Why they play: 5 local bands on what keeps them going
Thu, May 31, 2012 (midnight)
Photo: Maryanne Bilham
Being in a band might be fun, but if you think it’s easy, try playing for an empty bar at 3 in the morning. Pursuing music takes commitment and sacrifice, not to mention more money than most local musicians have in their bank accounts. And at the end of the rainbow? An industry that stopped waving its checkbook around a decade or so back. So what keeps bands going? We checked in with five Las Vegas-based acts to find out.
If you’re not sure whether you’ve seen an Objex show, you haven’t. When frontwoman Felony Melony gets on a stage, there’s no confusing the dynamic punk four-piece with any other band in Las Vegas.
The Objex formed in 2006 and have been a fixture on the local scene ever since. They’ve also toured up and down the West Coast—Mel calls Redwood, California, the group’s second home—and far beyond (most recently: last year’s trip to Ireland).
The current lineup—Melony, guitarist Jim Nasty, bassist Ivan Berserk and drummer Chili (from Chile)—has been together for roughly a year. And with 2011 album Reservations for Debauchery barely in the rearview (dial up the NSFW video for “Lethal Lips” on YouTube if you haven’t already), The Objex are already working on the follow-up, Super Charged Lil Nova. “Before, it was a lot of stop and go, a lot of ups and downs, member changes here and there,” Mel says. “Now it feels like a locomotive. Choo, choo!”
“I’m a player and music is my sport, so I play hard. We’ve played to thousands of people, we’ve played for a handful of people, and it’s still the same energy, the same love for everybody that came out and supported.” –Objex singer Felony Melony
Rhyme N Rhythm
Wanna start a party? Here’s the band. Since getting on a stage for the first time five years ago, the hip-hop collective has been Las Vegas’ very own version of The Roots, or maybe Jurassic 5, if that group’s four rappers were backed by live instrumentation.
RNR’s seven core members—MCs A-1ne, Bob Cane, Freddy Tiff and Jerry Wayne, bassist Coco Jenkins, keyboardist Rook Genre and drummer Tadow—are sometimes joined by a DJ, a guitarist and horns for performances, but whatever the configuration, they get crowds moving. “We like to have a good time onstage,” Tadow says. “I think the worst thing you can do is go to a show and pay money to be bored.”
If you haven’t seen Rhyme N Rhythm on as many local fliers this year, that’s by design; the group has focused on other markets—San Diego, LA, Phoenix, Denver—and Tadow says so far, so good. “They’ve loved it. We haven’t been to a city where we haven’t been accepted.”
RNR’s latest EP, Unsolicited Material, is for sale on iTunes and at bandcamp.com. Catch the live show July 19 at House of Blues, part of “The Elements,” an all-local hip-hop bill benefitting the Boys & Girls Club.
“If we’re gonna do it, we have to do it on our terms. We’ve been approached by several casinos about doing covers. They say, ‘We love the show and the crowd that you bring.’ And we say, ‘If you love what you hear, why do we have to play covers?’” –Rhyme N Rhythm drummer Tadow
That momentum you hear building a few miles southeast of Las Vegas? It’s coming from Boulder City, specifically the Dude City part of town. Five years after launching as a duo, Jack Johnson’s band has loaded up—with a stable foursome and a new album—to see how far it can go.
Already, Johnson, bassist James Adams, pianist Tsvetelina Stefanova and drummer Mike McGuinness have trekked as far as Chicago and Nashville as part of a two-week tour in March. They’ve also booked a high-profile gig at the Cosmopolitan for later this summer. Next up? If Johnson had his way, he’d be back in the studio following up on the just-released Leavin’.
“I could make two records right now, if I had the money, and probably produce five more with the musicians and bands that I associate with,” says Johnson, Dude City’s singer, songwriter and guitarist. “But I just can’t, and that’s what kind of fuels the fire. I would like to be in a position to have the resources to be able to strike while the iron is hot.”
Johnson paid $10,000 out of pocket to make Leavin’, a bluesy rock record with a folk heart, going so far as to hire Jack White engineer Vance Powell to mix it. “I just want it to be easier to make records, and right now it’s really expensive,” Johnson says. “And I think it’s prohibitive of the art a little bit, when you’re worried so much about external factors like money.”
“The record is the only thing that’s gonna outlast you. All the people who see you play live are gonna die with you. How many people around now ever saw The Beatles play live or ever saw Zeppelin play live? But how many people’s lives are still changed every day by that music, because somebody invested in them and took the time to make a record? –Dude City frontman Jack Johnson
How’s this for dedication: In 2011, three-fifths of this melodic pop-rock band relocated from Buffalo, New York, to Las Vegas to be with guitarist and vocalist Mike Vargovich, who’d moved here with his family a year earlier. “We said, ‘We’re not 15-year-old kids anymore,’” Vargovich says. “The window to be able to take chances is closing. Let’s take a shot at making this happen.”
That foursome—Vargovich, singer/pianist Josh Rabenold, guitarist Clayton Cobb and drummer Ryan Martin—hooked up with Las Vegas-based bassist Danny Jacobellis, and Avalon Landing was off and running. The group has landed gigs at venues like the Palms Lounge, Ovation at Green Valley Ranch and the Hard Rock Cafe on the Strip, while earning a reputation as one of the scene’s hardest-hustling bands. “We try to take every single opportunity we can,” Vargovich says. “We go down and busk on the Strip, and we’ll play anywhere and hand out demos to everyone.”
Avalon Landing’s debut song collection, Demos, Dead Ends & Do Overs, is available now on iTunes, with a proper follow-up album tentatively planned for the fall.
“I know people get frustrated with me because all I think about is music. There are times when I wish I could relax a little bit, but it’s just how I’m wired. Everybody has their passion.” –Avalon Landing singer/guitarist Mike Vargovich
In five years, Las Vegas’ pre-eminent jam band has played more than 300 shows, almost all of them in the country’s western region. It’s part of a careful approach to touring, learned through past mistakes. “In previous bands we were in, we’d take off for five weeks and go all over the country and come back totally broke,” drummer Pat Gray says. “Rather than do that, we decided on a spider-web kind of technique. We would head out for a weekend and do a couple shows, maybe Southern California and Arizona. Then that expanded to where we’d be gone for four days. Now we try to do 10-day tours.”
And it’s working, to the point where Moksha’s five members—original foursome Gray, Jeremy Parks (guitar), John Heishman (bass) and Brian Triola (keyboard/organ), plus, beginning last year, vocalist Sam Lemos—are even seeing fans traveling to more than one gig in a row. “I feel like we’re developing real fans,” Gray says. “We have fans that come to us and say, ‘This version of that song was a little different tonight.’ It’s cool because people are actually listening to the music.”
Moksha has also developed a reputation for jamming with renowned horn players, from Santana’s Jeff Cressman and Bill Ortiz to Trey Anastasio Band’s Jennifer Hartswick and Peter Apfelbaum (the latter of whom contributed to the Vegas band’s 2011 album, Here to Go). Catch Moksha June 1 at Las Vegas Country Saloon; you never know who might jump onstage.
“It’s like watching your baby grow up. Like anybody who’s ever started their own business—it’s super-tough and you work your ass off and you’re not making much money in the beginning, but you do it because you love it and you wanna see this thing of yours grow.” –Moksha drummer Pat Gray