Local Wire

Heritage Hump Day: Stone Bogart - "Big Brown Van"

Every Wednesday is Heritage Hump Day! That's because every Wednesday from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a temporary subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that walked the scorched earth of Arizona before the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the digital public, will have only seven days to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew.

Sometimes even popular bands fall through the cracks and get scant local press coverage. Such was the case for Stone Bogart who seem to have escaped without any attention from New Times during its lifetime, except for a 2001 notice from Bob Mehr when Stone Bogart formed a part-loving, part facetious tribute band to Tempe local hero Stephen Ashbrook and his band Satellite. For one gig only, Stone Bogart dubbed itself "Satellike."

By 2002, the band was long defunct, as singer Sean Anders became a successful screenwriter and director for such films as Hot Tub Time Machine, Horrible Bosses 2, Dumb and Dumber To, We're The Millers, Mr. Popper's Penguins and Sex Drive. At the time of this April 2005 profile, "Thaw Inspiring," he had just completed his first screenplay, Never Been Thawed.

Filmmaking simply wasn't on the short list when Anders and the other members of his band, Stone Bogart, ditched Wisconsin for Arizona in 1996. The idea was simple: Get the hell out of the Midwest in winter and go to a place closer to the music industry in L.A.

Anders settled in Tempe, and wasted no time scoring gigs for his band at local, now-defunct clubs like Long Wong's and Nita's Hideaway. Through the bands that shared those stages with his, Anders would come to meet many of those who would become important players in the making of a movie still years away. Among them were Chuck LeVinus, manager of the Stumbles, and John Morris of Dryspell.

In 2000, Stone Bogart moved to Hollywood. There, Anders unknowingly laid the groundwork for what would eventually become Never Been Thawed.

"I had written fictional bios for the band's web site, including one about our guitarist being a frozen food entree collector living in an apartment full of freezers," Anders says. "For some reason, that bio got a lot of positive response via e-mail. Years later it became a main story line for the movie."

Anders also tried his hand at a five-minute gag movie for the site, and found himself so inspired that for the first time, an idea that had previously resided in the back of his mind — that of making a film — began to take center stage.

"The last project we worked on was this promo video, " recalls the band's bassist Travis Randall. "We had an amazing time in this town for six years. Once we got gigging in Hollywood we always wanted to make sure we got back to town, but [Long Wong's] was on the way out as well as a lot of other great clubs. The '90s Tempe we knew was going away. The last showed we played was at Minder Binders, the Saturday after 9/11. Sad way to end a long run."

Had the band planned to pack it in before the terrorist attack on American soil changed everything anyway?

"No, we weren't breaking up. We were writing for a new CD that we were all excited about. Our singer decided he couldn't live in LA after 911. He went back to Wisconsin for a while, came back to AZ to make his movie 'Never Been Thawed' and has since moved back to LA where he writes and directs comedies. Everyone except me left LA after 9/11. I say we didn't break up; everyone quit except me. Technically I am the only one still in the band...all alone for 14 years."

Stone Bogart's representative song comes from the band's first CD as a "Tempe band," released in 1995. It doesn't have much of a Tempe sound, as the band did most of its recordings (three full-length CDs and two EPs) back in Madison, Wisconsin.

"I don't think 'Big Brown Van' was one of our best songs, but it oddly connected with a lot of people," Randall says. "It was kind of us explaining ourselves and saying goodbye to Wisconsin/ It was more 'on the nose' than other things we wrote. It was probably the last song we wrote before being influenced by the Tempe scene and Hollywood once we got there and started writing."

The song unashamedly swipes its coda refrain from Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open the Door."

"When we were writing it we used his lyrics because it fit the chords and we assumed we would change that later. People liked to sing along as we were working it out at the bars, so we left it in, hoping to be sued."

In case you wondered, The "Big Brown Van" was a real vehicle that took Stone Bogart across the country, and you can Randall slumping against it on the Heritage Hump picture sleeve.

"When we broke up in 2001 we gave it away to someone who donated it to an orphanage in Mexico. ... That sounds like a lyric in a Roger Clyne song," notes Randall.
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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic