One Thursday last spring, Ted Myers was stuck in a cubicle, trying to figure out his future. He'd graduated from ASU with a degree in communications the year before, and got a job selling ads for a local newspaper (coincidentally, the one you're reading), where he dressed business casual and spent his days making phone calls and driving across town to meet with clients.
This particular day, Myers was on the phone in his cubicle, pacing. He's a fidgety guy, never can sit still. He finished up a call without closing any deals and let out a sigh.
As soon as he put the phone back in its cradle, it rang. "Theodore Myers?" a woman's voice inquired. "Are you sitting down?"
The woman was from the Mayo Clinic's twice-annual Health & Wealth Raffle. If you've been anywhere near a television or radio in the past five years, you know all about the fundraising spectacular, which offers prizes like new houses, cars, and cash for $100 per ticket. Myers had won a raffle ticket from a local radio station a few weeks earlier. His mother, who bought tickets every year, said she had a feeling he'd win big. Myers thought she was crazy when she said that.
He sat down.
"Congratulations," the woman said. Ted Myers had won the grand prize package: a new house in Goodyear, a new Mercedes, and cash — valued in total at a million dollars.
Some people have no idea what to do with a windfall like that. Not Ted Myers. He had a plan, one that would lead to great fame and fortune — or at least some amazing stories to tell his friends.
There's an old joke that goes something like this.
Question: Why did the bass player break his window after he locked his keys in his car?
Answer: To get the drummer out.
Ted Myers doesn't laugh at that one, because he's a drummer — and he's not the stereotypical, dumb, party-drummer. In fact, when he won the Health & Wealth Raffle, Myers wasn't just an ad salesman. The fair-skinned 23-year-old was also a talented musician and aspiring rock star, and months before he won the money, he'd already devised a plan to transform his band into superstars. He'd even found a few potential investors, because the plan was somewhat intricate — and very expensive.
The day he won the raffle, Myers called all his would-be investors and told them to never mind. Then he called his bandmates and told them not to worry about money anymore. He had an investor who would pay for everything.
Myers' first step was to fix Faucet. That was the admittedly drippy name of his band. He decided that Hollywood Heartthrob sounded much more glamorous, and he hired a graphic designer to create a neon logo around a hot-pink heart with white, feathery wings.
This band was going to be about flamboyance and glamour, just like a young Mötley Crüe or Poison — but cooler and stuff.
Being young and hot is an important part of the plan. None of the guys in Hollywood Heartthrob is older than 25. The bass player, Nate Beilmann, isn't even 21 yet.
Every member of the band fills a role. Ted Myers is the undisputed leader, the steady-handed drummer with the game plan. Tall and wiry, Beilmann's the subtle wisecracker of the band.
There are two lead guitarists — Frank Littlefield, a big guy with long blond hair, and Brent Sutton, a pretty, dark-haired boy with a lip piercing, both arms covered in colorful tattoos. Littlefield's the quiet one, the skillful, bowed-head ax man who focuses on his guitar while his face hides behind his hair. He gives the band its metal edge. Sutton's the showman/partier, the bad boy who can take a shot and a punch back-to-back. The pair's dueling guitar solos and layered harmonies are the most impressive parts of Hollywood Heartthrob's songs.
Like Sutton, singer Grady Melton's got tons of tattoos and a chiseled, cover-boy face. He's outspoken and snarky (favorite comeback: "Whatever"), and his vocals contain both the impassioned wails of emo and the nasally ring of punk. He's shorter than the other guys in the band but makes up for it in rock star attitude.
Melton helped Myers come up with a trendy new image for Hollywood Heartthrob, and everyone in the band pulls off the rock star look better than many bona fide rock stars (they may even do the satellite-dish-size sunglasses thing better than Bono).
Though they look the part of celebrities, they all work day jobs, including Myers, who sells pretzels and beer at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale to help pay the mortgage on the house he just bought in downtown Phoenix. He invested just about everything else in his own record label, Juiced Records, and the Hollywood Heartthrob makeover.
