From VH-1 to Epic Records (Epic Records)
By: Alex Steininger
Life after VH-1 is going pretty well for Flickerstick. They found themselves signed to Epic Records after nearly every label tried to court them when they won VH-1's reality-based "Bands on the Run" TV show. They're selling out venues across the nation, including back-to-back nights in New York and Los Angeles. And, fans everywhere are praising the band's debut, Welcoming Home The Astronauts. Not bad for a group of guys from Fort Worth, Texas.
"We've played sold out shows in New York and Los Angeles and I remember saying, 'one of these days we'll leave Fort Worth and play Dallas'," says guitarist/co-songwriter Corey Kreig. "I mean, In the last six months we've sold out five shows in New York!"
With "Bands on the Run" the first chance for the band to tour on a national level, some have been quick to dismiss the band for their seemingly easy life, from VH-1's dime to Epic's.
However, Corey is quick to explain the band's humble beginnings. "We're not a band that was created by VH-1. We were around for years prior to 'Bands on the Run'. We played shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It was one of those situations where someone had work or school, and we all had day jobs, so we could only get an occasional Friday off, and then we'd play on the weekends. We couldn't just get up and go and tour.
"It wasn't financially feasible to get up and tour. If we were 21, I'm sure we'd get out there and tour for nothing. But, Rex was married, and we all had women. It wasn't about touring, it was about money. It was like, 'Go be on the road, but you better send home some cash.'"
Fletcher Lea, the bass player and brother to frontman Brandin Lea, explains the band's hometown following. "In Dallas and Ft. Worth we were drawing 500 people a night. It wasn't bad. Sometimes more sometimes less, depending on how well we promoted the shows. As far as local, unsigned bands, we were one of the top three or four bands."
The conversation quickly turns into talk about their current tour, as the band tours in support of their Epic debut.
"Epic doesn't support the tour," Corey informs me, putting to rest some people's perception of their VH-1 to Epic backing. "We're pretty much paying for everything ourselves. We haven't used that much tour support."
"Our shows are going well on the road, so if you're being successful on the road you're really not spending that much money," says Fletcher. "You're breaking even or pretty close to it."
"At least on the night of our shows, there are posters up and information about the record being out, so we don't have to hump the streets to get people to go to the shows," Corey says on the difference between touring with "Bands on the Run" and touring now that they're on Epic. "We just book the shows and hope people show up. Most of the time, people show up. Every once in a while you have a bad night and a bad show.
"Plus, just having the comfort of knowing your album is out in stores is great. It takes away a lot of stress. We were out on the road touring for six months before we had a record in stores. It felt like we were just spinning our wheels.
"We were selling a lot of records at shows, but someone who bought the record at the show couldn't go play the record for his friend and have his friend buy the record, because they couldn't get it in stores. The only way they could get it is if we came back through town. That is one of things that is cool now. People can walk into a store and go, 'there is something cool about this band' and buy the CD. There has been a bunch of times I've walked into a store and seen a CD and go, 'fuck it, I'll buy it'. Now people can do that. They can walk into a store, pick up our CD and go, 'I've heard of these guys. I'll buy it', whereas before they had to know what they were looking for and go on the Internet and search for it."
When bands get discovered out of the blue in an unconventional way that quickly propels them to notoriety, some are quick to point fingers and try to dismiss the band. Assuming this was happening on a national level in the media (as they're known for crucifying bands for less), Fletcher, Corey, and I discuss the media's overall reception of the band.
"When we first went out we were getting a lot of press," Corey says with enthusiasm. "We've been to these markets two or three times now so they'll put a picture of us in the paper and that's about it.
"As far as the press' response to us, I've read in the last seven or eight months only two or three things were I go, 'dude, we just got ripped'. Ninety percent of the things have been positive. They'll take a few potshots about us being on TV, but they'll write 'they were on a TV show, but they're good'. It always ends with something good. They almost always end up admitting to liking us. Of course, then there are a few that are like, 'fuck these fuckers'."
Fletcher quickly adds, "We got one really bad review in a San Diego weekly that had bitter written all over it. That is Soulcracker's hometown and the review started out with 'Remember Flickerstick? The band that beat out our hometown boys Soulcracker...'. It was very bitter, but I'm sure our Dallas papers rip on Soulcracker, too."
The big question lingers, so I ask. Do they feel the show portrayed them in a bad light?
"We did everything they showed us doing on the show, so I can't say they portrayed us in a bad light," admits Corey. "They just didn't portray us in whole. We were definitely typecast. They wanted us to be a character. If you acted someway 10% of the time during the show, that was enough for them to portray you that way the entire time. They wanted to portray us as a party band, because they wanted a party band and nobody else was doing that.
"They showed us as a disorganized band but we weren't doing anything that had anything to do with rock 'n' roll. It was a fucking game show for TV!"
"Our hard work is put into practicing three to four times a week for six hours and then playing three shows a week," says Fletcher with pride.
Corey jumps in, "We put up flyers for every single show we played in Dallas or in Texas. We always made mailers and got the word out about our shows. We were the kings of that. That's how we built our following."
"We did our work on the stage, and the music, and the songs. And to putting on a good live show. That's where we put our work. We don't run around and sell CDs to strangers," states Fletcher.
Corey then sums up the band's feeling of the show. "It was stupid to us to make the music into a fucking game show. We were trying to sell CDs and bought into it for about half the show and then we were like, 'Fuck this. What are we doing? We're idiots. We can't sell CDs. We're drunk out of our minds and we're harassing people to buy our CD. Fuck this. Let's make it about the music and if we don't win, who cares. Is winning that big of a deal?'"
"If you win because of your music, though, that's pretty cool," smiles Fletcher.
We then talk about the show and its impact on the band and whether or not they regret doing it.
