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Photo by Robert GiampiMike Rosas might be lying. Now that his previous band Smile is over, he says, he pretty much just sits back and lets the checks roll in. He's focused on collecting Jaguars and buying up pricey west side Costa Mesa real estate. I'm pretty sure those are lies, but when he says that his new band, Satisfaction, was almost called either Nirvana 2 or Advanced Hamburger, and that he's not averse to filling his songs with "tasty licks" and "tasty chops," I fear he's telling the truth.
Look, it's not that I'm some kind of punk purist whose mind boggles at any more than three chords—it's just that Tasty Licks™ and Tasty Chops™ often devolve into large-scale wankery. The aural equivalent of that windbag at the party who just bought a boat/got a promotion/learned how to spin records and won't shut the fuck up about it.
But in more than 10 years of professional music-making, guitarist/singer Rosas has never made a misstep, such is his level of aesthetics, and so when he talks about writing the kind of music that inspires air guitar playing and imaginary drum solos pounded out on the dashboard, there's little doubt that he'll do it in a tasteful and compelling manner.
Here's the big surprise, though. If anything, despite the pro-noodle manifesto, Satisfaction (who'll wind up a month-long residency at the Detroit Bar this Monday) feels mature and measured. Some might say restrained, but that's too strong a word.
It's ironic, too, because the only contrivance self-imposed by the band was that there be no contrivances; that they remain open stylistically, and that they don't limit themselves. For now, this has translated into a batch of extremely well-crafted mid-tempo pop songs. There's regret and poignancy and strength and quiet determination and staring-into-the-face-of-a-problem and dignity and decorum and responsibility and bittersweetness and doing-what-it-takes and just-getting-by. What there isn't is adolescent rage, unbridled anger, or the full-on rock assault. Not yet, at least.
For now, this is a calculated decision to avoid the bluster. "We haven't ventured into Motorhead territory yet," jokes Rosas. "I like bands where you can barely hear what note they're playing, because they're basically just doing a human smash-up derby on stage. I like the way that makes me feel, but it just gets boring after awhile because you're left with nothing to remember besides a near brawl."
At the same time, Rosas wants to avoid the other extreme as well. "I feel like there's this gap in music where a lot of the bands that write amazing songs are really mellow and shoegazing and introspective or atmospheric. We don't want to be another mellow band."
And so they've attached themselves to the task of trying to fuse passion with craft. "We're like Wings meets the Blood Brothers," Rosas declares, before changing it to "Kenny Rogers meets the V.S.S."
Band veterans one and all, the four musicians who make up Satisfaction come from fairly disparate musical worlds. Drummer James Fletcher played in Costa Mesa bands like Filmstar and the Women, before joining Smile for a brief spell at the end of that band's life. His brother, keyboardist Matt Fletcher, played in the Measles (along with Rosas) and joined Smile in the later years. Bassist and fresh meat Aaron Wahlman played previously in local emo-pop outfit Stairwell.
"Honestly, I think there's as much Smile influence on this band as there is Stairwell influence—and I don't think there's any Stairwell influence," says Rosas. He hopes Satisfaction will be taken on its own merits, not seen as What The Smile Guys Are Up To Now. Which is cool and all, except for the fact that Satisfaction is What The Smile Guys Are Up To Now. Well, it is and it isn't. The Fletchers weren't original members, and at the points they joined, the chemistry and momentum were already pretty much established. One could imagine they felt bound in their roles. So maybe Satisfaction isn't What The Smile Guys Are Up To Now, but it's What That Smile Guy Is Up to Now. But they all write songs, so Rosas would appreciate if we could take the spotlight off him a bit.
"This band is an honest representation of the individual members of the group, a chance for us to express our own musical personalities," says Rosas.
This diplomacy might explain why settling on a band name proved to be such a Herculean task.
"It got pretty ugly. We were about to fight each other over it. Thinking so hard about it almost created an environment that made it impossible to come up with anything. I wanted the band to be called Deep Throat. I was convinced for at least a week that that was the greatest name ever. James kept saying that would be like naming your band Jaws. I thought 'Well fuck, let's name our band Jaws! That's a good name too!' See, it's that sort of difference in opinion that we have. He thinks it's bad to name your band after a movie, but to me, Jaws and Deep Throat are two great band names that slipped away."