Pick 'Em and Flick 'Em 

Nice bands like Flickerstick finish first on reality TV, but flop in the real real world.

Fat Wreck Chords, the punk rock empire and SF record label founded by Fat Mike of NOFX, has Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Lagwagon, Propagandhi, and of course, Floyd. Fat's official human mascot, Floyd works in the mailroom and can be seen on the covers of most of the free Fat (Fat-free?) promo CD samplers. That's him dressed up like Misfits-era Danzig on the cover of the latest sampler, Floyd: Squawk Among Us. He's what the dictionary would describe as "fubsy" (look it up), with a short Mohawk and an easy laugh not unlike the trill of a kid's plastic machine gun. Despite his jaunty nature, he's also something of an intellectual and a damn sight smarter than you. He's also a veritable Smithsonian when it comes to the history of punk rock -- especially hardcore -- and music in general.

That's not to say that he doesn't get stuff wrong. A lot, in fact. Planet Clair has had many a shouting match with Floyd over his goofball facts and opinions. But he has an interesting theory, and, unlike most of what he spouts, this one actually has some teeth. Floyd says that if a band is nice to people -- polite, friendly, always shows up on time -- it will invariably suck. Nice = crappy. The opposite is also true: The better the band, the bigger the assholes they are.

You really can't argue with him on this one. Dang it, he's right. How else to explain Flickerstick, the band that won VH1's Bands on the Run reality TV show that debuted last April? The premise of the show was to pit various groups from around the country in a week-to-week televised battle of the bands of sorts that traveled throughout the Midwest and the South. In order to stay on the show, you had to sell enough merch and garner enough audience response to elevate you above the competition. Whoever performed the worst each week got the boot. Flickerstick won in part because it didn't play dirty like some of the other bands -- that, and the fact that its pedestrian brand of crescendo-dappled power rock was the least sucky in the show's surfeit of sub-par songsmiths.

Since winning the show, the band has gone from being a big bar band in Dallas to getting a major-label deal with Epic and selling out shows across the country to slowly fizzling out to being dropped from the label completely. But singer Brandin Lea doesn't care. "We just left Epic recently," he says over the phone from Texas, gearing up for a six-week tour that brings them to our fair hamlet. "It's a good thing: We're very happy about that." His telephone demeanor is plucky and genuine. See? Nice. "It's a long story, but after September 11 they had a lot of cutbacks, and we didn't get cut but a lot of people who worked for us at the label did due to economic uncertainty," he says. "That kind of irked us a lot, so we just decided to part ways."

Hmmm ... sounds like an excuse for not selling enough records. Then again, Flickerstick's Epic debut did come out on November 6, 2001, a shitty time to launch anything. Maybe it wasn't the band's fault. Its music is certainly no worse than the Goo Goo Dolls', and that cleft-chinned Monchichi is a millionaire now.

The real oddity about Flickerstick, the thing that proves Floyd's theory, is how a group of guys who are actually pretty cool and aware can collectively dupe themselves into thinking that going on a television show won't reduce their hipness points. The band is too nice, ergo naive, ergo sucky. Face it, being on TV is okay for a band like O-Town, but poison for a band that wants to be respected for payin' its dues -- which, for the record, Flickerstick did, having been together a full five years before stepping in front of the studio cameras. But that just proves the point -- all of that work was erased when the band went on television.

To take it even further, Flickerstick not only duped itself into believing it was unique, the band also saw itself as being hip and independent, expressing admiration for bands like the Flaming Lips. "Now we're back on our own," says the singer. "We have a live album that's coming out on WAR Records -- that's like an indie label that's really cool, a little more our style."

The irony in all of this is that Flickerstick came across so well on Bands on the Run because it didn't compromise itself by cheating, yet nothing could've compromised the band more than actually winning the damn thing. Now Brandin and company have to not only pick up the pieces of their failed major bid, but reinvent themselves as an indie band and try and make it in a midsize club circuit that thinks of them as post-Nirvana Monkees. Maybe nice guys really do finish last.

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