By Sarah Bennett
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By Jena Ardell
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"We're pathetic, and we've got to do something about it," says Tom Mitchell, 46, bass player for the Over-Reactors, the Los Alamitos-based duo he fronts with his wife, Robin; and in a way, he's right. The Over-Reactors—whose sound and style vary from rhythmic, earnest, acoustic-electric guitar music to that thin line between power pop and some kind of bubblegum metal—are one sad ending.
They're what becomes of a local band when it never gets Cold War Kids-level buzz, never reaches beyond that to Social Distortion status, never becomes a No Doubt. Hearing some of their songs—and seeing your own reflection in Tom's highly-polished mid-calf Dr. Martens—you realize that if the Over-Reactors were going to make it, they probably would have done so about 15 or 20 years ago. (Like the Smithereens.) And so, having not made it, they'll be playing their last Southern California show July 22, opening for the Bangles at the City of Alhambra Summer Jubilee—"'80s theme night/three stages."
Then, they'll pack the two-bedroom apartment—guitars, amps, mini-recording studio, two kids—into a 26-foot U-Haul truck and leave for Louisville, Kentucky: the promised land, where they've lined up the first in a slew of gigs starting Aug. 2.
In a June 26 Column One story, the Los Angeles Times reported that people are still coming here in droves—about 200,000 last year alone. They must not be musicians. Or, if they are, perhaps some of them will one day be renting U-Hauls of their own. It's difficult and expensive to be a band here, and the Over-Reactors hold themselves partly to blame for failing to move beyond the pay-to-play gigs and for having to live a double life as a cover band—paying the bills playing everything from Social D's "Ball and Chain" to George Michael's "Faith."
"I figured if I ever had to learn [Van Morrison's] 'Brown-Eyed Girl' I'd get a desk job," Tom says. Then he admits that, yes, he does know the song—and Van Morrison isn't so bad. Maybe it's time to go.
"Before the gas prices went up, we were treading water," Tom says during my interview with them at their apartment, which is brimming with recording equipment and children's toys (Ben is 7 ½; Erica, 3). "We can't pay off the gas cards anymore," adds Robin, a Louisville native who met Tom here through musical friend Tom Jones (not that one). Jones, who calls himself TV Jones to avoid the obvious confusion, is the creator of a very successful line of guitar pick-ups; he now lives in Washington state. The Over-Reactors know many who have left, like their best baby sitter, who moved to Minnesota, and also the man who will master their next disc for Eargate Records: Michael Wagener, producer of discs for Metallica, Janet Jackson and Ozzy—and architect of the big-hair sound on X's disaster LP Ain't Love Grand. He lives in Nashville, which the Over-Reactors say several times is only three and a half hours south of Louisville. And they say it really is better there.
"In Louisville, musicians do something they don't do in other cities: they network," says Tom, a Long Beach native. "It's not really as competitive. They share gig leads. [Here] it would seem like we would share gig leads, and when it came time, people just wouldn't reciprocate."
"I don't miss the winters in Louisville," says Robin, who moved here from there in the mid-'80s; they're one of the few things she doesn't miss about the city. Robin has family in Kentucky—family who can baby-sit. Also, gasoline is about 50 cents a gallon cheaper in Louisville, Tom says, and the city has the Kentucky Derby. It's a college town, the hub for Federal Express, and the bars stay open till 4 a.m., virtually guaranteeing a vivid night life.
But it's not just that our bars close earlier, or that the median cost of a house in Louisville is around $135,000. We tend to stay home—perhaps because we just paid north of $500,000 apiece for our houses, a fact the Over-Reactors have learned the hard way.
"People don't watch people they don't know. That's the downside of the LA scene," Tom says. "The venues here don't have a following. The bands have a following, whereas in Louisville, people will just hang out." But if they don't, and if it doesn't work out—or, maybe even if it does—the Over-Reactors are primed to move back. Before they've left.
"I always bought the California myth, but it's not like what the media depicts. It's nothing like what they depict, and that's why I think people still come here," Robin says, adding, "I don't know if I could live [in Louisville] forever. I'd have to come back eventually."
THE OVER-REACTORS PLAY AT THE CITY OF ALHAMBRA SUMMER JUBILEE, TERRACE SIDE STAGE, CORNER OF 2ND AND MAIN ST., ALHAMBRA; WWW.CITYOFALHAMBRA.ORG/GOVERNMENT/PARKS_RECREATION/SUMMERJUBILEE.HTML. JULY 22, 6 p.m.