FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., July 5, 2001–If you think rock stars have an easy life, think again. Living in the fast lane can be very exciting yet extremely stressful.
Just ask the members of rock band Flickerstick, one of two finalists on the VH1 reality music series, Bands on the Run. Life on the road is not as rosy as it is depicted by the film Almost Famous.
“What’s cool with Almost Famous is like they had all these people on their bus all the time. It’s like a moving party with all the chicks and all their buddies all hanging out on the bus,” Flickerstick lead singer Brandin Lea said during the Fort Lauderdale stop of the band’s June headlining tour. “Us is like the same five dudes going like, ‘Where are we going?’ It’s not near that glamorous on this level yet.”
“But we are on our way… it will be glamorous,” Flickerstick drummer Dominick Weir.
Flickerstick, Soulcracker, Harlow and Jones Dodes Band were unsigned bands picked by VH1 to play separate venues in 11 American cities during a two-month tour in November and December.
VH1 will reveal the winner at 10 p.m. Sunday during the show’s season finale. The Dallas-based Flickerstick nor rivals Soulcracker can talk about the outcome of the competition, or whether they have since been signed, until the finale airs.
Art vs. commerce
Bands on the Run is not like Survivor, said Dan Cutforth, MTV Networks producer and executive producer of Bands on the Run.
“The concept of the show was that it dealt with the old dilemma of art vs. commerce,” Cutforth said. “Bands had to embrace commerce to show art.”
In the course of eight weeks, each band had to perform 13 shows, sell tickets, merchandise, and promote their shows–that is if they made it that far into the tour.
Each band received from VH1 a phone card, two-way pagers, gas and two hotel rooms a night. Each band member also received $20 dollars a day. At each tour stop, the bands would receive a challenge-such as participating in a drinking contest–which allowed them to make extra cash.
The winner will win $50,000 in cash, $100,000 in music gear from Guitar Center, the opportunity to have their music video go into heavy rotation on VH1, and a showcase gig before the A&R heads of major record labels.
“These bands have to try building a fan base,” Cutforth said. “They have to believe in themselves in order to succeed.”
Going into the final episode, Soulcracker has earned $9,994 dollars; Flickerstick has $6,786. The episode will feature the bands fighting for the $5,000 prize offered during the final of three Battle of the Bands competitions.
The VH1 Web site also conducted an online competition, allowing viewers to vote on such categories as best album art. The online competition winner will earn an extra $25,000.
“This [show] is about touring bands that aren’t big and it is about that,” Lea said. “[VH1] made it into a competition, but all in all, [it] is still about getting along and playing shows every night.”
An invitation to perform
Soulcracker’s co-lead vocalist Beastie Ulery says his San Diego, Calif., band got involved because a dot-com company sent the band’s materials to VH1 after it heard about the series.
Excitement ran through the Flickerstick camp at the prospect of being chosen.
“We were very happy,” Lea said. “We were very confused on what the show [and its theme] was at that time, nobody knew what we were doing really, but we were definitely excited.”
“We drank a bottle of champagne to celebrate,” Weir said.
Ulery said he was scared of the way that Soulcracker would be portrayed because his band is not very “image oriented.”
“We made the conscious decision to never put on an act, look cool with our clothes, or sound cool with what we said,” Ulery said. “Unlike other bands, we went out there to play music and not get drunk. Our agenda was to play music and possibly get some new equipment.”
“Most bands feel that the show depicted how they are in their everyday lives,” Cutforth said.
“We try to be fair to people and trusting with their careers. We have to be responsible to what we show.”
To this end, VH1 edited out mostly scenes of a sexual nature, he said.
When the show dwells solely on how much money each band makes, tension rises easily.
“Bands are very competitive with each other,” Cutforth said. “Toward the end of the show people will see that things will be very dramatic and serious. They will start getting on each others nerves.”
Flickerstick and Soulcracker began fighting among themselves. Soulcracker’s bassist A.P. Althisars’ attitude toward business, with his “Hey, check it out” motto, irritated his colleagues.
“When you have pressure on you, you’re going to look at anything else as something to be mad about, other than dealing with your own fears,” Flickerstick’s guitarist, Cory Kreig, said on the Tampa episode, which aired July 1.
“I think that it started to hit home. Like, if we don’t win the battle of the bands, we’re going to be home real soon. We’re going to have to face the music. And I think that’s what started to make Cory and [Lea's brother] Fletcher really freak out,” Lea said during the same show.
Fletcher Lea, Flickerstick’s bassist, said it was tough to leave his family behind while being on the road.
“It’s hard because I missed my son’s birth auditioning for the show and that was hell,” he said.
Stress never stopped Flickerstick’s guitarist, Rex James Ewing, from keeping his good spirits.
“Lots of beer,” he said as the band joined him in laughter. “Selling merchandise and stuff wasn’t that stressful, it was just cameras in your face all the time that was stressful. We are selling stuff now, and it’s not stressful.”
But even though they trailed behind in funds, Flickerstick automatically remained on the show by winning the show’s Battle of the Bands competition twice
As a show of unity, they all wore black clothing during the Battle of the Bands.
“I don’t know, it was just an idea for all of us to dress the same … and be a team,” Kreig said.
“We never joke around on stage, but this one we knew we had to be serious,” Lea said. “My dad said it was like Tiger Woods wearing red when he was about to win.”
The Battle of the Bands is Lea’s favorite memory from the show.
“In the first Battle of the Bands, we didn’t know how the crowd would react,” Lea said. “I mean who knows, even though we didn’t think bands should beat us in the Battle of the Bands, something could happen, they could have a lot of friends there or something.”
Soulcracker does not feel the same way.
“The worst thing was losing Battle of the Bands,” Ulery said. “It was the most important thing for us, and we felt the lowest when we lost.”
With Soulcracker taking the lead financially, many viewers perceived the band as a moneymaking machine. Viewers don’t realize that the reason why the band is so far ahead financially is because they play shows every night, Ulery said.
“The reason we did so well is that we are going out on tour to play music every night,” he said. “We played several clubs on the same night, people came to see us and play our records.”
Look, ma, I’m on TV
The viewers are not the only ones who watch the show. Flickerstick also watches.
“I’ve never seen it,” Lea said, joking.
“They send us an advanced copy on Thursdays,” Weir said, also joking, “so we watch it so we can warn our parents or…”
“…warn ourselves.” Lea said. “We’ve seen all of them before. I guess there is one city that we hadn’t seen [the episode] yet, and there is all this people coming up to us and saying, ‘Man, that was so awesome when y’all did this,’ and we’re like, ‘We haven’t seen it yet, man.'”
All the bands feel a certain amount of gratitude for their exposure, Cutforth said.
“They know they were rewarded by the way people react to them,” he said
Bands on the Run has helped expose Soulcracker, Ulery said.
“One of the funniest things is that people who think we are bad are still curious and come to see the show,” he said. “Then after the show they will come up to us and say, ‘I hated you on the show but you just blew me away.'”
“What we want people to take from us musically when they come to see us live is just that we’re really serious musicians,” Flickerstick’s Kreig said. “We really are a band. We weren’t picked by VH1 and then put together. We are still a band, we enjoy performing and love to play music.
“When people come to see our shows, and when they listen to our music, hopefully they can get some of that passion out of it that we try to put in it.”