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Interviewed by Cathy Genovese
On behalf of Michael Laskow and everybody here at TAXI, I just want to say, "Congratulations." Your self-titled debut album on Columbia just went gold; you've had the #1 most-played song on active rock in 2004; and are currently climbing up the charts at Billboard. We're just really proud of you guys.
Thank you so very much.
Tell me where you're originally from.
Originally from Columbia, South Carolina.
How did you meet everybody in Crossfade?
Oh wow. Back in high school Mitch James and I and our former drummer formed a band called The Nothing. In high school, all of the bands began to individually break up, so after high school we formed a Rock & Roll band, and we've all been together ever since. We lost our drummer, Brian Geiger, last year. Then Tony Byroads came along six or seven years ago. So it's been Mitch and I who have been together since high school for 10 or 11 years.
So you guys have actually stayed together throughout all this. What made you decide to join TAXI?
Livin' in Columbia, South Carolina, there's not many opportunities to get your music out to a lot of people, especially across the borders of South Carolina. So I searched the Internet one day looking for a way to find somebody else that could help me do that, and TAXI was the only company around that had a solid reputation and that had connections. So I decided to give it a shot. I didn't know how long it was going to last or how long I would do it, but I wound up a member of TAXI for four to five years.
I think it was maybe 1999.
And when did you guys get signed?
So you spent a couple of years going through TAXI. Is it true that you were submitting songs to Country listings, and if so, how did you break away from that and focus more on Rock?
When I joined TAXI, I was actually submitting mostly Rock and Pop kind of stuff. Then, as my writing progressed, I started to write Country music and then I started to submit to Country listings. It evolved into that.
Did that go anywhere?
I don't think I got too many forwards for the Country stuff.
Did you find the TAXI feedback helpful in your songwriting?
Absolutely. It showed me a different way just to look at the music, to look at it more in the sense of the consumer aspect. Not just the consumer aspect, but to get out of my musician-kind of mentality and step back and look at it from somebody who just wants to enjoy music. It helped a lot that way.
Is there anything that you can say to TAXI members who are getting frustrated by either submitting all the time and not getting forwarded, or submitting all the time and getting forwarded and not hearing back on anything?
I would say to... Hell, it's so hard to know why certain people listening to music don't see the things that you think they should see in it. Things are so diverse and there are so many different things that they're looking at. You just have to do it over and over again, and just count your blessings when it does happen the right way.
Oh yeah, all the time. When TAXI would put out listings for Dispatch, I did that for a long time. Anything TAXI had, I tried to get my hands on.
Tell me what happened in terms of how you got from being TAXI members to getting representation and getting signed.
Chris Long, who is our manager now, was one of the first people who called me from TAXI. I can't remember if he was screening a listing that he ran looking for acts to manage, or if it was a listing he brought in for a label. But whatever the case, he got the go ahead from you guys to contact us. So, he called me up one day and said, "Hey, I like your music, and I'd like to hear more." We sent him some more music and eventually, about three or four months after the initial contact, he flew out to South Carolina to hear us play, and signed on as our manager about a month later.
One of the things our members often tell us is, "I don't understand where my sound fits and what genre I fall under." These days, there are so many different sub-genres. What genre do you think best defines Crossfade?
It's so hard for me to say. Some people call it Emo, but I don't think it's that. Then there's Alternative, but that's so broad a category. I still just call it Hard Rock.
Do you have any feelings about that as far as members saying, "I don't know where I fit"? Did you ever feel that way when you were submitting songs? Did you just always submit to just Rock, or did you submit to Modern Rock as well?
I think one of the reasons why I spent so much money with TAXI was I would pick a song and submit it three or four different listings for Alternative, Modern Rock, even Electronica. I was just hoping that one of them would find something that they liked.
Who are some of your musical influences, and what are you listening to right now?
