Perfect Sound Forever

Virginia Rock


Fighting Gravity

Its recent history
Part 2 by Pete Crigler

Around the same time as Egypt was making their name known, one of the most famous bands to ever come out of Virginia started playing shows. Fighting Gravity was first formed at Virginia Tech as a seven-piece funk/ska/rock/pop band under the name Boy O Boy and soon immigrated to Richmond, where they immediately started making noise. After changing their name, they started releasing records on their own, on a small label out of Richmond. Shiskabob came first in 1992, followed by a live album in 1994. After the release of the live album, the band's name became national when they were highlighted by a five-page article in Rolling Stone. After this, their ability to tour nationally rose substantially and they quickly returned to the studio and released Forever=One Day in 1996 which included the huge regional hit "Mission Bells."

After doing more touring and undergoing some lineup changes, the band were poised to breakthrough nationally as they were signed by Mercury Records. Entering the studio again, they came out with 1998's You and Everybody Else. Unfortunately, despite strong material and tons of touring, the record flopped and they were dropped by the end of the year as the label was swallowed up in a huge merger. Continuing to tour, they found themselves now undergoing almost constant lineup changes in the horn section. Despite this, the band continued touring and in 2002 were signed by Atlantic Records. Returning to the studio, the band came out with a record. "But this label, too, folded before the album could be released, and it took them more than a year to achieve ownership of the master tapes, which became the basis for Blue Sky & Black." The album was finally released in 2006 and failed to win over their fanbase, which chastised them for changing their sound.

Disappointed by this turn of events, the band continued touring but around the fall of 2007, a curious thing happened- all activity surrounding the band suddenly ceased. Their website was all but active, no member could be contacted through email and it seemed that they had disappeared. Then word started spreading around in the spring of 2008 that after an almost twenty-year career, the band had dissolved, with no other word around as to just what the hell was going on. Attempting to contact as many members, both past and present as possible, this author has failed to get in touch with any of them. It was later revealed that they'd broken up with Schiavone working on a solo album and bassist David Peterson becoming president of the National club in Richmond.

On the happier side of things came Cracker, one of the most successful bands to ever emerge from the state. Forming from the ashes of Camper Van Beethoven in 1990, frontman David Lowery hooked up with guitarist Johnny Hickman, bassist Davey Faragher and a succession of drummers. The band soon signed with CVB's former label Virgin and started work on their first record. When their self-titled release came out in 1992, it was not an immediate hit but did launch an incredibly successful single in "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)."

Returning to work the next year, the band came back with Kerosene Hat, which launched them into the mainstream thanks to hits like "Low" and "Get Off This." After saying goodbye to Faragher and replacing him with former Silos bassist Bob Rupe, the band returned to the studio and besides cranking out numerous contributions to various soundtracks and compilations, released The Golden Age in 1996. The record failed and the band underwent a serious lineup change, bringing in drummer Frank Funaro and keyboardist Kenny Margolis to help record 1998's Gentlemen's Blues. That record slipped by unnoticed and after releasing a compilation in 2000, the band took some time off. In the meantime, Lowery had started a successful recording studio in Richmond, Sound of Music and had been producing artists like Gibb Droll, Sparklehorse and Counting Crows.

After replacing Rupe with Brandy Wood, the band returned in 2002 with Forever. Despite returning to their roots, the record failed and they were dropped by Virgin by the end of the year. Continuing to tour, the band began to branch out, releasing the record O Cracker, Where Art Thou? with bluegrass jam band Leftover Salmon and the live record Countrysides within six months of each other in 2003.

When Lowery got CVB back together, both bands soon began touring together with Camper bassist Victor Krummenacher replacing Brandy Wood. With the release of 2006's Greenland, the band were hailed as fully returning to their roots. Continuing to tour, the band got into a dispute with Virgin Records who were prepping a greatest hits set, to be called Get On with It: The Best of Cracker in 2006 without their input or permission. To thwart their efforts, the band rerecorded all of their hits plus some extra songs and released Greatest Hits Redux the same day Virgin's hatchet job came out. David Lowery told an interviewer about the band's predicament, "When we found out they were putting out this greatest-hits record that we really didn't want them to do... we first tried to reason with them. They said, 'We can do whatever the fuck we want' to one of our managers."

Cracker have become one of the most important bands to come out of Virginia and continue to inspire musicians everyday with their take no-bullshit approach to everything they do. They still continue on that path with the release of 2009's critically acclaimed Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey.