Sometimes, the idea of an "insta-band" grows into a reality. Danity Kane — the all-girl R&B group assembled and mentored in 2004 by Sean "Diddy" Combs on the third season of the MTV reality show Making the Band — had two albums hit number one on the Billboard charts. Of course, they were on MTV every day for four months with an obscenely rich rap star, who's also the CEO of a large hip-hop label, Bad Boy Records.
But Danity Kane's been the most successful insta-band for Diddy. All the other groups through the show's third season have disbanded, and two original members of Danity Kane have left to pursue other projects.
Even in Making the Band, there's no magical fertilizer. But having a hot image to sell to an audience is the first step, and MTB co-creator Lou Pearlman knows that better than anybody. He's the man who created both Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. (He also filed bankruptcy in 2007.)
Hollywood Heartthrob's sort of like the *NSYNC of rock — five young, good-looking guys performing choreographed moves onstage in front of screaming teens. Myers hires hairdressers, makeup artists, and photographers to flit around them at shows and immortalize the estro-hysteria on video.
Myers also hired a manager, Tom Garrett, a skinny, silver version of Tom Selleck who swears, "These guys are just like The Beatles." The mission to market the band as the next pouty-mouthed rock kings of the teen market is over-the-top enough that it just might work.
The biggest pitfall (and it's a big one) is distribution for Hollywood Heartthrob's CD. As of press time, they have none. But like their hairstyles, they're working on it.
Myers says "our CD will be in every store in the country by early 2009." But first, the band was going to do some things — such as leave Phoenix and concoct some myths about themselves, get into a fistfight at a swanky resort, and talk shit about their idols.
"He's fucking it all up. We know our parts," Ted Myers says, stomping on his bass drum pedal.
It's a chilly weekday night in late December, and Hollywood Heartthrob are rehearsing in a back room at Myers' parents' house in Glendale, where he lived until shortly after winning the raffle. Nate Beilmann can't remember the bass line to "Making a Name," a song the band hasn't rehearsed for nine months.
Myers makes the band go over the song several times, then over Beilmann's problem areas several more times. He's clearly not happy with Beilmann's fuzzy memory, grimacing as he bangs out the beat on his drums. He also makes guitarist Brent Sutton play part of the solo in their song "Taking Over" repeatedly.
And this is a "more relaxed" rehearsal, Myers says. The band videotapes every show it plays, and Myers usually makes the guys watch the videos over and over at rehearsals to critique their stage moves.
Everything is choreographed — partly because rock star moves like jumping splits and synchronized guitar kicks look cool, but mainly because this band jumps around a lot, and when you've got five guys with heavy instruments leaping all over the stage, the last thing you wanna do is collide in mid-air and take a bloody tumble into the front row. So not glamorous.
Myers and his bandmates are perfectionists, and they're getting increasingly pissed at Beilmann for fudging the bass line.
"Dude, I fucking hate you! You're out," says singer Grady Melton, who's been reaching over Beilmann and strumming the proper chord on his bass the past three run-throughs.
Everybody's giving each other the same exasperated looks they had after an incognito show at Alice Cooper'stown, playing as "Charlie Whores." Hollywood Heartthrob were holding a battle of the bands weeks before their CD-release show to find local acts for the Juiced roster. They played at the beginning of the gig, not wanting anybody to know who they were (because they didn't have the spotlights and pyrotechnics).
Though nobody among the crowd of 30 or so people seemed to notice any mistakes, Myers apparently was unhappy with the performance and gathered the group in the loading zone afterwards for a band meeting, which ended with his pronouncement that, "We all hate each other right now."
But for all the moments of tension, there's a brotherly bond among the members of Hollywood Heartthrob. They've been playing together for years. Myers has known some of these guys since junior high. Band spats are understandable; they've been through a lot together since Myers won the money nine months ago.