Musical influences, hmm... Metallica, Soundgarden, Faith No More. Right now I really don't listen to music much at all; I haven't for quite some time. Too busy, and even back when I had time to do anything with music, it was always writing or spending time in the studio, or just putting on a pair of headphones and listening to a song that I had written. I always used the time to do my own thing.
Very modest. It's just in an old garage that was made into a brick studio, with a fast computer with a version of Cakewalk that we found on the Internet, an AKG microphone running into a guitar compressor—we didn't have enough money to buy a vocal compressor. For the vocals and the guitars, I used a Pod and a Veta... and a bass Pod for the bass. I also had a Triton Studio keyboard. And that's about it.
Either you or somebody in the band is quoted as saying "None of us are really studio engineers. We're just a band with some cool equipment." What can you say to all the artists and songwriters who feel like they have to have a super-produced demo in order to get anywhere?
I would say that I think as long as the heart is there in the songs, and as long as it's not completely crappy recording, I think it will always come across to people. I think it's all about what's in the song and not what makes the song. So, if your heart's in it and it's at least a mediocre recording, I think that anybody who knows good music will hear that in the song.
But essentially the label let you produce your own album after they heard your demo?
No. The demo that we recorded, produced, and released independently is the same record they picked up. They had the tracks remixed by Randy Staub (Nickelback, P.O.D., Metallica). So that was actually our demo that we were shopping. We were hoping to re-record it with a producer and all that, but they decided to use it as it was.
So there is something to be said for doing it in your own time, in your own space, and that it can still get picked up and do so well. Great.
How relevant do you think it is for an unknown band to be in a big city playing a lot, as opposed to playing in their hometown, hoping to get heard?
For us, it was not relevant at all. We rarely played out live, just because Columbia, S.C., is not really a big live music scene, we always found less than what we desired by playing out. So we decided to go record music and use TAXI to get it to people beyond the borders. But you know, we happen to be that kind of band that just has songs that got somebody's attention. Other bands may be a great live band and they'd get somebody's attention that way. So I really think it has to do with the energy and the kind of songs that you have and where you're from.
Right. There's so much talk of "doing it yourself" — the whole DIY movement, I'm just wondering, did you guys do anything else other than go through TAXI? Did you do any other legwork?
Yeah, we played out just once or twice a month. We did 100 miles from our hometown, just to make money and just to try to build a fan base, but with no radio support and no real local support, TAXI was really the main thing for us.
I think about a few weeks into my time here at TAXI, I was walking past one of our executive's office and I heard him playing "Cold." It literally made me stop and ask him who the band was, and I remember saying to him, "That song should be on the radio." Do you ever feel that way about your songs? Do you ever listen to a finished version and think, "We have a hit"? Or do you just think, "That's a pretty good song"?
We never really listen and think that we have a hit, because to this day it's still a mystery to us how well "Cold" has done, and what a hit is, and what makes a hit. Years ago, we decided that we're never going to be able to do this playing live. We knew we had to get our music to the right people, and we knew that once we did, and if we can just get it on the radio, we knew that somebody's going to find something in this music. We definitely knew that some of the music was going to have that appeal and it was going to be on the radio someday, but we didn't know which songs or what it was going to be.
Are you a chronic re-writer, or do you know when you have something solid and ready to go?
I guess I'd have to say I'm a chronic re-writer because when we have the studio there at our disposal, it's always evolving and there's always something more, so there's never a point where we actually press a CD up and say, "Hey, here's our CD." The only time that we did that was with the 10 songs that are on this CD. It happened to work out for us. But then again, I don't know, sometimes I'll finish a song and I'll say, "Wow, I really like it. It's done." I think once it's done, it's done. But a lot of times it takes me a long time to get to that finished point. I will rework it a lot.
What is your catalyst as a songwriter? Do you delve more deeply into personal issues? Do you borrow from what's going on in the world around you?
It's always personal issues for me. I can't really write any other way. I can't externally write about other people's issues and lives. I have a few songs where I have, but I get so much more out of writing personally.
How has the label helped you guys in shaping your live performance?