Around the same time as Cracker was coming out, another band, Action Figures, out of Fairfax made their debut. Releasing their debut, Big Wonderful in 1992 on eggBERT Records, the band made a small dent on the indie scene. But as guitarist Jeff Smith told me, it wasn't as easy as it may have looked, "We really never made enough to quit our day jobs. We did have a good loyal following and sold many CD's of our own music." After releasing a follow-up in 1995, Little Citizens, the band slowly came to an end. As Jeff Smith told me, "We gradually started playing less and less shows as we all got married and a few of us have kids. We still get together and are close friends. Three of us played acoustic songs (at a) Christmas party last month."

Next up was Eggs, out of Richmond. Formed in 1990 by Andrew Beaujon and Rob Christensen, the band was strictly a small-time affair but after a few gigs, in the words of Andrew Beaujon, "Stability arrived in the form of former Unrest bass player, Dave Park, who was a real musician and whipped us into somewhat presentable shape". After releasing their first seven inch on TeenBeat in 1991, they began touring.

After releasing their first album, Bruiser in 1992, the band continued touring and soon changed their base of operations to D.C. After replacing Dave Park with Evan Shurak and touring Lollapalooza in '93, they returned to the studio and in 1994, released Exploder. The record built upon the previous one and expanded the band's fanbase.

It was around this time that they suffered another defection as founding member John Rickman quit and was replaced by Ben Currier. As Andrew wrote about that time, "I can't remember exactly when Evan quit but I can't say I don't understand why he did it. Jane Buscher was a great replacement and accompanied us on what proved to be our final tours of the U.S. in 1995. By that time, I'd fixed on moving to New York and Rob was getting busy with his Viva Satellite project. A break seemed in order. We played one last short tour with the Wedding Present and Spell, who opened but asked us to open the New York show so their label people could see them. It was a typical Eggs travesty brought on by politeness--most of our fans came later and missed us. It wasn't supposed to be our final show, but that's the way the cookie crumbled". As Rob Christensen told me in 2008, "We quit when Andrew moved to New York. He and I were the only main members left at that point, and we needed to get jobs and prove that we could be adult."

Releasing a farewell compilation, How Do You Like Your Lobster? in 1995, the band went their separate ways. Rob went on to form both Viva Satellite and Sisters of Convoluted Thinkers. He told me about his current plans, "I work full time at WNYC, so radio art is partially replacing the music art I used to make. I make records under the name EGWG (East Ghost West Ghost)." John Rickman is a tax analyst in Virginia. Andrew Beaujon went on to become a writer for Spin magazine and the Washington City Paper. He has also published a book about the current state of Christian rock music, Body Piercing Saved My Life. Though the band was short-lived, they continue to inspire new generations of indie rockers all over the country.

Waking Hours

On the other side of the spectrum were the Waking Hours, out of Richmond. The band's look at rock was a back to basics pop approach to it, which has worked quite well for them. They got started in 1991 and found that it was a bit of a challenge for them to break out initially. Frontman Tom Richards talked about that time in 2008: "We were part of a scene with a bunch of young indie bands that played around Richmond during the indie rock explosion that came along in the early '90's. We released a few singles on vinyl-here in the states, and places like the UK, Spain and Japan." The band released their first EP, Hope Springs Eternal on the English indie Brilliant in 1992 and continued releasing EP's and singles over the next few years before self-releasing their first full-length record in 1996 and continued to tour and gain large amounts of exposure. Releasing their next record in 1997, the band found themselves playing to large crowds but not seeing much money.

Deciding to take everything to the next step, the band signed with the large indie Time Bomb Records in 1998 and soon started work on their next record. In 1999, they released their self-titled third album and hit the road. Tom said about that time, "We spent the year doing a lot of touring to support our record, which didn't sell very many copies, and were subsequently dropped before the year was out. To me, breaking out of the Richmond scene came after that-when we moved out to L.A. in early 2000 and really found an audience and a thriving scene for the kinda music we were doing."

After moving to California, they self-released their next record, 2003's The Good Way and continued touring. It was during this time they underwent a lineup change and found a niche for themselves as Tom Richards told me, "The Waking Hours have a great live band, but I've got so many songs I've been writing and after playing live almost exclusively for the past 6 years, it's time to step back for a bit and document the whole experience. We are unsigned but have done really well getting our new songs into movies, TV shows, DVD's, video games, etc." Ricky Tubb said about the whole experience, "The record industry has all but vanished. In the past we looked at getting signed as a mark of success, and quite frankly, I lost sight of why I was even playing music. It's easy for bands to get caught up in 'record label fever,' I used to think that securing another major label deal was the big prize. I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't." The band continues to tour and record, the most recent release being 2008's How Does it Feel and they'll continue to bring their message to the people as long as the people respond.

