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Wonderlove is certainly poised for commercial liftoff. The promising Orange County rock band has enlisted the high-profile management team of Doll Hut owner turned band manager Linda Jemison and the widely respected Ron Kauffman.
But the quintet—featuring lead singer/lyricist Chris Paul Overall, lead guitarist Bryan McIntyre, pianist Jesse Nason, bassist Dave Beste and drummer Dicki Fliszar—has something else just as essential: songs. Spookily good, radio-friendly songs.
Released earlier this year, Wonderlove's Getting Off the Revolution offers a tasty mishmash of styles, roaming freely from guitar- and organ-powered psychedelia and hook-filled pop to thickly layered alt.-rock and rip-your-heart-out ballads. Somehow, it sounds both familiar and fresh—likely because the band members' influences range from David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd to the Black Crowes, Björk, Elliott Smith and Radiohead.
Katherine Montgomery the Invalid, the band's new EP, packs quite a wallop with a pair of high-energy, melodic pop rockers that precede two heavier, almost menacing numbers with impressionistic titles like "Ringworm" and "Lucid." While this kind of hard-to-pigeonhole sound often short-circuits any mainstream success, Wonderlove is confident it can attract a wider audience while staying true to itself.
"It is a great challenge to maintain one's integrity while significantly expanding your fan base," says McIntyre. "There are indie songs created only for the sake of being indie, written just to be completely inaccessible. We don't buy into that. It's a real art form to be able to create authentic music that a mass audience can appreciate. That's what we're striving for."
"We don't want to make music just for ourselves," Overall interjects. "I want as many people as possible to enjoy these songs. My feeling is that if I like it, usually others will, too."
The songs Overall composes sometimes navigate through deep, turbulent waters. His "Dirty" is about getting down and . . . well, you know. In "Mediocre," a depressed-sounding Overall laments, "Lately I can't find a feeling/I think you should pinch my skin/Kick me, hit me, I won't feel it." Wonderlove even has an eerie, blasphemous song ("Stoney River") about wanting to commit adultery while attending church. Lord have mercy!
Still, the cool thing about this band is they're not a downer. They relieve—at least temporarily—their despair with more hopeful selections such as the uplifting "Believe." In addition, Wonderlove typically ends its live show on an upbeat note with "Free," a life-affirming anthem dedicated to one of the band's lost heroes, the Orange County-born cult figure Jeff Buckley.
"Back in the day, artists like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and James Taylor were signed because they were great artists," says Overall. "A&R people were inspired by their songs. Today, you can't be inspired by looking at Britney Spears shake her ass. Well, I could be inspired to jack off, but that's about it."
Hey, not to get sidetracked, but why pick on busty little Britney? What about all those boy bands the young girls swoon over?
"MTV and the big corporations are telling kids—spoon-feeding them—what to listen to. . . . They're just dumping tons of money into marketing an image they can easily sell," says McIntyre. "It's disposable product, and it sucks. We all know it's not at all about music anymore."
One new Wonderlove song, "Fork in the Road," could easily prove prophetic for a band nearing its own crossroad. I wonder how soon Jemison's boys—as she likes to call them—are likely to graduate from the minor leagues of day jobs, local bars and playing for little more than pocket change?
"These guys are ready now to take it to the next level," Jemison declares. "The most important things to look for in a band are talent, songwriting and the will to succeed. My boys have the perfect combination. Plus, there's no self-sabotage, which is so common in this business. I have seen so many talented bands implode because of egos—or worse, they couldn't handle success once it came their way."
Although her plan is to showcase Wonderlove before industry types in LA, the savvy Jemison realizes that certain conditions must be met before she commits the band's future to anyone. Don't think she doesn't know what happened to Wank, Red Five and Sonichrome, three gifted Orange County-based bands that either got dumped or flopped—depending on whom you ask—soon after releasing their major-label debuts.
"It's all gonna depend on the label reps and how into the band they are," Jemison concludes. "If you're not a priority to them, it's easy to fall through the cracks and disappear. Avoiding the evil machine is where success lies at a major label."
Wonderlove plays with Something Corporate and Phantom Planet at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583. Thurs., July 19, 6:30 p.m. $10-$12. All ages; and with Jay Buchanan at the Blue Café, 210 The Promenade, Long Beach, (562) 983-7111. Mon., 9 p.m. $5. 21+.