In music circles, the old saying goes, “If you can make it in Los Angeles, you can make it anywhere.” If a band can conquer the jaded, seen-it-and-heard-it-before crowds there, that’s half the battle.
The rock quintet Wonderland has one more half to go.
Singer Scott Kail, guitarist Stephen Ferrara, keyboardist John Dixon, bassist John Risti and drummer Rodger Carter already have Los Angeles on its side. Kail recently was named best male vocalist at the ninth annual L.A. Music Awards, and Kail and Ferrara were named best songwriters in a Rock City News magazine poll.
Now, with their debut Jericho/Sire album, “The End of Bliss” (released April 18), the band hopes to win over the rest of the country.
“We’ve survived in L.A. with consistency in believing in what we do,” Kail said recently, “and we tried to find a happy median between presenting the songs and putting enough vaudevillian atmosphere into the show that people in the L.A. area that maybe wanted to see something more than just people singing, they could relate to it. Half of going to a show is to be entertained visually as well as being entertained ear candy-wise, so we try to give them both.”
The highlight of “The End of Bliss” – in addition to such dutiful tracks as “Wonderland” (the first single), “Carrie Loves the Dark,” “Peppermint Girl” and “The Rise and Fall of Mary Jane” – was the chance work with producer-Jericho Records president John Porter (The Smiths, Roxy Music, B.B. King).
“It was just a joy to meet a human being who believed in the music,” Kail said. “We were very lucky. We answered to him as a producer, but in a sense, he had seen the band so many times and grew to love the music so much, he pretty much went in there and let us cut the songs as they had been. We made minor alterations like you would to a suit. When the suit was all altered, he helped hem up the sleeves. He really didn’t change much. Just being the person he is and having the background he has made it that much easier.
“When we first met him, one of the first things he told us, in his British debonair way, was ‘Well, you know, I really don’t like to get involved in the business at all.’ He really just wanted to be into the music; the music was what attracted him to it. It enticed him to work with us. That’s how our relationship stayed. He’s much more involved than he lets us know, in many facets, but he keeps it to himself.”
Recording at Cello studio was another thrill, Kail said.
“I was excited about it because in the ’50s and ’60s, it was called Western, which is where they did all the Beach Boys records, the Mamas & Papas, Frank Sinatra,” he said. “You definitely walk in there and you feel the atmosphere. You know something had gone on there. I wouldn’t say it was haunted, but people would say, ‘You can smell the vibes, man.’ ”
Wonderland has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Kail and Ferrara, a native of Boston, formed the band in 1996, sharing an affinity for the melodic rock of the Beatles, Kinks, The Who and Alice Cooper. They struggled like 99 percent of all rock groups, but fortunately they had plenty of perseverance in reserve.
“We lived off the change in people’s sofas,” Kail said, with a laugh. “The only main thing I can say is that for anybody who wants to get into the music business just to make money, they’re definitely making the wrong career move. Financially, it’s tough, but luckily we had a manager who believed in us. He made sure we never completely starved. Before getting a manager, if you want to get noticed, it’s a full-time job for free. In L.A., you don’t get paid to play at most places. In fact, I don’t think we were ever paid once. I think it was just recently we each made $60 about six months ago.
“I’ve been lucky in some ways, in that I’ve haven’t had to hold a 9-to-5 job. I’ve never had to answer to ‘the man.’ I’ve always managed to get by somehow. Not that I’ve leeched off anyone for years, I’ve just spent a lot of years not having the essential necessities everyone thinks are owed to them. People are amazed, but you can actually get by in life with very little, if need be. I think the reason people work so very hard is to have all the things. Necessities for me, at one point, were just food and shelter. People now think necessities are cable TV and online shopping. People work their fingers much more to the bone than they would if they were just working for the necessities.”
An advance from a big-label contract can go a long way toward buying better equipment and repaying people who have donated time and money to the band, Kail said.
“Obviously, you never forget about the lean years,” he said, “but in a sense, it’s humbling. It sets a tone in your life, what you find important, what you in fact value. It does put a much higher precedent on the music.”
Making more music is Wonderland’s ultimate goal.
“Obviously, you hope that the album becomes successful and makes all the people money who want it to make money,” Kail said. “But, for an artist, and probably speaking for the rest of the group, I just hope people listen, that they get a chance to hear it.
“There’s a lot more music in us. These days, a band makes an album every five or six years, and that’s a bit strange to me.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: ” ‘Abbey Road’ (by the Beatles). I was almost 2 years old and somehow I had acquired a copy of it and that was all I listened to for quite a while. In fact, there’s a photograph somewhere of me sitting there listening to it at that age with the headphones on.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “My uncle used to drag me to all sorts of concerts, but I can’t remember the first one. He loved that I was into the music. He and his buddy would drop some acid and say to my parents, ‘We’re taking Scottie with us.’ I was like, ‘Cool!’ ”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “Ben Folds Five’s last album. It had some nice tunes on it. I also got the Small Faces’ ‘BBC Sessions’ (on Fuel 2000). It’s great power pop.”
BWF (before we forget): Get a view of Wonderland on the Web @ www.wonderlandla.com.