First, there was "the big secret." As Faucet, the band had established a small but loyal fan base of a hundred or so people, but never really got any big breaks. They looked like a grunge band, donning T-shirts and jeans and giving the camera determinedly bored gazes in band photos.
Myers had already decided that Faucet needed to die and be reborn as a new, more glamorous band. He'd wanted to move the band to Hollywood for a while; they planned to reinvent themselves there and come back to Phoenix pretending they were from L.A. Myers just never had the money to do it until he won the raffle. When that happened, he quit his job, and told everyone Faucet broke up. The band began to secretly record the songs that would become Hollywood Heartthrob's debut album.
"We didn't tell anyone we were becoming Hollywood Heartthrob," Myers says. "It was a big secret that we were changing our image and changing our name, and nobody even knew where the studio was hidden. When it happened, we wanted it to be a big surprise.
"We wanted to take over Phoenix like we'd come from somewhere else," he says. "We didn't want to be The Band Formerly Known as Faucet with the Help of the Million-Dollar Raffle Winner."
Because they wanted to come from somewhere else, Myers moved the band to Hollywood. He rented mansions and threw big parties, with live music (mostly Hollywood Heartthrob, natch). The band members got new wardrobes, ditching their old Levi's and beat-up Converse shoes for $200 True Religion designer denim and limited-edition Ed Hardy footwear. Myers hired a hairstylist to transform their limp rocker mops into more stylish, spiky MTV star 'dos, and started using a makeup artist, too (gotta make sure the eyeliner doesn't run under the spotlights).
When they returned to Phoenix "undercover" two months later, they finished recording their debut record, The Takeover. The album boasts squeaky-clean production, courtesy of engineer Ryan Greene (NOFX, Authority Zero) at Crush Recording Studios in Scottsdale.
Musically, there's been a shift from Faucet's unremarkable mope rock into the radio-friendly, supercharged emo rock of Hollywood Heartthrob. The Takeover runs on meaty guitar riffs, dueling solos, and hard-driving dance beats. Like Fall Out Boy, Plain White T's, and Cute Is What We Aim For, HH puts a grittier, traditional rock spin on pop punk and fills it with such elements of emo as sensitive lyrics, wailing, and eyeliner. Their sound is totally pop — palatable and radio-ready, instilled with catchy, sing-along choruses and hand-clapping moments.
Myers put a lot toward the CD packaging: a 16-page, full-color book of photos, lyrics, and liner notes, laid out to look like a cross between a tabloid and a layout in Tiger Beat. Each band member is highlighted on a different page, showing the distinct character and look of every guy in the group through spoof paparazzi shots: singer Grady Melton all oiled up and jogging in nothing but Speedo shorts, guitarist Frank Littlefield punching a photog on the steps of a nightclub, Myers getting mobbed coming out of McDonald's.
For shows, Myers purchased a custom black equipment trailer with a slick Hollywood Heartthrob logo wrap, a P.A. system, and monitors. And he hired a manager for the band.
In fact, Myers hired Tom Garrett to not only manage Hollywood Heartthrob but to be chief operating officer of his new label, Juiced Records. Coincidentally, Garrett had recently moved to Phoenix from California when he met Myers through Mike Fix, a Phoenix drummer who'd done session work with the likes of Peter Murphy and Liz Phair.
Garrett's musical background is mostly in the jazz and New Age genres. The 60-something Oklahoma native did programming for jazz radio throughout the '80s, and he says he did some independent record promotion for people like Luther Vandross, David Sanborn, Yanni, Dr. John, and Cocteau Twins. He's an energetic, super-talkative guy with a master's degree in psychology. He refers to his business and marketing plan as "The Takeover" and likens Hollywood Heartthrob to The Beatles, himself to Brian Epstein. The Beatles are always a lofty comparison, considering they had 34 singles and nine albums in a row hit number one on the Billboard charts. But, hey, Garrett thinks big.
