Published on June 4th, 2000 | by Gerry Galipault0
It’s beginning now for Neve
It’s one thing to suddenly pop up in teen magazines and get played on Star 98.7 in Los Angeles. The real indicator to drummer Brian Burwell that he and his bandmates in the alternative pop band Neve were on the verge of something big came on a recent tour of high schools.
Teachers were dancing in the aisles alongside students.
“It was great,” Burwell said recently. “We had no idea people were going to get as into it as they were. We’d sign autographs afterward for the kids and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of kids were standing in line after we played. That just blew me away.
“The teachers wouldn’t stand in line. They’d cut. They’d come around behind where we were sitting and go, ‘Uh, would you sign this?’ The principals, also. We were really surprised at how it’s been really universal, how everyone’s really liking it.”
That kind of reaction bodes well for the Southern California-based quartet’s self-titled debut Portrait/Columbia album, out June 27. The first single, “It’s Over Now” – which originally appeared on the soundtrack for the 1999 teen-scream film “The Faculty” – is already making headway at mainstream rock and college radio.
“From the reaction we’ve had from shows that we’ve done, it’s been so surprisingly good, almost fanatical, especially with teens,” Burwell said. “The fact that kids with Korn T-shirts and Limp Bizkit T-shirts were coming up to us and then girls that were all into like Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys wanted our autographs, it was great to see. We even had Slipknot fans say, ‘Man, I don’t normally like the kind of music you guys do, but I loved it!’ If that kind of reaction happens all over, then I think it’ll do really well.”
This is pretty big stuff for a small-town Michigan kid.
Burwell could only dream about being in a band when he was growing up in Scottville in west-central Michigan. The closest “big town” was Ludington, a quaint summer resort along Lake Michigan. As his drumming skills progressed, Burwell realized he had to move to California if he wanted to make a name for himself.
There, he got a job as a drum tech, setting up drums for drummers on TV shows.
“I started meeting people that way, and it was good money, and I liked it,” Burwell said. “Then I started getting session work. And so I started playing on all sorts of stuff, like ’80s bands that were trying to make comebacks: Ratt, the Nelson twins. Actually, the guitar player for Orgy, I did some stuff with him, too.
“I also played on a Michael Bolton record (1997’s ‘All That Matters’). I got a gold record for it, and I gave it to my dad, so my dad could put it up. He’s a real Michael Bolton fan. That’s when my dad decided that I’d made it.”
Yes … but Michael Bolton?!
“I never looked at any session that way, because I just love to play,” Burwell said. “If I wasn’t playing in the band or doing sessions, I’d probably be in Michigan in the basement, practicing. Just the experience, I was so in awe. Bolton wasn’t even there. It was just the producer, the engineer and myself. Otherwise, I probably would have choked up. That would have been almost too much pressure, being a kid from Michigan, and that was by far the biggest thing up to that point.
“With the Nelson twins, I’d met them and hung out with them, and that wasn’t any problem. I ended up doing a lot of stuff with them. Ratt was just like a good time. But then doing the Michael Bolton thing, that was kind of like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really real. This is bigger.’ It was actually nice that he wasn’t there.”
Along the way, Burwell met guitarist Michael Raphael, who had hooked up with singer-keyboardist John Stephens in the summer of 1997 and eventually with bassist Tommy Gruber to form Neve.
Good drummers are hard to come by, so Burwell knew he was in the driver’s seat.
“That’s something that when I moved out here I was surprised about. That’s what kept me going,” he said. “At auditions, it was usually me that ended up turning bands down. I thought it was going to be the other way around, like ‘Oh, I’m not good enough, this is L.A., this is big time.’ And the local scene, it was like, ‘Wow, everybody needs a drummer.’
“It was through an ex-girlfriend that I met Mike. He just called me up one day. I didn’t know who he was. He was like, ‘Hey, I live out in the same valley as you. Can you play drums? Yeah? Good!’ And I go, ‘Uh, you’ve never heard me play.’ And he goes, ‘Come over!’ And he gives me his address, I go to his place.
“The way Mike’s personality is, you either love him or you hate him. He’s real to the point. The first time I met him, he was like, ‘All right, what have you got? Play me some stuff.’ That’s the way he is now, he runs the rehearsals, he cracks the whip. He’s like the father figure in the band. So I played him some stuff I did in Michigan. He listens to five seconds and said, ‘I hate it. What else have you got?’ When he did that, I was just going, ‘Who does this guy think he is? He’s not even being nice to me.’ He had a drum set at his place, and he goes, ‘Play for me.’ And I played for probably five seconds, and he stopped me, and I was like, ‘Oh, great.’ He just looked at me and said, ‘You’re the only drummer I ever want to play with.’ “
Burwell proceeded cautiously, not wanting to get overly excited about Neve’s chances. He had been in other bands that attracted big-label interest but went nowhere fast.
