Music News

Hanging On to Something

The template quality of the Pistoleros' story thus far resembles the first half of nearly any episode of the increasingly irritating Behind the Music specials seen on VH1.

Band forms and pays dues playing myriad local gigs. A loyal following blossoms. A founding member quits and later commits suicide. Band self-releases full-length record. In the interim, band front man's long-festering drug problem now rivals any member of Aerosmith circa Night in the Ruts.

After enduring cop chases, rehab and near death, singer bounces back. Major Record Company signs band. Band disregards intuition and puts trust in tin-eared label folk. To ensure an album rife with "pop hits," in-house producer and outside songwriters are employed. The record, though good, falls short of capturing the soul of the band. Label folk pick the album's first single, a song whose chorus is in Spanish. Pop history has taught us that songs with non-English choruses are generally antithetic to U.S. pop-chart success. The album stiffs. Band tours briefly and plays to empty venues.

Band demos new songs with hopes of pleasing Major Record Company. Label folk listen to demos and dump band. On the advice of its publisher, band fires manager and lawyer.

Publisher stops returning calls from band. Band begins to doubt its songwriting ability. Personal discouragement and disappointment ensue . . .

A Behind the Music episode would shift gears here, of course, and we'd see the band rise from the depths, armed with newfound self-awareness, a cache of ever-important hit tunes and a far-fetched sense of reclamation.

This is the part of the story the Pistoleros have yet to write. Like any band just barely on the sunnier side of a somber spell, it's impossible to speculate if it'll even be completed. Yet there's every reason to expect that it could. Particularly when considering the strength of the band's new self-titled release, by far the band's best. And labels, namely Elektra Records, are calling again.

The tenacious five-piece that was conceived in 1991 by brothers Mark and Lawrence Zubia with ex-Gin Blossoms Doug Hopkins has been well-documented locally. In 2000, the Pistoleros -- bassist Scott Andrews, guitarist Thomas Laufenberg, drummer Gary Smith and the brothers Zubia -- are all in their 30s. They have all eased into lives that to some extent include commitments that outweigh the importance of the band. Some have children, others new careers. They're no longer defined by rock 'n' roll, but they're still committed to it.

Stepping into the central Phoenix home Lawrence Zubia shares with his wife Janna and two-year-old daughter Daniela, it's hard to imagine that not so long ago, this man had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. That after getting dropped from Hollywood Records two years ago, he had little more than a small chunk of cash left over from an EMI publishing advance.

The house is immaculate and tastefully decorated in breezy soft tones with white carpeting. There's a good-size yard. A garage/guest house out back serves as home to three speedy Chihuahuas that constantly yap and dart about. The house is comfortable. You half expect to see at least a platinum album or two hanging from one of the walls.

"The first thing I did after getting signed to Hollywood and coming back from L.A. was pick which fucking wall in my house the gold record was going to go on," laughs Lawrence Zubia, shaking his spiky-locked head at his own naiveté.

What makes Lawrence's current lifestyle all the more remarkable is that he's a man who got into rock 'n' roll believing that life held nothing else for him. It was a foregone conclusion that he was predestined to write songs and front a rock 'n' roll band until the day he died.

And if muted gossip were gospel, he would have landed in his grave five years ago.

"There are some symbolic things that have happened," he continues. "I bought a house, I had a baby. So to my brother [Pistolero guitarist Mark], that's, 'Whoa, dude, you really cashed in the whole thing.'

"In my opinion, I just made it convenient on myself. If I went to work at Motorola, then I'd have cashed it in. I customized this little job so I can stay in the rock 'n' roll game if I have to."

When the publishing money ran out, 36-year-old Lawrence started his own company installing sound systems and alarms in new homes. After a year and a half, the company's a success. He sounds grateful not to be at the mercy of the record biz.

"In reality, real pop music, even for the best of 'em, careers last three to five years. I mean, look at Fastball. Their new one on Hollywood is done. Let's go through the list: the Flys, Fountains of Wayne, and on and on. They're gone, dude.

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Brian Smith
Contact: Brian Smith