"I regret some of the things I did on the show," states Corey. "But, for every person out there that goes, 'oh, that is the band from that show' there is another that absolutely loves us and would have never heard of us had it not been for the show. We'd still be playing Dallas if it weren't for that show, theoretically. I mean, something could have happened, but most likely we'd still be playing Dallas and waiting tables.
"The show isn't like Survivor where everyone in the country knows of us. There are a lot of people out there that the first time they hear about us is on the radio. We're just another band, like any other band, that they hear on the radio and enjoy.
"Sure, down the line someone might tell them we were on a TV show, but they're never going to see it, because they're never going to re-air it. For what we got, the six months it was on the air, it has been great. It brought us to Portland and other cities we would have never had the chance to play."
By the end of the show it was clear Flickerstick was not only the winner, but also the most commercial band, selling out clubs across the U.S., even prior to signing to Epic, drawing 700-1,000 to each show compared to Soulcracker's 200 per show and Harlow's 100. I ask the band if they feel their higher draw is due to the fact they won the show or their songs being more radio-accessible.
"We were selling out 1,500 people venues before anyone knew who the winner was," Corey quickly says to me. "We were the band everyone was rooting for from the beginning of the show, the band everyone hoped was going to pull it together at the end. It didn't have anything to do with whether we won or lost. People would have been pissed if we lost. All you had to do was go online and check it out and you would see that we were the viewers' favorites.
"By the middle of the show we were getting 75%-80% of the online voting. No matter what we would do, we'd win online. We didn't even do that much online promotion and yet we were blowing everyone away. We beat everyone out by at least 50%. Our band was the favorite character of the show rather than our music was this or that."
I then ask the band if they feel VH-1 helped them win, pointing out that Soulcracker and Harlow would have been out-of-place on VH-1.
"You know, I thought that too," Corey says openly. "I even went up to the producer, in private, and tried to convince him to tell me the truth. I was like, 'Come on, it's just you and me. You can tell me.' But he sat me down and said, 'as much as I wanted you to win, there was no way I could have rigged it for you to win.' After he explained it to me, I realized there really wasn't any way for him to rig it for us to win. Though, they did help us win, I know that for a fact. If they hadn't thrown those 'battle of the bands' our way, we would have lost, because Soulcracker was way ahead of us in terms of money earnings.
"But, the producer also told me that if they hadn't thrown the battle of the bands our way, it would have made no sense to watch the final two episodes of the show, because there was no way we could have beat Soulcracker. So, by helping us, they made it so the show was still anyone's game."
Corey then explains to me that being the favorite, not just the winner, was obvious in a lot of ways besides the online voting.
"We were selling two hundred CDs a night, more CDs than Harlow or Soulcracker was drawing to their shows," Corey says with confidence. "That was because nobody could get the CD anywhere else and they really wanted it, but we sold a shitload of records."
After the band informs me they were selling 200 CDs a night at gigs and packing clubs from coast to coast, the question hits me: why sign to a major?
Fletcher has no problem answering that, fielding the question in a matter of seconds. "We signed with Epic because of the distribution and radio play. You need radio play and the video push to go to the next level."
"We thought a lot about it before we signed and what it boiled down to was that we thought we could always tour and make money and sell merchandise and pay our bills, but we wanted to break through to the next level and we didn't think we could do that without a major's help," adds Corey.
"I mean, we'd always have our fanbase, but with Epic pushing us we could expand our fanbase and grow rather than staying at a certain level forever," further explains Corey. "And, look at it this way. In this day and age if you don't sell massive quantities, you're going to be dropped anyway, so you get out of your contract and get a bunch of free money. We'll always be able to be that band that tours but we wouldn't always have the opportunity to have someone push us.
"We choose Epic specifically because they seemed to want to take a chance on us and were meeting our demands. We talked to some other labels who were worried about the TV show and the effects it might have on the band and other labels who wanted to sign us because of the hype but weren't really going to push us.
"We've sold more CDs than 99% of the bands on Epic in two weeks, so the risk was that Epic was going to push us and take a chance, and not just sign us like these other labels wanted to, milk the show, and leave it at that. Where is the risk in that? We have proven we can go out there and tour, pack clubs, and sell CDs. So there is no risk in signing us. The real risk is signing an unknown band that has never toured and pushing them. And we wanted someone who was actually going to take a chance on us."
Epic's version of Welcoming Home The Astronauts includes a few slight changes to the original, self-released version, including two new tracks, completely new mixes, and some overdubs and backing vocals added.
"To the normal ear, you can't hear that much of a difference in the two," explains Corey. "Tom Lord-Alge re-mixed the songs so they'd be a bit stronger.
"The people who worked on the self-released version were great. We'd play the record for people and it sounded like a major label record. But, the chance to work with a great mixer like Tom Lord-Alge was a chance we couldn't pass up. We recorded two new songs that were demos we had and added a bit to a few songs, but that's about it. Not much has changed, but the Epic version is a lot more rocking. It is a better representation of what we do live, but still doesn't come close to how much we rock live."
One of the upcoming singles will be "Coke", a song that almost didn't make it onto the album.
"'Coke' almost didn't appear on the album because Coca-Cola wasn't going to let us use the song with the word "naked" in it," Corey says half-laughing. "We had to change it to 'taken' before they'd let us release it. It was a major hassle."
After the interview, Corey asks me only one favor.
"When you write this article you have to promise me you don't write, 'they were on TV, but I have to admit, they're good'. I hate it when people say, 'I have to admit they're good'. What does being on TV have to do with anything? We're the same band we were before we were on TV."
One listen to Welcoming Home The Astronauts and you'll understand what Corey is talking about. Check out their live show and you'll be even more convinced of the band's talents. A truly lively band, on and off of stage.