"Hollywood Heartthrob owns this town," Garrett says, during one of those managerial hype talks. "These guys are going to be huge."
Myers says they talked to a few record labels about potential distribution for the record, but that he never really wanted to be signed. "I don't want people to think this is some sort of vanity indie label," Myers says of Juiced. "We decided to put this record out ourselves because we wanted to, not because nobody else was interested in putting it out . . . We've got everything a major label has, as far as promotions. We just need to arrange distribution."
Distribution is vital if the band wants to sell records. Myers says he's currently in talks with local Epic imprint Modern Art Records and Sony Music Canada about getting The Takeover in stores, but nothing's been nailed down yet. Worse, Hollywood Heartthrob have no digital distribution whatsoever. The band's music isn't available to download on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, or any other Internet site, which is a basic first step for most bands.
As for touring, Garrett says he's talking to Live Nation about some possible spring opening spots for national acts, and to Vans Warped Tour about a summer festival slot, but everything's still up in the air. The band doesn't plan to play at the annual South by Southwest music festival in Austin, either.
But Hollywood Heartthrob are raring to go. Wherever they're headed.
From a business standpoint, the "tweener" market (mostly, females between the ages of 12 and 16) is the target demographic for Hollywood Heartthrob. So Tom Garrett arranged a gig for the band at the Phooson VIP party, during the second weekend of December, at Cricket Pavilion.
Hosted by local radio station KISS FM, the annual Phooson festival features Top 40 headlining acts like Fall Out Boy, Rihanna, and Katy Perry. Garrett couldn't get Hollywood Heartthrob on the main stage, but he booked them for the pre-show VIP party through an account executive at KISS. Basically, he paid for most of the party (along with tons of on-air ad spots) so the band could play in front of a hundred young girls and KISS personalities JohnJay and Rich. Garrett was expecting one of the two popular DJs to introduce Hollywood Heartthrob. They declined, so some guy from the KISS sound crew introduced them instead.
Guys don't really seem to dig Hollywood Heartthrob. The girl-to-guy ratio at their shows tends to be about 10-to-1, and that one is almost always a band member's brother or dad. The girls may be enough, says local DJ Tim Virgin, a midday host on The Edge 103.9. "I think Hollywood Heartthrob has the right look, and the right sound, to be a Top 40 band," Virgin says. "And there are always tons of hot chicks at their shows."
The chicks definitely dig it. Hollywood Heartthrob sold out of their CDs at the Phooson gig (they'd brought only a couple hundred) and ran out of posters, too — the one of their album cover that shows the guys drinking exotic liqueurs around a table, with a glittery gold backdrop of the Los Angeles skyline on fire behind them.
After the Phooson Festival, there's an after-party at the super-swanky new W Hotel in Scottsdale. Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy is DJ'ing there. Garrett said Wentz himself had invited the band via a text message to Ted Myers. Hollywood Heartthrob are supposed to walk the red carpet.
When they arrive at the posh resort, there are Lamborghinis and Ferraris in the front turnabout, hip-hop bass lines booming out of the hotel's front speakers, and lots of beautiful people in expensive suits and clingy cocktail dresses by the doors.
But there is no red carpet — only a bunch of closed red ropes. On one side is a bunch of brawny guys in black suits with ear-bud coils dangling down to their collars, and on the other side is a bunch of big-breasted ladies in fur, leather, lace, and sparkling jewelry.
Nobody's on "the list." Including Tom Garrett and Hollywood Heartthrob.
Garrett cuts through the line and confers with one of the men in black. Within minutes, they're through the front door, shaking hands with the hotel manager. A couple of minutes later, they're standing outside more closed red ropes, talking to more men in black suits about getting into the party upstairs.
