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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews - Music > Features Interviews F to J > Flickerstick

flickerstick

causing a commotion

by jay s. jacobs

Copyright ©2002   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: November 21, 2002.

The world’s gone reality show mad these days.  Instead of working on and honing your craft in crappy honky-tonks and gin joints, today everyone thinks the best way to the top of the pops is to make a fool of yourself on TV.  At this writing, you can’t go an hour without hearing that insipid Kelly Clarkson song on the radio.  Is it a hit because she is talented, or is it a hit because she was willing to take the chance that Simon would make a droll comment with a smarmy British accent designed to shatter her dreams?   Then there’s the series where the metal figurehead who hasn’t had a hit in well over a decade becomes a cause celebre because he and his Addams’ family curse a lot and throw poultry on neighbors’ lawns.  Ozzy is supposed to be an example of good parenthood.  And you know what?  It’s nice that he loves his eccentric family.  But so do most people.  What is a little more disturbing is that through better living by chemistry, a man in his 50s walks and talks like he’s in his 90s.   

The problem with this whole “TV-ization” of the music industry is that with the exception of the occasional fluke short-lived hit, the music always gets the short shrift.  Actual musical or singing talent is not so important as a personality or a look that the camera likes.  Once the records come out the novelty has worn thin and it’s on to the next star.  For example, when was the last time you went out for the new Eden’s Crush or O-Town disk?  All the notoriety on The Osbornes didn’t really do all that much to push Ozzy’s new Live At Budokan album or daughter Kelly’s “Papa Don’t Preach” single to the top of the charts.  

But just because a band plays on TV doesn’t make them a “TV Band." 

Take Flickerstick…

Unlike so many groups in a similar situation, Flickerstick was together for years before they were pegged to be in VH-1’s life-on-the-road reality series Bands On The Run.  The band wasn’t formed through a cattle-call audition, they got together the old-fashioned way.  Brandin Lea (lead vocals/guitar) and Cory Kreig (lead guitar/keyboards/vocals) were a couple of high school kids in a small town near Dallas, Texas, who dug music and decided to put together a band for the fun of it.  They picked up some friends over the years, including guitarist Rex James Ewing, bassist (and Brandin’s brother) Fletcher Lea and drummer Dominic Weir.

They started doing local gigs, soon graduating to the bigger clubs of Dallas and finally building a big enough buzz to be headlining shows.  “Next thing you know, the band became full-time and took over my college career,” recalls leader Brandin Lea.  The group was able to scrape together ten grand and self-release their debut album, Welcoming Home The Astronauts.  It sold well locally in Dallas music shops and at Flickerstick shows.  Billboard magazine picked the group to be on a CD sampler they put together of the best unsigned bands in the country.

This is where VH-1 came in.  They heard the Flickerstick tune on the compilation and invited the group to audition for a new battle-of-the-bands reality series they were creating called Bands on the Run.  Flickerstick was soon on a treadmill of auditions, starting as one of 2,000 bands in the running and watching incredulous as other bands fell to the wayside… but not them.  Suddenly it was down to twenty finalists and Flickerstick were there.  “There was just a lot of auditions and a lot of filming.  After really not taking it seriously… because we never thought they would hire us to be on a television show… we kind of joked and blew the whole thing off.  They seemed to like that about us,” Lea laughs.  “Next thing you know, we got the call that we got the show and we took off to go film it for two months.”

The show came on and became something of a phenomenon.  There was only one problem.  Everyone was focusing on the fighting and the joking and the marital problems and no one was listening to the music.  “We figured out early on that music wasn’t going to be the first thing on their mind,” Lea admits.  “It’s a reality TV show.  We thought that music was going to be a major part of the show when we signed onto it.  But after the first shooting, we can tell this is going to be about the drama.  By then, we were under contract and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it.  So we just decided to make the best of it.”

And make the best of it they did.  The group settled in, played the finest they could, and tried to keep the audience tuned in too.  When the dust settled, Flickerstick had won the battle of the bands.  They were the top band of the group.  And to follow the big victory up… they went back on the road.

