VH-1'S BANDS ON THE RUN
By: Alex Steininger
"I feel like a girl in a bar now, everyone has a line for me," laughs Sutton, the front man for San Diego's Soulcracker, one of the four bands chosen to take part in VH-1's reality-based show about bands on tour entitled Bands on the Run.
The band's popularity has shot through the roof with seventeen hours of performances, running around, and wild rock antics airing over a three month time period on VH-1.
"We have a lot of luxuries now," Sutton says. "We have a booking agent, we can play shows and get all-age gigs. We're very lucky."
Though, like any other indie band, things didn't always come easy for Soulcracker. They had to hit the pavement, touring constantly and playing over 200 shows a year for five years straight, before they got their big break. And their first big break turned out to be nothing more than a failed relationship with a doomed dot com company.
"We were just negotiating a contact when the fold happened," comments Sutton on the band's prospects with spinrecords.com prior to the company being audited by the IRS and closing up shop, laying off over 200 employees after not paying them for their last two weeks of service.
"Before they went bankrupt we had a recording bill of $30,000," he says. "They originally told us to invoice them and they'd pay it. Then they folded. So we had to sign a note with a venture capitalist who only paid $24,000 of the bill."
"They eventually breached the contract and we were free," he adds.
After a defeat that would crumble most bands, Soulcracker went back to doing what they've always done, self-releasing their CDs on their own label, Large Marge Records, hitting the road, and touring non-stop.
Though, known as a bar band, Soulcracker has now set out to change people's perceptions of them.
"Soulcracker is a bar band," explains Sutton. "We're background music for people at the bar to get drunk too. That's not what we're interested in anymore.
"I want our music to relate to someone in the audience. I want them to come and see us and take something meaningful away from the show and the music. I'm not into talking about the weather with people or just talking to talk. I want to sit down with them, have a real conversation, and have each of us walk away enriched. And that's what I want Soulcracker to be about.
"I don't want to be a party band. I want to be an artist. Maybe I am an artist? Maybe I'm just a musician in a party band?"
A party band they may have been, but with Bands on the Run they proved to be a hard working, publicizing machine, beating everyone to the bonus opportunities on the show.
"The show has afforded us a lot of opportunities," admits Sutton. "It has helped us take ourselves more seriously as a band. Also, we've gotten a lot of feedback. I'm getting about forty e-mails a day. I answer every single e-mail, especially the hate mail, which I get all the time. As Bob says, 'bring on the hate'.
"I'm happy we did the show. It's not the most ideal way of getting an audience, but it worked. One thing, though, is that we know now what the experience is like and if we didn't do the show, we wouldn't have known."
One of the ways Soulcracker managed to change people's perceptions of their band was in Nashville. Each band was scheduled to play a die-hard country bar. Taking initiative, Sutton went ahead and wrote a country song about how he missed his girlfriend and wanted to be with her. The result was Soulcracker, best known as a hard rock band, winning over close-minded country fans as well as the other bands on the show, proving once and for all, if Soulcracker puts their mind to it, they can accomplish it.
"A good song is a good song, no matter what format it is in," explains Sutton on how he went from metal-esque rocker to country crooner. "I started out listening to music in a very immature way, only listening to one type of music. I have expanded now and like everything from Willie Nelson, The Pixies, and Jeff Buckley to The Replacements."
The country song in Nashville points at an idea Sutton has bounced around a few times, a solo album.
"I've been working on some slower stuff and given some thought to a solo album," he confirms. "If I did record a solo album, it would be slower, because if the song requires a band, Soulcracker would be the band to record it. If it calls for one person though, it may work as a solo song."
Discussing the band's new album, At Last, For You, Sutton talks about making mistakes, learning from them, and finding your own way around life's messes.
"Our new album is a frustrated album. It's about disappointment. Take Greatest Generation for example. It's about the disappointment in your parent's generation. You know, the idea that at 21 you have to be married and at 23 be stuck in a cubicle somewhere. They just don't seem to want you to go through any hard times or fights. Which might mean they're just very caring and protective, but without learning from your mistakes, you can't really learn anything. The album is about going through these mistakes and learning from them, and not being sheltered from them."
The conversation quickly turns back to Bands on the Run and Soulcracker's draw following the program's final airing.
"Miraculously, we do have a bigger draw now," Sutton says somewhat amazed at the band's current popularity. "We're packing places as far north as Denver and as far east as Dallas. Touring is feasible for us right now because we are playing small clubs at $10 a head, which makes us able to afford to tour and make some money at it.
"We got a good booking agent from the show. Now we can pull off only playing all-ages shows."
One thing about their draw in particular amazes Sutton. It is the fact that they are drawing plenty of punk rockers, amongst their typical crowd and the crowd VH-1 has brought in.
"Our audience seems to be women ages 16-35, as well as big and little rock kids. Everyone from punks and beyond.
"I don't think we're a punk band, but punk kids seem to like us. I think it is our attitude, work ethic, and behavior that makes us appeal to the punk rockers. Or maybe it's our sincerity that makes us punk. It's not our sound.
"Having punk kids attend our shows has influenced my songwriting style. My new songs sound a lot more punk-y, so the audience can relate to them."