Apparently, there's a dress code — collared shirts. Nobody in this group's wearing one. Garrett takes the guy who seems to be head of security aside and politely explains that he's the chief operating officer at Juiced Records, and he's also the manager of Hollywood Heartthrob, who're supposed to be "special guests" tonight, so what can they do about this dress-code problem. He shakes hands with security, then turns to everyone and announces, "We're going in!" and security pulls the red ropes aside.
"I'm never an asshole," Garrett explains as he makes his way up the luxurious and seemingly endless faux-marble steps and through the glass doors. "There's no reason to be. I just talk to people like they're people. And I do have a master's degree in psychology."
It's midnight, and the upstairs deck of the W is swarming with fashionable people, but Pete Wentz is nowhere in sight. Phoenix R&B group Silver Medallion is supposed to be playing; they're not around, either. The members of Hollywood Heartthrob disappear into the fray with their girlfriends, and Garrett cuts out.
Once the band finally finds Wentz, he barely acknowledges them. They hang out under the same cabana on The W's massive patio, but they don't really talk. Wentz is DJ'ing and he's swarmed with people wanting pictures and autographs. The band thinks he's not just occupied, he's intoxicated. "He was DJ'ing, but he was on something," Ted Myers says. "He couldn't even really talk."
"Yeah, he was just, like, drooling on the turntables," Brent Sutton adds.
Afterward, as the band members wait to collect their cars in front of the resort, Sutton gets into an argument with what he calls "this huge Hispanic woman" after accidentally bumping into her. The two exchange words, and the woman's boyfriend enters the confrontation.
Grady Melton sees the woman getting in Sutton's face and races over to back up his bandmate. By this time, the woman and Sutton are screaming at each other, and she lunges at the guitarist and puts him in a headlock.
Melton takes a shot at the woman's boyfriend, who blocks the punch and wrestles the singer's hands behind his back. Sutton and Melton yell for the rest of the band, but hotel security pries everybody apart by the time Myers makes it to the curb.
The band laughs at the comparisons to 1980s-bad-boy-L.A.-rocker behavior. "Yeah," Melton says, "When we're Guns N' Roses, we can do whatever the hell we want."
When the lights go down at Celebrity Theatre on the last Saturday in November, a thousand music fans erupt with screams of excitement. "O Fortuna," a movement from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, comes booming out of the loudspeakers.
The powerful choral piece features the apocalyptic swell of voices singing 13th-century Latin poetry. It's an epic soundscape, simultaneously as menacing as drums of war and as familiar as a well-wrought commercial jingle. Like Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra — which Elvis Presley used as his stage introduction — "O Fortuna" is an entrée to greatness. Or doom.
As Orff's orchestral movement reaches its climactic end among colossal cymbal clashes and triumphant trumpets, the sound of an electric guitar whirs out of the amplifiers and spotlights shower the stage, revealing . . . five young rock gods.
At least, Hollywood Heartthrob look that way. Their arrival is heralded by explosions, screams, and a kaleidoscopic storm of flashing purple and blue lights.
Spectacle like this doesn't come cheap. Garrett says he paid $80,000 for this show, including lights, special effects, equipment, advertising, a $7,000 insurance policy, and $20,000 for national act Unwritten Law to be on the bill. In a time when most bands bemoan "pay to play" cities like L.A., where little-known acts dish out dough to perform at celebrated venues like the Whisky a Go Go, forking out 80 grand for your own CD-release show is a luxury. An insane luxury, perhaps, but this is a glamorous band — they can't go having their big debut concert at some neighborhood bar with neon beer lights.
The band launches into "Below the Waist of Time," a hard-driving rock number with a punk edge. The energy they project onstage would be enviable even to a group of caffeinated kindergartners. Nate Beilmann continually jumps high in the air and kicks out his leg. Frank Littlefield and Brent Sutton strum their axes in tandem. Ted Myers twirls his sticks and throws them high in the air, catching them before the next beat. Grady Melton swings his microphone in huge circles.
They do this for 35 minutes, and then leave the stage amid swirls of smoke and chants of "Ted-dy! Ted-dy! Ted-dy!"
