Mind Driver- Driving Force
photo by Danimal, thanks to minddriver.org
By Julie SeabaughIf you caught the Vans Warped Tour as it thrashed its way along the West Coast, you may have witnessed Southern California pop/punkers Mind Driver rocking out at the same venue as their heroes NOFX and Bad Religion. If so, you know why Warped wanted the band whose sound, says Robert Kinsler of OC Register, "blends the pioneering spirit of Social Distortion with the melodic, contemporary edge of Lit." You know its members cram their catchy songs with levity-laced lyrics and they spasm with on-stage energy. You also know they are going to be around a very long time.
Mind Driver first appeared on the SoCal music scene in either 1994, '96 or '97, depending on which insider you ask. Singer Heath Cofran and bassist Carlos Ortega, the only remaining members of the original five-man lineup, have experienced seven changes in personnel, financial difficulties, and unthinkable tragedy in the years since Mind Driver's formation.
Like Sugar Ray, The Offspring and No Doubt, Mind Driver is proud to call Orange County its home. "OC really dips its roots into the soil and blossoms some of the best music this country has to offer," Cofran says. "I really think it comes down to your surroundings and the music you listen to and the music that influences you. With OC it's about the beach, maybe a little bit of a surf vibe, the melodic tones... So many different styles of music come from here, it's kind of the melting pot of music."
The group's unique moniker emerged from its early song of the same name. "[Guitarist] Karl [Izumi] said the song was about self motivation and inspiration, and that our music was his Mind Driver," says Ortega. "So it just clicked almost at the same time; we all said 'That would be a perfect name for the band!'"
Once properly named, the group played its first live show in January 1996 at Costa Mesa's Tiki Bar with drummer Mark Combs and guitarists Izumi and Tio Jauregui. Two days later however, Jauregui, who worked part-time as a bodyguard, was found beaten and shot to death after leaving Ortega's apartment on a Sunday evening. Ortega says the way his bandmate was killed is the hardest thing he's had to deal with. "I don't think it will ever leave my mind," he says. "Tio was a great songwriter. I believe our songs are very catchy songs, but I truly believe with Tio's influence our songs would be much stronger and more satisfying. I know whenever we write a song, we ask ourselves, 'Is this the strongest this song could be?' and I know that's where Tio would've made the song complete. But one thing's for sure, his death has motivated us to succeed more than ever, 'cause if we triumph he'll be there with us and that's what he always wanted, to succeed in the music business, and that's what we're going to do for him and for us."
Mind Driver's first full-length album, 1999's Ten Percent of Nothing, contains the fan fave "Remember When," a tribute to the late guitarist. Partially (and expensively) released by the band's own Wendy-O records, it also contains "Open Hands" and "Rainy Day," songs written in part by Randy Harris, the second guitarist to replace Jauregui (whose guitar instructor, Mike Lucero, had been the first). Harris eventually left to join the band Backside, a group more in tune with his faster style of punk playing. After drummer Combs left the group to marry his long-time girlfriend, he was replaced by former Punkture skin-banger Mikey Burton, whose maniacal style is consistently referred to as "crazy" by both his bandmates and the press. Guitarist Izumi also departed and was replaced with Neal Burns, who helped record 2001's six-track demo, Satellite TV.
Got all that so far?
Guitarist Jimmy Lloyd took over for imminent art scholar Burns in October 2001. Singer Cofran credited the 22-year-old with bringing a new energy and gravity to the group in an April interview in Skratch magazine, saying, "We never took anything seriously. Just kinda whatever happened, happened. Then when Jimmy came along, it was like 'Holy Shit!' This guy jumps around. He writes really good songs, and then all of the sudden all of the pieces of our puzzle fit perfectly."
Lloyd doesn't deny that he's flattered by such compliments, but credits his bandmates as likewise serving as inspiration for him. "I just want to give people my best and everything I've got every performance and practice," he says. "It's like I become this different person when I am on stage, like an alter-ego or something. I go nuts and I think it makes the other guys want to do the same. I like watching people's jaws drop when I am jumping around and having fun. Those guys give me so much energy and drive to do even more than I have ever imagined possible for myself."
This energy and drive, combined with years of hard work from the guys Lloyd describes as "like brothers to me, like one sick, twisted family," has helped the band gain attention in high places. They've produced a handful of demos, appeared on four compilation albums, including a tribute to Bad Religion, and released a video for their single, "Lesbian" featuring the guys in Speedos, cameos by former studiomates Zebrahead and laugh-riot lyrics such as "Tacos for dinner now; there's no sausage on her plate." After making the rounds at showcase venues like Chain Reaction (the band's "home venue" in Anaheim), The House of Blues, The Whiskey and The Viper Room, Mind Driver was chosen to play eight dates on the western leg of the Vans Warped Tour 2002. Thanks to their friends at Criterion Records, the Drivers ecstatically took the stage in July in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
While spending the majority of its time driving, drinking, promoting and playing, the band found a few moments to chat it up with tourmates from Finch, Reel Big Fish and Handsome Devil, as well as with some of their lifelong heroes. "It's been my goal, and this band's, ever since I got in this band; I've been working so hard to try and open for Lagwagon," Cofran told Skratch in April. "That's the Number One band. That's my goal. Before this band ends. Before I'm not singing anymore. I'm going to open for Lagwagon. No matter what. Lagwagon is the reason I'm even a singer."
Although Mind Driver didn't technically open for the band on the Warped Tour, Cofran did run into drummer Dave Raun at a hamburger stand. "I told him, 'Man, I have never seen a tighter drummer in my life,'" the former Tilly's clothing model wrote in the band's online tour diary. "I had to shake his hand. He was so damn cool, and I talked to him about Mind Driver and gave him a CD... I was stoked as all hells [sic]."
Amid incidents with talking ice cream, dirty Q-Tips, severe dehydration and big blue monkeys, the band had the opportunity to score some free sneakers, play the revered Ernie Ball stage (twice!) and make connections with amplifier company and possible sponsor Line 6. The members agree, however, that some of the best experiences were making friends and turning on Driver virgins. "For me it's easy, the most memorable moments on stage were playing in front of new people and watching them get into the music and knowing by the look on their faces that we had new fans," says bassist Ortega. Cofran agrees, saying, "All the driving and getting lost, and finding a place to stay, and the heat... all of it was so fun! And playing for great people too!... People just stopped and would want to hear more. So we just kept working our asses off and the shit just worked!"
Now back in the land of sand, citrus and smog, Mind Driver is working on new songs, gearing up for shows in familiar venues and seeking a label to finance its next full-length album. "We're hoping we don't have to sell our cars and lives to make another CD on our own again!" says Cofran. The guys are also enjoying their completion of a significant step along the road to success and recuperating from the ten most exciting days of their lives. "Mostly, and this ain't no lie, bonding with my bandmates was the most memorable time," says Ortega. "We had great fun doing things that we will remember for the rest of our lives. It's an experience we will never forget, that's for sure."
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