If the Midwest is the “armpit of the United States,” musically speaking, as Downthesun singer Satone likes to say, then Alaska is that place behind the ears that everyone forgets to wash. But just because the rest of America isn’t hearing it doesn’t mean we don’t have a strong musical pulse.
From Gigs to Club Celsius to Koot’s, our local scene has sweated blood trying to move out, move on and move up. Finally, it looks like some people down south are catching on. Taking a closer look into our own backyard, we got the skinny from a band that left Alaska, a band that just got signed, and an indie band that puts out their own albums. Next issue we’ll continue with a look at a band who’s just starting out and the ongoing struggles of Anchorage venues.
The newspapers said, “36 CrazyFists are the first Alaska-grown band to strike oil with a major record label.” The Fists got together in 1994 and after some hardships decided it was best to relocate to Portland, Ore.
“We just wanted to play to more people and more venues,” frontman Brock Lindow said. “We were pretty serious about music so we wanted to take it as far as we could. We took it as far as we could here at the time.”
And they took it all around, to Gigs, Max’s Bar and Koot’s. They played hard and fast, bassist Mick Whitney remembers. The band members feel they have matured more musically since the early Alaska days.
“When Gigs was open, that was like our first home. It was just amazing.”
“People don’t think this is like the musical hotbed,” frontman Brock Lindow said.
Despite what people think about the Anchorage area, the Fists earned a pretty large and loyal posse of followers who showed up family-reunion style to their homecoming concerts this year, at the Top of the World Music Festival in June and at Koot’s in October.
Most bands share stories of struggling for years just to get a label to notice them. Nothing Less has a much different story.
Tommy Dowell’s fellow band members thought he was crazy when he first suggested a tour for their band Nothing Less. He printed a map from the Internet and began circling cities to visit. With the map on the wall, he spent a month making deliveries for Fred Meyer, and band members Tim Waters and HenryHartman pooled their savings.
“A month before we left, it was still kind of like, ‘Are we going?’” Waters said. “It wasn’t real to me until the day before we left.”
Dowell always had big dreams for his band, and he was about to see those dreams become a reality.
“I never wanted to be in a garage band,” Dowell said. “I always wanted to do something big or not at all.”
They loaded their 1989 Ford Econoline with all their gear and headed to the states. It was there they met representatives from Alcatraz Records and became one of the few bands from Alaska to sign with a label.
The band formed in November of 2001. Their first show was at Hilltop Ski Area in March of this year. They toured in July and were signed in August. They said they owe it to the tour and practicing, at times up to eight hours per day before their first show. Hartman called it “Olympic” style practicing.
It didn’t take them long to win over fans in Anchorage and throughout their tour. Audiences during their tour were able to experience their upbeat ska music and their quirky charm. During a show in Oregon, fans compared Nothing Less to Blink 182.
Taking a cue from the comparison, Waters decided to give his audience a taste of what Blink audiences frequently experience.
“I took off my pants, but I looked like a dumbass because I still had a shirt on,” he said. “So it’s like I had this big shirt and these skinny, little legs poking out from underneath.”
So far, the band has recorded a three-track EP under the Alcatraz label. They plan to record their full album this winter and release the final product next spring. Though Alcatraz Records would prefer the band move to San Francisco and begin touring, Nothing Less is not planning to move until after May 2003.
The band may be planning to move, but they still intend to stay true to their music and Anchorage’s local scene.
“(The label is) kind of an outside influence that can kind of get in the way sometimes,” Dowell said, but Hartman said creative differences between the band and the label will not interfere with the music. They all also agreed they will definitely be returning frequently to Anchorage for concerts.
From long practice hours to signing with Alcatraz Records, Nothing Less plans to do what it takes to make it big. Their producer Ray Stevens said, “You can be a rock band or a band that rocks.” And they intend to be a band that rocks.
The band members of X-Nilo are firm believers in getting things done right by doing it themselves. Unlike most aspiring Alaska bands, X-Nilo has chosen to stay in Alaska and until they make it big in their home state.
“A lot of bands in Alaska think they need to get out of Alaska to make it, where we have the mentality that if you can’t make it happen here, how are you going to make it happen somewhere else?” drummer Tyler Williams said.
After foregoing a tour of the states this past summer, the Christian rock group decided to use their tour money to release a new album and focus on local shows. They figure Alaska is the toughest state in which to succeed. By making it here, they will be able to thrive anywhere.
So far, X-Nilo has released a new album, hosted a packed CD release party and other concerts, received airplay on local radio stations, and they are currently planning a statewide tour in conjunction with Celebration of Life, an anti-suicide campaign.
The members are serious about their music. Only two members, Blake Hufman and Jason Moore, have jobs and none of the members go to school. Williams, Mike Snowden and Greg Tetrault focus their energy entirely on the band’s success.
The band is currently shopping for a lawyer to help start their label, which has yet to be named. Their goal is to eventually have another label buy out their label, instead of simply signing their band. They said this will get them a better deal.
“(Labels) want to see bands that work hard,” Williams said. “People think that being in rock bands is like partying and stuff, but there’s a whole lot more than that.”
“We’re not even big and we’re at non-stop meetings,” Snowden said.
The band has gotten sponsorships from Red Bull, DaKine, truth.com and locally owned Northern Boarder. They also plan concerts several months in advance, even though they only play about two per month.
Though the band is passionate about their music, they are also into giving their fans the complete concert experience.
“Every time there’s got to be something new, something special, something different,” Williams said. “If you can pull that off, you’ll get people to regularly come back.”
And so far, that’s been X-Nilo’s main goal—getting fans to attend and support regularly.
“Until we do what we need to do in Alaska, I don’t see a need in leaving yet,” Williams said. “I think (bands) think that’s what they have to do, but we’re doing real well here in Alaska.”