The conversation turns to whether or not the fans are coming out to see a band they saw on TV or if they're actually coming out to hear the music.
"About half our crowd is there because they like our music," he says. "A fourth is there because they hate us, and the rest think we're a novelty band - a circus side show. At the end of the night, we have a 95 percent likeability factor. This tour should be labeled the 'Change Their Minds' tour. It sucks we have to change people's minds about us, but it's good that we're pulling it off."
Internet message boards, water cooler conversations, e-mails, and even the show itself has portrayed co-vocalist Beastie in a negative light, virtually placing him as some bafoon on stage dancing and screaming, ruining the band's live show.
"On the new album, Beastie and my songs are more evenly distributed," Sutton says, confirming Beastie's importance in the band. "He's more comfortable in his singing, and the album is the way it should be, half him and half me.
"Also, Beastie writes half the songs. He also helps me on stage. I like attention, but not one thousand eyes on me at once. Also, having Beastie sing helps me be the guitar player once in awhile and do things I couldn't do if I had to stand in front of the mic and sing. I'm not glued to the mic. I like it a lot. I really enjoy moving around.
"As for VH-1 portraying it as we want to kick Beastie out of the band, we had one argument about a vocal part in the song... about whether or not it should be there. Nothing more. We have never threatened or tried to kick Beastie out of the band. That might have been how VH-1 portrayed it on the show, I wouldn't put it past them. I don't know, but it isn't true."
We then start to talk about the other bands on the show and their portrayal by VH-1.
"Amanda [from Harlow] was so sexually open on the show, but she was very tight-lipped about her husband," comments Sutton on the show twisting everything to boost ratings. "She was portrayed as a lesbian on the show. I'm sure a lot of this was about ratings and getting people hooked on the show.
"I hate people who keep e-mailing or telling me that 'Flickerstick is a bunch of assholes... they suck', like they know anything about Flickerstick by watching the show.
"I like Flickerstick musically and as people. Though, I don't have a lot of stuff in common with some of the members."
He is referring to Flickerstick's constant cheating on girlfriends and fianc?s, including one time when VH-1 put a microphone under one of Flickerstick's band member's doors while he was having sex with a groupie, cheating on his fianc? and mother of his new born child.
"Infidelity has been around for a long time, so that is nothing new. Though, the worst part about that is his girlfriend had to hear them having sex. That's just sick," Sutton says with pure disgust.
He is quick to add, "People will like you or not. They can see through the image portrayed on T.V. I don't really have time for people's perceptions of me, though."
VH-1 portrayed Sutton as a man unwilling to work to sell CDs, a goal of the band to progress them to the finish line.
"I think the only difference from me and my band is that I don't like to sell stuff to people," Sutton says, defending the fact that he hates to sell merchandise. "I could never be a telemarketer. I can't do that.
"I was embarrassed all the time. I mean, it was a game show. Beastie would be out there trying to sell the most merch... it made me feel like a poor kid selling magazines. I just don't like to approach people in a supplicant way. It didn't make me feel comfortable at all. I won't pick up CDs and walk around the bar trying to sell them. This made the band unhappy, but when it got really uncomfortable, I told them I would load all the gear if I didn't have to sell merch. Ramsey and I ended up loading all the gear each night and the rest of the band went out and sold stuff."
As for major label interest, the band says they haven't been approached by any labels as-of-yet.
"The show has opened the lines of communication with labels," he says. "They all know who we are. However, they want hits; you have to have that song. And I don't know if we have that song."
I soon ask Sutton if he thinks Soulcracker should have won Bands on the Run, seeing as how they were ahead on merch sales at the end, yet beaten out by Flickerstick with the major push provided by the final battle of the bands.
"In one sense, we should have won," he says confidently. "According to the terms, and work we put in, we fulfilled the terms we were given, up until the last episode, when it wasn't true that the band that sold the most merch and made the most money won.
"In another sense, nobody should have won. It promotes the fact that only one band can be a winner at a time.
"With the audiences we were playing to, Flickerstick should have won. They have a broader audience and more mass appeal. Soulcracker, on the reverse, have a more specific market and really aren't a VH-1 band."
Sutton then brings up the possibility that the show might have been rigged.
"I had suspicions that the show was pre-wrote and that it was all a script. Flickerstick was supposed to win and they just needed three other bands to fit their mold to play along. I mean, if we won, would VH-1 really play us? Though, each time I brought that up to the producer, he kept telling me, 'but we play Buckcherry and Foo Fighters'."
Summarizing up the whole experience, Sutton informs me that he "was the one guy in the band against doing Bands on the Run." "But," he says, "Soulcracker is a democracy to a fault. If you disagree in this band, you better be ready to walk out the door. And I wasn't ready to do that, so I went with everyone's decision to be on the show."
"And I'm glad I did," he adds.
What are his plans now?
"After the tour I want to come home, write a new album, record it, and then tour to support it."
There was one more question on my mind I had to ask Sutton. The van. What about the van?
"We didn't get to keep the van," Sutton quickly states. "It is in the Enterprise fleet somewhere now."