Photo by James BunoanIt's so weird, really, this bright, shiny, impossibly hooky tune bobbing in an ocean of lesser songs currently rotating on KMXN-FM 94.3, tucked in amongst all the Green Day and the Hives and the New Found Glory and the Unwritten Law and the Weezer and the Jimmy Eat World and the No Doubt and the (shudder!) Creed.
Weird because you can see that very band—Scarlet Crush—playing that very song—"Something to Say"—on almost any given weekend night somewhere in the county. Weird because you could pretty easily track one of the five guys in the band down and offer to wash their car or pick the lint out of their belly button, and they're all so damn nice they'd probably let you. Weird because Scarlet Crush are still a relatively unknown local band getting spins a-plenty on a real, for-profit, honest-to-Allah radio station (no, KUCI doesn't count)—and they accomplished this without once having to utter the words "cocaine," "hookers" or "blowjobs." It's like Scarlet Crush have broken through that wall other once-promising-now-dead-and-cremated bands never could.
And when we meet up for lunch with singer/guitarist Jeff Smetana, guitarist Jeff Sterzer and singer/guitarist Dax Maddocks (drummer Johnny Glover and bassist Brett Scott were off rhythm-sectioning or something), there's news: everyone in Scarlet Crush have officially left their woeful day jobs, which means they're now all full-time professional musicians. They've signed a label deal with EMI distribution attached, which means their as-yet-untitled new album will actually be available in finer record shops when it drops in September. They know what the word "recoupable" means, and Smetana refers to albums as "units," which means they're thinking like business folk, so they ought not get screwed—unless they take their six-month advance money and blow it all on black-tar heroin and pay bestiality-porn sites.
"We just don't want to sit around and be ignored," says Smetana. "We want to work and play. It comes down to fate with all these contracts, a dice roll no matter where you go, where the label staff could get fired or get sucked up into some merger. We've done everything we can to avoid some of the pitfalls of this business."
See, Scarlet Crush are one of those stubborn, make-it-on-our-own-terms bands—and their drive shows up in their fantabulous power-pop songs, filled with sweet, high, stick-in-your-head Beatles-y harmonies and enough frazzled, shrieky guitars (three of 'em, remember, not counting the bass) to keep things ornery. Along with Walter Clevenger's Dairy Kings and Sparklejets UK, they're OC's other dead-on perfect, hook-happy band of fuzz-junked pop fiends, which is probably why they've played the annual International Pop Overthrow so many times (and they're doing it again on Sunday at DiPiazza's).
But when they started in 1998, they foolishly tried faking it by going the whole my-life-sucks-let-me-tell-you-why route.
"We were sort of capturing a little of the anger thing," says Sterzer, "Then I think we had this sudden group revelation that we really have nothing to be mad about. I mean, we're middle class! We live in Orange County!"
"There's a great place for anger and angst that's necessary," Smetana says. "If it's real, it's worthwhile, but if it's not, it's co-opted and gets depressing really fast. We're not into that."
Nope, just a band of positive-thinking popsters. They're also Christian, which might have something to do with it—wait, don't stop reading!They're not creepy Jan Crouch-obsessed, Trinity Broadcasting Network-loving Christians; they're Christian like U2 and Billy Zoom and Lenny Kravitz are Christian (though Lenny may actually be Jewish, but you get our point). And they're not about to brand themselves a "Christian band," knowing full well the baggage that can come along with that tag.
"We want to avoid that stereotype," says Sterzer, "because it makes people really unreceptive to your music. And we don't fit that stereotype, anyway. Our songs don't even mention God. We decided we'd let our music speak for itself."
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"We know our vision, and we're trying to stay true to that," Smetana says. "We get enough opportunities to compromise that vision as anybody else, whether it's a punk rock band being tempted to sell out or a gay musician being told to be something else. Why would anybody want to do that? But it happens. We really try to avoid becoming something we're not."
And then Sterzer, quite coolly, brings up Martin Luther.
"One of his new converts came up and said, 'I'm a believer now; I want to serve God. What do I do?' And Martin Luther asked him what he did for a living. 'I'm a cobbler; I make shoes,' he said, and Luther told him to make a good shoe and sell it at a fair price. There's your reasonable service to God—it doesn't have to be complicated. So that's what we do: we make good shoes and sell them at fair prices."
Scarlet Crush play the Cool Radio 94.3 Summerfest with many, many others at the Grove Theater Center Festival Amphitheater, Main St. & Acacia Pkwy., Garden Grove, (714) 741-5280. Sat., 2-10 p.m. $12. All ages; and the International Pop Overthrow—also with many, many others—at DiPiazza's, 5205 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 498-2461. Sun., 7:30 p.m. $8. All ages.