown away about the news.

Their publicist, who had never heard back from The O.C. 's producers about his other clients, sent in the album a while ago. Withem wasn't sure why "My Worst Nightmare" was chosen, but he says the song is "about waking up and having your family not be there. Like the Rapture."

So the lyrics don't exactly match up to the show's teen angst mantra. The band read a chunk of dialogue from the episode that'll have the song, but couldn't make much of it.

"I was hoping we'd get a juicy scene," says Markov.

It's actually not the first time Fine China's had songs on TV, Withem says. "We had two songs on Just Deal four years ago, and something on MTV's Sorority Life."

Um, yeah. I can understand why these guys aren't making a big deal about the TV thing.

Besides, Fine China's been around for nine years, so this is just one more footnote in their history book. "You go through cycles with being in a band," Markov says.

Funny enough, while Withem and Markov say they're in a cycle of focusing more on local shows than national tours these days, Fine China would probably have a better chance than ever at getting a national audience right now.

Withem says, "We've been accused on every record of trying to sound like The Smiths."

"Or like Interpol and Joy Division," Markov says.

That could've been a detriment a few years ago, but with all things '80s coming back into vogue -- recent albums from The Cure and Morrissey and Depeche Mode, plus countless new New Wave bands who've carefully studied vintage sounds -- it's hardly an insult.

"When we first started, we tried to emulate people," Withem admits. "After a while, though, you try to find ways to not sound like your influences." On this album, produced by Bob Hoag, Withem says he focused more on the craft of songwriting, telling stories and developing different characters.

To be sure, the dreamy, melancholy vocals, crisp guitars, and catchy bass melodies evoke English bands from two decades ago, but there are just as many hooks that recall the best of the '60s British Invasion. In other words, it's the kind of heartfelt pop that'll sound good long after the '80s revival -- and even The O.C. -- have become cultural artifacts themselves.

Markov says Fine China doesn't aspire to be famous, but getting paid just to play music for a living would be nice. "There's always that glimmer of hope on the horizon," he says.

"But," Withem adds, "you learn to suppress it."

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