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Death Via Satellite EP
Vocals - Aimee Echo
Bass - Erick Sanger
Drums - Billy Brimblecom Jr.
Guitar / Synths / Vocals - Jamie Miller
It was during their stint on the 2002 Vans Warped Tour that theSTART issued their accidental manifesto. Singer Aimee Echo - equal parts docile, deranged and debilitated from the heat - told the crowd. "We're a punk band. We used to work for a big corporation," a reference to their short-lived career in the major-label meat grinder. "But now," she concluded, "we work for you."
And now, two years after that declaration, comes Initiation, theSTARTís debut for Nitro Records, containing 12 shots of noise-pop, blissed-out fatalism and flailing rock abandon. Singer Echo, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jamie Miller, and bassist Erick Sanger are a punk band first and foremost. Don't get that confused with being a "punk-rock" band. Here, let Aimee explain....
"When I was a little tyke, I always thought that being punk was being different from anybody else and making sure your personal integrity remained intact," says Echo. "That's not like the costume party we call ëpunk,' now. That year we were on Warped, we were more punk than anyone else on that tour. A lot of those bands looked interchangeable, and their music sounded the same way. I like to think we rose above the black t-shirted masses."
TheSTARTís rise didn't happen overnight, nor did it move as smoothly as the elevators in your favorite corporate office building. In the late ë90s, a frustrated Aimee Echo had left the Jane's Addiction cabaret band she had been singing in for several years. Miller manned the drum kit for nu-metal contenders Snot, and did it quite well (ask the Used's Brandon Steineckert who his biggest influence is). But being the self-professed "Depeche Mode wuss playing in Metallica" got old really quick, so Miller put down his sticks and walked. Citing a mutual love of old-school punk energy and fizzy pop, Echo and Miller formed theSTART in 1998 with bassist Jeff Jaeger and drummer Scott Ellis. With Miller on guitar and synthesizer, and Echo out front and center, theSTART practically owned the L.A. club scene. It wasnít long before the band were offered a deal with The Label, a Geffen-distributed imprint overseen by the Firm, the management company behind the success of Korn and Limp Bizkit. The band's first album, Shakedown!, was loaded with earworm-generating pop hooks, Echo's admirable vocal prowess and Miller's six-stringed slamming and smoldering circuitry. Recorded in 1999, shelved in 2000 and finally released in 2001, Shakedown! was a rosebush trying to bloom in a manure field of nu-metal, date-rape rock.
Upon returning home from life on the road in support of their debut, the band were informed that The Label was shutting down, because there were more fiscal certainties in procuring talent agency rosters and nostalgic brand-name footwear. Undaunted and in service to their music, Echo and Miller bought a van so they could continue their rockin' crusade. However, drummer Ellis decided he didn't want to ride in it, and departed.
The following year, the band ponied up $800 and some change and recorded Death Via Satellite, six tracks of raw-pop power, that retained all of the melodic aspects of Shakedown!, with the kind of mania usually found in people who abuse diet pills and asthma inhalers. The band moved forward, their masters in hand, pressed, and sold the disc themselves on the road. Soon after the Warped campaign, Jaeger got married, became a father, started his own painting business and Aimee and Jamie bid him adieu.
But during that 2002 Warped campaign, a member of Nitro's shadow government caught theSTART's set and was significantly blown away that he offered them a deal, promising not to make the band hang out with paunchy metal guys in dreadlocks and track suits. Nitro reissued Death Via Satellite to sate the band's fanbase until the release of the next album.
For much of 2003, Echo and Miller were playing with pickup rhythm sections poached from friends' bands. One night in San Antonio, Texas, Erick Sanger, bassist from Kissing Chaos and an original member of Sparta, approached Echo, professing his love for her band and offering his services should they ever need a low-end merchant. This came just as Miller and Echo were in the process of firing their pickup four-stringer of-the-moment. The next day, Sanger called Echo announcing, "My band broke up last night, can I play in yours?"
With their lineup finalized and a batch of new songs ready to go, theSTART began work on Initiation in February of 2004. Miller and Brian Virtue (Jane's Addiction, 30 Seconds To Mars) oversaw the production of the disc's 12 tracks. Crackling with dynamics, energy and atmospherics, Initiation is a rocket ride of styles and shape-shifting songs that adequately display the breadth of the band's capabilities. TheSTART aren't trying to be clever; they're simply doing whatever the fuck they want to do.
"I do think people like the certain boxes they put themselves into," says Miller. "The whole ëI listen to just this' kind of thing. We'd get bored with 13 tracks of the same thing. We do our own thing, and damn the consequences. Really, we should've named the album, We're Fucking Stubborn."
Ah, but stubbornness has rarely sounded this ambitious. The pulsing, urgent opener "Like Days" charges confidently like a home invasion, but it's undercut by Echo's unhinged vocal that's part sociopath, part suicide-hotline caller. The deceptively cheery "Life Is Sweet" is a bouncy pop number that swings, until you listen closely to Echo's story of a dysfunctional relationship (Aimee describes it as ìequanimity through sufferingî). By its title alone, "Peacocks" could be misconstrued as a saccharine love song, but in reality, it's theSTART's battle anthem, anchored by Echo's vicious mantra, "We Will Rise!" On Initiation, pop sensibilities are smeared with blood and dirt, camouflaging other motives. Clearly, Echo is not going to come along - or go away - quietly.
"Really, the term ëhappy accidents' comes up in this band all the time," Miller confesses. "On ëLife Is Sweet,' the music was so poppy that Aimee's instant reaction was to take the lyric in to some dark, weird place. All these songs are like blueprints, but when she starts throwing down lyrics, the songs take on a whole new life of their own."
"I have this innate fear of being aligned with anything specific,î says Echo. ìWhen something gets popular, I run as fast as I can away from it. All the lyrics on Initiation are about what I was going through and what I was feeling. There were days when I felt like ëPeacocks,í and there were dark days when I felt like ëYou, Me And A Knife.í There were moments of greatness, and then there were times when I thought, ëFuck this, Iím gonna take a whole bunch of pills and lie in the bathtub.í The lyrics reflect that all or nothing attitude.î
Expect the same kind of conviction displayed on Initiation to manifest itself when theSTART get in the van and throw it down in front of an audience. They've shared stages with a variety of bands, ranging from SoCal punk royalty The Offspring to palm-muted protagonists Hot Water Music. In the process, theyíve gained converts coming around to their way of rocking.
"We try to give it all when we get onstage,î says Echo. ìIím not gonna phone it in. We once played a sushi bar somewhere in Louisiana. The room was very tiny and the PA was horrible. But the people were nice, the sushi was great, and most importantly, the kids there were really excited. After our set, they were asking, íwhy are you playing here?í We put out the same kind of energy in that show that we wouldíve in a great big room.î
Thatís because Echo knows whom she works for. These days, there are too many punk-rockers with a sense of entitlement and too few punks with work ethics. And when it comes to redressing the balance, Initiation is a good place to START.