Now in the reality-show fantasy storyline, an A&R guy is waiting in the wings saying, “Kids, I’m gonna make you a star.”  Life doesn’t work like that though.  Flickerstick just kept working hard on the road and building the buzz up on the band.  Finally, months later, after they proved they weren’t a fluke, the record labels started circling.  “The whole bidding war thing was always kind of funny to me.  It’s always like, where were you guys six months ago when we were doing the exact same thing?  We didn’t know what to do about it…  it’s hard to say.  They all come on with pretty good poker faces…  We just tried to make the best decision we could, which turned out to not be the best decision,” Lea chuckles. 

The band signed up with Epic Records.  “For some reason, everybody thinks that the Epic deal came out of the prize of the television show,” Lea continues.  “Very untrue.  Actually, a lot of labels were deterred by the TV show.  We didn’t get signed until six months later, after we had toured on our own and kind of proven ourselves.  The labels were kind of scared off about the TV show.  They just didn’t know what to do with it.  It never happened before.”

But that didn’t stop Epic from re-releasing the Welcoming Home The Astronauts CD in November 2001, all the while playing up the Bands On The Run connection.  This disappointed Lea a bit, he was hoping the band would get the chance to refine their music and amp up the production values.  “Well, the studio album we did for like $10,000,” Lea says.  “Our own money back in Texas.  We never thought it was going to be the CD to be in the spotlight.  It was kind of almost like a demo CD to get a deal and make a real CD.  So, in my eyes, yeah, it doesn’t really represent the band.  As much as I would like it to.  I still think it’s a very good album.  It’s just, in my eyes, those songs could have been recorded so much better.  Yet, it got three stars in Rolling Stone and a lot of the critics really liked it.  I’m just kind of surprised.  If it was done the way I really wanted it to be done, I think it’d have had more potential.”

A year later, the band is getting its chance to at least partially rectify that problem.  The group left Epic and decided to release a concert disk called Causing A Catastrophe – Live.  On it, the band gets to revisit and improve on several of the songs from the debut album as well as doing two terrific new songs previewing their next album, and a lushly beautiful cover of Mazzy Star’s single “Fade Into You.”

“I just love Mazzy Star and it’s a beautiful song,” Lea explains.  “We don’t like to do covers very much.  We were bored on the TV show and decided that it’s a beautiful song and we were just wanting to do something new in our set.  It’s a very simple song, and I thought it would be interesting for a guy to sing it.  The crowd just ate it up and we’ve kept it in our set ever since.“

Flickerstick’s tunes mix quirky lyrical ideas with smart rock chops and wailing playing.  But just because the songs have titles like “Direct Line To the Telepathic,” “Execution by the X-mas Lights” and “Chloroform the One You Love,” don’t think the band is a joke.  “I write all the lyrics,” Lea explains.  “I’m sure that there are people that think it’s funny.  It’s odd, because I really hate bands that make jokey lyrics.  Like, ‘Chloroform the One You Love’ is just too easy.  It was an old song.  It was sort of a true story in reverse… about people taking advantage of one another by being under the influence.  There were some women who thought it was really derogatory, and I was like the true story of it is, it happened to me.  I just switched the genders.  But, I really don’t care.  Eminem keeps getting away with saying what he says, so I think ‘Chloroform the One You Love’ is pretty non-offensive.”

The two new songs, particularly the glorious rocker “Believe,” point to more good things coming down the pike from this band.  They are still touring and in the early phases of putting together a follow-up disk, for which Lea isn’t sure exactly which direction the band will go in, only allowing that he expects parts of the album will be harder than the debut, but more of it will probably be softer.  It seems like a contradiction, but actually that’s what makes Flickerstick so cool.  They are unpredictable with the will and the ability to go down any number of musical avenues. 

Lea smiles at the thought.  “We were getting a lot of the radio play for our singles and a lot of program directors were like, ‘I don’t know what to do with you guys.  You guys aren’t really rock sounding or modern rock, but you’re not pop.  You’re not singer-songwriter.  You aren’t cheesy rock.  You’re not psychedelic.’   They said you guys have a really unique sound and that’s really hard to come by.  I thought that was a very big compliment.”

Unique.  The tag fits.  Flickerstick aren’t just some pre-fab five set up for a boob tube event.  They are a band with ideas and chops.  They have game.  Don’t be surprised if you’re still hearing of Flickerstick years after Justin and Kelly and Simon are Trivial Pursuit answers.

Copyright ©2002   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: November 21, 2002.

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