It’s no Cream, Traffic or Bad Company, but Grand Theft Audio is a modern-day supergroup nonetheless.
All its members come from formerly established bands in Britain. Bassist-keyboardist Ralph Jezzard and drummer Ritch Battersby worked with Wildhearts, which had several U.K. hits in the mid-1990s; Jezzard also produced EMF’s “Unbelievable,” a gold-selling U.S. No. 1 in 1991; guitarist Chris McCormack was part of 3 Colours Red, which had six Top 40 hits in England, and singer Jay Butler fronted Real TV, a popular punk-rock band.
Supergroup has a negative connotation, Butler says, as if there had been some grand plot to create Grand Theft Audio for mass consumption.
It was just four guys getting together to play music and enjoy pints of ale, he says.
“We didn’t want to be seen as a supergroup, which makes you an easy target,” Butler said recently. “This group was never about that; it wasn’t about whoring yourself for big success. It’s just something where we started from scratch, and this time it’s much more enjoyable.
“We never put pressure on ourselves when we started doing it for it to be a group. It became a group. It’s taken on a life of its own. We’re very focused now on doing it and maintaining it. I knew once we started playing live, and saw that we could cut it live, we could do it. It’s started to fall into place. This is really working, and it’s very satisfying.”
Butler and his band mates are particularly satisfied with their debut album, “Blame Everyone,” released Oct. 3 on London-Sire. The first single, “Stoopid Ass,” a gritty mixture of supercharged rock, hip-hop and electronica, is bursting onto alternative and rock radio stations. It will be featured in the film, “Dude … Where’s My Car?,” starring Ashton Kutcher (“That ’70s Show”) and Seann William Scott (“American Pie”), which opens in theaters Dec. 15. The equally revved-up track, “We Luv U,” also will appear on the soundtrack.
“Blow by blow, I think we’re getting there,” Butler says. “We did the Warped Tour before and then people got to know us, and now kids are showing up specifically to see us. There’s a lot of records out in the stores now, and the kids are buying them. It’s all coming together. January’s when they’re really going to start pushing it; you don’t want to get lost in the Christmas rush. That’s why we decided to tour in England around Christmas time, just like the old punk bands used to do, so the kids can get out of the house and away from the family.”
The four, who live in the same London neighborhood, met and became friends after their former groups toured together in England.
“Then Ritch called me up one day and said, ‘We’re doing this thing, and we need someone to write some vocals for us,’ and it started to come together naturally,” Butler said. “We all live around the same area and go out drinking together. We’re always the last people in the pub before they kick us out.”
Though they have four distinct personalities and musical roots, there’s no power struggle within the band, Butler says. It’s a true democracy.
“When you know each other as friends, no one can pull that ego stuff,” he said, “because the other guys will just laugh you right out of the building.
“It’s not that anyone’s in charge, it’s that we’re all equally incapable of doing anything for ourselves. That’s why we have a really great tour manager. Chris wouldn’t be able to brush his teeth if we didn’t have a tour manager.”
They had one unspoken rule when they began work on “Blame Everyone”: “That it didn’t matter what it was, where it came from or what kind of genre it was; the one criteria was: Does it sound good? Does it rock? Can you hear it again and again without getting pissed off?” Butler said.
“We never said we’re going to sit down and write a punk-rock album or a hip-hop album. The album’s varied but all coming from the same direction. We have different elements and styles.
“It’s probably the most communist band I’ve ever been in, because it’s very equal; everything’s given a chance, but it’s also very cut-throat. If no one likes it – ‘That’s shit, turn it off’ – no one pulls any punches. We all write; I play guitar and Ralph plays guitar as well, and we all sit and write and bring stuff to the studio. It’s very easy to work that way.
“We had the album nearly done before we got the deal. That was one of the great things about it, we weren’t doing it under any scrutiny, and we also own our own studio in London, so we weren’t always looking at the clock thinking ‘We’ve really got to get this vocal down.’ If it wasn’t right, you can go away and have a beer or whatever, come back the next day and do it over. It was a very relaxed way of doing things.”
“Blame Everyone” is laden with anthemic rock choruses (a la the short-lived EMF) and biting humor that plays very well at sporting events. That’s one reason the group set its sights on America first.
How did that sit with the notoriously brutal British music press?
“Strangely enough, sometimes things can go in your favor or go against you, and for some strange reason, we chose to ignore England from the start,” Butler said. “We had only done a couple of shows there, with us headlining and then we did a show with Papa Roach recently. The press loved it – the NME and Melody Maker have been amazing; you couldn’t get better reviews. Kerrang! went nuts for us, and I just totally didn’t expect that, especially since we came to America first. But I’m sure they’ll change; I’m sure the knives will come out soon.”
Till then, the band will continue with its favorite pastime, ribbing Jezzard about his involvement with EMF.
“We spend an inordinate amount of time pissing him off about it,” Butler said, with a laugh. “If something surprises us, we always go, ‘Wow, that’s unbelievable.’ ‘Yeah, Ralph, that’s unbelievable.’ We just keep saying it and he gets so pissed off.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: ” ‘Never Mind the Bullocks’ by the Sex Pistols, when I got some money for my 11th birthday. It totally made me want to be in a band. All I can remember thinking was, ‘Oh, my god, it sounds like someone’s strangling a cow over this amazing noise.’ The singing was awful, but I loved the guitar. It did totally rock. I literally played it until it got holes in it.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “It was terrible, actually … The Alarm. It sucked. There were all these dowdy, Gothic types having a miserable time en masse. It was very strange. I can remember being really excited to go to a big show, and then this terrible band came on and waded through all this dirge for like an hour until my ass and brain were numb. The second big gig I went to was even worse; it was U2 at Wembley. It was similar, but with more lights. I wanted to see the Sex Pistols, but obviously they had broken up, so I’m at this U2 show going, ‘C’mon, man, jump around a bit. Smash some stuff up!’ “
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “At the Drive-In. They’re cool, I really like them. They remind me of the MC5. It’s very garagy, but it has a fresher take. I really dig it.”
BWF (before we forget): Plug into Grand Theft Audio on the Web @ www.grandtheftaudio-online.com.
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