“When stuff started rolling along with Neve, before we signed the deal, I was like, ‘I’m not calling my parents, I’m not telling anybody until we sign it,’ ” he said. “And even after we signed, which it’s been two years ago now, it was still just like, ‘Well, this is just the first step. Who knows what’s going to happen?’ “
It took a while to find a producer. Eventually, Don Gilmore (Lit, Eve 6) was brought aboard, and Grammy winner Matt Serletic (Santana, matchbox twenty) was called upon to produce “It’s Over Now” for “The Faculty” soundtrack.
“Even up through finishing the album, I still felt, well, I’ve seen so many bands that get to a certain point and either they fall apart, or the record company doesn’t get behind them, and so for me it wasn’t until the last couple of months where I’m like, ‘Oh, man!,’ where the big record company machine is getting really behind the band now, the way people at the label love the album and are just going nuts,” Burwell said. “I guess the first thing that really kicked it off was when I saw the band in some teen magazines. I can’t believe we’re in teen magazines. We made it, we’re there. Now we’re hearing it on the radio. It’s on Star 98.7. I can’t believe it.”
Though he was leery of the record-business inner workings, Burwell had no doubts about the band’s ability.
He felt the spark the first time they played together.
“I don’t think it was as apparent to John and Mike, because their styles are so different,” he said. “I think they clashed a little bit at first. But for me, the first time we got together, I sat back and said to myself, ‘This band, this is the one.’
“Mike’s got the crunchier guitar style. He’s into Aerosmith and Kiss and AC/DC. John’s more into the ’80s, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, and more ethereal guitar parts. When they started writing things together and we started recording, to me it was really cool. You’ve got a crunchy guitar part with a real poppy vocal melody over the top. It kind of mellows it out a little bit and brings it more into the Top 40 category instead of being a heavy band, on Mike’s side. And then it’s got The Cure thing going on completely, where it’s like, ‘I’m so depressed.’ And when they were both put together, the way I saw it, I was just like, this is it. It took a little while for the other guys to pick up on it. I think it was more like, ‘I’ve got my chocolate in your peanut butter. This isn’t right.’ And then you try it and it’s like, ‘Wait, wow, this is amazing!’ “
The two years between signing with Portrait and the album’s release June 13 gave the group ample time to improve their live show.
It was worth the wait, Burwell says.
“We only did maybe 10 shows before we started getting offers, which, in my opinion, is really quick for a band,” he said. “We had the music, we had the personalities, but we hadn’t jelled as a band yet. We hardly even had our stuff together.”
Then they made it big in Japan. Sony executives in Tokyo, spurred by the reaction to “It’s Over Now,” released Neve’s album shortly after it was finished last summer. It sold 25,000 copies and landed the band a spot at the Mount Fuji Rock Festival, along with Rage Against the Machine and The Black Crowes.
“We went from one day playing in front of 40 people to the next day playing to 30,000,” Burwell said. “We were a little nervous to play in front of that many people, but we really stepped up to the plate and it was like, ‘This is what we’re supposed to be doing.’
“So then we really started working hard with the band. We saw a video of us playing there, and we thought, ‘This is pretty good! We’re all right! We’re a lot better in front of a big crowd.’ And then what we started doing was having that mentality when we were playing in front of 10 people: Let’s give everyone that type of show. Even if it’s a small stage, let’s pretend we’re on the giant stage and let’s kick everybody’s butt. That’s exactly what we did. When we got back, every show was like a giant rock concert. It’s still like that.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Probably Kiss’ ‘Rock and Roll Over.’ I was into all the Kiss stuff. Then I moved into jazz before I ever played. I was into the Brecker Brothers and fusion, got into the whole wicked drumming side of music.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: ” ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic. I think I was in eighth grade. I think it was just after ‘Eat It’ came out. He did that, and he did, ‘Oh, Ricky, you’re so fine.’ I was blown away by him. The band was great. Actually, I wanted to be a bass player after I saw that. The bass player had a slap bass solo, and I’d never seen anything like that before.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “Brand X’s ‘Xcommunication.’ It’s one of their more recent CDs. It was in 1992 when it came out, but it took me a long time to find it. I actually had to order it over the Internet. I couldn’t find it anywhere. It’s ultra-fusion. The guitar player’s just jacking off, basically. A lot of odd time stuff. They come up with a structure and then they all solo for 20 minutes.”