The label hasn't really helped. They haven't given us any advice or any help musically. That not being our strongest suit, since we are a recording band, we made it a point—once we realized we were going to have the opportunity down the road—to practice and really get this stuff down and make sure we had as good a live show as we possibly could. We just spent months and months really focusing on becoming a better live band. The label has really stayed out of that for us. I guess we've done a good job or they'd be offering to help us.
How important is image in your eyes to a Rock band?
I know it's important, and I know in the past when I was a young kid, that image was important because it caught my attention and my interest. But for us currently, we're not worried about style and image. We're just who we are, and the label has let us kinda stay that way as well. They don't try to force a bunch of style issues on us or anything like that. They've been very cool on all those issues. We're very lucky to have signed with a great label and have great people on our team. It can make a world of difference.
What has been the hardest thing, as well the most exciting thing about transitioning from an unknown rock band from South Carolina, submitting songs to TAXI, to being a major label-signed-gold album-selling rock band?
Wow. The hardest thing has been just personally, in our personal lives. There have been a lot of changes with family, being on the road, which is something we've never done. Just the whole touring aspect, playing live and getting used to that. That's definitely been the hardest part. But that being said, it really hasn't been that hard at all. We're finally doing what we love to do, but that's probably the only negative thing, if it's negative at all. Everything else about all of this is completely positive.
I guess the best thing is that we are just finally... that one thing that I always wanted, which was just to have other people be able to enjoy the music that we make and just to know that people finally have the opportunity to go out and buy it at any record store in the country and hear it on the radio. That's just completely amazing to me.
We hear all the time about what hard work it is once you get signed in the sense of touring and keeping a daily schedule, making the publicity rounds, and doing interviews. What's it like for you? Are you enjoying yourselves? I know you just started a headline tour that's taking you across the U.S. How are you fairing?
I think the first tour we ever did was like an Active Rock radio tour where we'd go to some radio stations during the day. We were just cuttin' our teeth and learning that that was part of the game. Now pretty much every day, when we get somewhere, we go to an Active Rock station, and we're starting to go to Top 40 stations. I play an acoustic song for each station on the air, then have an interview, then go do sound check, then do a meet-and-greet, then go play the show, then after the show, autograph signings. It's a very grueling schedule, but every step of the way you're smiling because we have the opportunity to do this, and we have all of these radio stations across the country that are giving us tons of support. So, for us, this is our chance to give back to them. We realize that without them—and of course without the fans—and without radio, none of this would be possible. It's whatever we can do to keep doing that. I guess at some point it may get old, but right now we're happy to do it.
It sounds like you went into the situation being pretty realistic about everything...
We didn't know what we were gonna get or how it would be, but we were determined to take it for what it was and make the best of whatever we were going to get out of it.
Are you writing now? Do you write daily?
I don't really write daily like I used to just because of the schedule. We've got a setup in the back of the bus to record, we've got guitars and all that kind of stuff, so we have the ability to do it, and we do it a lot, but not quite daily.
Do you feel more pressure now because of the recognition this album is getting? Do you feel rushed to get moving on to your sophomore release?
I don't feel rushed, only because this album has grown so slowly, but so solidly, that we're likely to be on tour with this record probably until the end of the year. For me personally, as long as I have some free time and some space to myself to kind of go and do my thing, I'm good to go. So, as long I have a few months to do that after the tour, I don't feel pressure about writing another album or writing more good songs. I've got plenty left in me; I've got a lot that I still need to say. I love to write. I just have to find the time to do it. So, as long as I am given the time, I don't think I'll feel the pressure.
Where do you hope to see Crossfade 10 years from now?
Like most bands, I really hope that 10 years from now we'll be into our fourth, fifth, maybe sixth record, and we still have a fan base that appreciates and loves the music that we write, and that we're always able to write music that continues to touch people. I know that's a pretty broad answer, but I guess that would be it.
It's a good answer, and thank you for taking the time to talk.
You're very welcome.
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