Coming out of Fairfax were emmet swimming, one of the most adventurous and interesting bands to emerge from the '90's. Starting as students at George Mason University, the band began playing around and soon developed a huge local following. Starting their own label, Screaming Goddess, they self-released their debut, Dark When the Snow Falls in 1993. After self-releasing their second album, Wake, in 1994, they were picked up by Epic Records, who re-released the album in 1995.

During touring in support of the record, the band underwent a lineup change and brought in a new bassist. Returning to the studio with R.E.M. producer Don Dixon, the band returned with 1996's Arlington to Boston. By far, their strongest release, the album provided them with a huge regional hit with "Arlington." Why the song didn't break through nationally is unknown but the band continued touring and picked up a lot of acclaim during this time. After returning to the studio with Rush producer Peter Collins, they released Big Night Without You in 1998 and supported it by doing the H.O.R.D.E. tour that summer. The record "sold better than 87% of all albums that were released on major labels in 1998." After recording a live album, 1999's Earplugs 50 cents, drummer Tamer Eid left the band. Before the album could be released, the band split from Epic and released the album on their own reactivated label.

After getting a new drummer and doing a bit more touring, the band took a break. Aside from doing small shows around Maryland, D.C. and Virginia, they almost all but ceased activity. Then in 2003, the band made a comeback, releasing a new EP, Bathing in the New Economy on their own label but it failed to make a mark outside of reestablishing the band regionally and the band disappeared again. After another lineup change with yet another bassist and the return of Tamer Eid, they returned to their routine of area shows and little other activity. In 2009, they announced they had signed a new distribution deal and launched their rebirth with a re-release of Bathing in the New Economy and also announced a new studio album was on the way. Whatever the future holds, they continue to play their own brand of rock and keep their fans entertained.

Named after a chemical that had been dumped in the James River in the '70's, Kepone was formed as Michael Bishop was starting to tire of his role in GWAR. As he told me in 2007, "I was in both bands for 2 years or more. It was nice to play without the costumes on and to be recognized as accomplished musicians. We got started when Tim Harriss and I started meeting to write songs and listen to music, just trading ideas." As he went on to tell me in 2008, the band "fit in well with the instrumental shit" that was going on with bands like Breadwinner.

Kepone

Hooking up with drummer Seth Harris of Honor Role, the band began playing around when Bishop wasn't busy with GWAR. After 1993, when he quit, it became easier to do the band and as a result, they signed with Quarterstick Records and released their first album, Ugly Dance in 1993. "The video for the title track was on the one hand banned by Canada's Much Music channel for being 'offensive to women, fat and ugly people,' despite being directed by a woman and starring Michael the less than svelte bass player. A panel of judges at the World Fest, Houston, on the other hand awarded it the silver medal for Best Rock Video". After the album's release, the band underwent a lineup change as Seth Harris left and was replaced by Ed Trask, formerly of D.C.'s Holy Rollers. With this new lineup in place, they returned to the studio and released Skin in 1995. When asked about this album, Michael Bishop told me that the album "was a failure; the material had been written after first drummer left". It was during this time that the band were involved in two horrific van accidents, one in Canada, resulted in their soundman breaking his back.

During this downtime, the band began preparing material for their third album. When their self-titled release came out in 1997, as Bishop tells it, it "redeemed ourselves". After touring in support of the record, they found themselves drifting apart. Michael said, "Kepone refused all major label contracts until the last year of our existence when we were in negotiations with Epitaph, which, for all purposes, functions as a major label. I wouldn't say it left me bitter and disappointed but, I learned a lot about how contracts work, and these are rarely favorable to the artist." Tim told me, "I believe our last show was in 1999. We are all still in touch." Michael went on to get a PhD in musicology and is a resident professor at UVA; he also plays regularly in Misery Business and does small recording projects from time to time. Ed Trask went on to join AVAIL and became a well-known painter; Tim Harriss has also become a painter and does not see playing music any time soon. Regardless of what everybody's up to, the band's music will be remembered and cherished by those who heard it.


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