They were handpicked by director Ron Howard to appear as “the bar band” in his film “EDtv.” Their major-label debut album was co-produced by Jerry Harrison and Rupert Hine. They regularly play to sold-out audiences in their native San Francisco. The lead singer – tall, tanned and handsome – has all the makings of a Tiger Beat pin-up idol.
Who is this new group?
Stroke 9, and they’re not new. Not at all. They have been together nearly eight years, and only now are things finally going their way.
The group’s Cherry/Universal debut album, “Nasty Little Thoughts,” is scheduled for a Sept. 7 release, on the heels of its first single, the caustic “Little Black Backpack.”
“We’re real happy with the way the album came out,” singer-songwriter Luke Esterkyn said recently. “It’s been about four years in the making. Everyone said once it happens, it’s going to happen fast. It just took a long time for it to happen for us.
“Every step we took, everything we recorded along the way, we loved it and had complete faith in everything we did. We’ve been our biggest fans all along, and we finally convinced some other people to like us.”
Jolene Cherry, president of Cherry Entertainment Group, really liked Stroke 9 – Esterkyn, guitarist John McDermott, bassist Greg Gueldner and drummer Eric Stock – and signed them in 1998 after hearing the biting “Little Black Backpack,” about a guy who wants to use the trendy carryall to put his love interest’s new suitor in place. “I don’t wanna tangle with you,” the singer wails. “I’d rather tangle with him. I think I’m going to bash his head in. This shouldn’t concern you, except that just don’t expect to get your bloody little black backpack back.”
“After our last (indie) album, ‘Bumper to Bumper,’ somebody said to me, ‘Your music’s so upbeat, but what happened to you? Man, you must’ve gotten fucked over once really bad,’ ” Esterkyn said, laughing. “I guess you could say that about some of the lyrics, that I’m pissed off, but a song like ‘Little Black Backpack,’ it was an obsession we all had with little black backpacks when they first came out and everyone all of a sudden had them.
“We were trying to figure out what they were. Then one day we were playing, jamming out another song and reworking it. We said, ‘This isn’t working out, let’s redo it,’ so we gave it this waltzy feel and it took on a whole other mood once we did that. When we got to the chorus, I started going off on little black backpacks. It’s a story song that no one can figure out. That’s one of the appeals of it, that people can get different things from it.”
There’s hit-potential to be had in other tracks, such as “Letters” and “City Life.”
“All these songs were written over a long period of time and have been recorded many times,” Esterkyn said, “but this is the first time we’ve gone in with a big-time producer.”
Make that two big-timers: Harrison (Talking Heads, Live, The Verve Pipe) and Hine (Rush, The Fixx, Duncan Sheik).
“Jerry lives in the Bay Area,” McDermott said. “We’d see him around, and he worked at The Plant (studio) a lot. We were in there one day and met him and he befriended us. He had been working on Live’s new record for about a year and got about a month off to produce us, so that’s why he only did half the album. He was our No. 1 choice, because we’ve always loved his work, but he could only do six songs.
“The record label people knew Rupert and said to check him out. Then they listed all the things he had done, like The Fixx, Howard Jones and a little band called Rush, and we’re like, ‘Wow, we do know this guy’s work really well.’ It’s pretty unconventional for a first album to be splitting producers, especially for a rock band and especially when we’re supposed to be defining our sound. They have two distinct styles, making the album that much more listenable, because it’s not all one take on things.”
Even at the band’s lowest low, when they were rejected six years ago by every big label around, they never gave up hope, Gueldner said.
“We always met the obstacles head-on,” he said. “Like, ‘Okay, we’re not getting any gigs in the city, let’s book our own tour.’ ‘We don’t have any product; look, let’s paint this house and put a CD out ourselves,’ instead of trying to go to an indie label. It was never like, ‘It’s not working, let’s give up.’ It was like, ‘Here’s the obstacle, let’s go around it.’
“Now look at us. We were in a movie and we’re sitting here talking about our major-label debut. Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done. Believe in yourself.”
BWF (before we forget): Box Stroke 9 on the Web @ www.stroke9.com.
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