With all the flamboyant fanfare, you'd think they were the headlining act.
They were supposed to be, according to a pissed-off Tom Garrett. See, he'd booked Unwritten Law, a California band with two top-five singles on the Modern Rock charts, to open for Hollywood Heartthrob. Four hours before showtime, Garrett says he got a call from Celebrity Theatre, informing him that "the marketing guy" he hired renegotiated the contract at the last-minute to give Unwritten Law full production control of the show and top billing.
Garrett and Myers were furious, especially when venue security started herding their friends and fans out of the backstage area.
Ultimately, it was for the best. Garrett admitted he'd had fears the venue would clear out once Unwritten Law played. The way it turned out, Celebrity Theatre was packed with fans waiting for Unwritten Law when Hollywood Heartthrob took the stage. The band's video crew was shooting footage for their first single, "Next to You," and the final product (which you can see at www.myspace.com/hollywoodheartthrob) shows a venue cramped with screaming fans.
After Hollywood Heartthrob's set at Celebrity Theatre, the backstage area bears all the trappings of a Mötley Crüe tour bus. Empty cases of beer are strewn across the counters, guitars rest precariously on the arms of black leather couches, and scantily clad girls line up by the band's dressing room door. The air is thick with hairspray.
A few giggly girls in tight dresses crane their necks around the crowd to try and get a peek inside the dressing room. "They're in there," a girl popping out of a faux leopard-skin dress whispers excitedly.
"What should we do?" asks a girl in a napkin-size silver top. "I want to say hi, but I don't want to, like, crowd them."
The crowding of the band is inevitable at this point. The band members' friends, families, and girlfriends are all hovering around them, security from the venue is constantly patrolling to make sure everybody down here has an "all-access" pass or gets the hell out, roadies are loading and unloading equipment, and hot women keep materializing around every backstage corner.
Sexy ladies are hot commodities in the business of rock 'n' roll marketing. The hot girls always go where the hot band is, and the boys always go where the hot girls are.
So it's no accident that the backstage area looks like a Maxim photo spread. Many of the hot women have been planted here for the sake of the video shoot. Phoenix photographer (and official band photog) Giulio Sciorio is here with the video crew from his production company, Synthetic Human, and he's called up every hottie he knows to make sure she's here, in her best makeup and dress, to talk on-camera about how much she loves Hollywood Heartthrob. (Disclosure: Sciorio's shot numerous photos and covers for New Times.)
The interviews don't capture enough hype (some of the women couldn't name a single Hollywood Heartthrob song), so the footage will later be edited to just show an array of babes shouting "Hollywood Heartthrob!"
As the band's crew loads its gear, Myers emerges from the bathroom — the same backstage bathroom where people like B.B. King, Ted Nugent, Melissa Etheridge, and LL Cool J have probably done some, uh, business — and adjusts his tie. Myers' black, button-down dress shirt is decorated with a dark mosaic of Masonic symbols, and his tie shines with a big rhinestone-bling pattern of iron crosses.
For the moment, Ted Myers is king. This was the feeling he'd envisioned when he set his plan in motion so many months ago. He's certain of his next steps — he'll get distribution for the record, and he'll tour. He's already salvaging discarded mannequins from Mervyn's to use as stage props. If Hollywood Heartthrob continue to stall in the no-distribution zone, at least he's got some anthropomorphic fiberglass and lots of pictures to show his potential grandkids.
But for Myers, failure is not an option, because he's already succeeded, at least in capturing the rush.
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Fresh from the stage, beads of sweat gather across his forehead and neck as he looks at Dayna, Garrett's wife, and asks an all-important question: "Do I look like a rock star?"
Before she can reply, Myers smiles and answers the question himself. "I am a rock star."
Correction (posted 1/12/09): It should been reported that the Health & Wealth Raffle benefits St. Joseph's Hospital and Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.