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A Local Dream Team

[whitespace] Drill Team
Chris Cuffano

Hoping and Dreaming: Drill Team is exploding on its first national tour.

Two San Jose exiles start Drill Team and score a hit

By Todd S. Inoue

'WE MET a legitimate fan at a record store today," Drill Team bassist and San Jose native Jeff Watson informs me, calling from a Houston hotel room. "She said she recorded our songs off the radio, and the cassette tape never leaves her car stereo. I almost cried."

"I cried because she didn't pay for it," quips drummer and resident card Apollo Strange, patched in on the other phone line. "Our CD should be like a box of Arm and Hammer, where you buy one for the refrigerator, one for the freezer, one for the kitchen. Then in three months, just throw it away and buy another. We should have an expiration date for the album."

Fad-free, achingly personal and partly homegrown--two members hail from San Jose--Drill Team plays a brand of shuddering space-rock that is making fans around the nation. Its new CD, Hope and Dream Explosion, is out on big-time label Reprise, and the band is on its first well-funded tour to America's heartland. The welcome mat rests comfortably under their feet, daring the public and press to whisk it away.

Hope and Dream Explosion yields lush, sculpted noise padded with special effects, all burnt to a tasty, trebly crisp. Singer Michael Long moisturizes each word before it leaves his lips. Timothy LaRue ekes out old-school Atari game noises with his Gibson guitar and effects pedal. The first single, "Hold You Down," shrips and shudders with melodic choruses and sky-chasing cymbal crashes. "Bumble Bee" is a jumpy pop song constructed with both the Bay City Rollers and the Raspberries in mind.

"Peppermint" would be ideal for a late-night, drunken tango on Denny's hardwood floor. Long's emo-vocal deconstructs the title track, licking each syllable like salt nestled around an empty margarita glass: "I suck your scene / live your dream / I fill your need / make you feed / You won't forget, my reign / the tears beneath your veins / Your hope and dream explosion."

"'Hope and Dream Explosion' is about San Jose," explains bassist Watson. "There comes a time when you want to move away from home." Watson and Michael Long grew up in San Jose; both were members of the First Strike music collective as representatives of Colour Scream.

"It was hard to cultivate something in San Jose," says Watson. "We tried for a while to become 'big rock stars.' I ended up going to school in UC-Santa Barbara. Mike moved down to L.A. We weren't moving south to pursue bands or anything; we were tired of playing music and decided to concentrate on other things."

"San Jose has lots of yellow lights," observes Strange. "It's like they don't want to see what truly is. It makes San Jose look more aged, like it's easier on the eyes."

LIKE FELLOW South Bay exiles Crack, Drill Team loved the town but knew the level of success attainable was limited. During Watson and Long's Colour Scream era, the band played the same three or four venues without ever breaking out. In L.A, the luxury of playing music for a living presented itself.

"In L.A., there's so many musicians. ... It diffuses the fan base at large," says Watson. "It won't be maniacal for a band, but you can get a pretty solid fan base if you're playing out a lot."

The plan worked. An A&R person from Reprise caught a show and signed the band. Drill Team entered the studio with producers Clive Langer, David Winstanly and David Kahne. Langer and Winstanly twiddled knobs for Elvis Costello, David Bowie and late-season Madness; Kahne is respected for sculpting Fishbone, Sugar Ray and Sublime.

Did Drill Team feel intimidated by the presence of such great producers? A little bit, until Langer brought out a bottle of whiskey and everyone got blotto. "All pretension was thrown out the window," Strange says. "It wasn't because of the music that he was medicating himself, I hope. David Kahne is a freak. He was a dark, foreboding character until we strapped him with duct tape and kicked his ass in Trivial Pursuit."

Drill Team thrives on this casual nonconformity--and the desire to rattle the cages of rock's foundations. And America is catching on. The shows have been getting better each time. "We're playing with each other instead of toward each other," Watson says.

Drill Team is in position to stop shoe-gazing and observe the newfound audience gathering at the foot of the stage. "There's been a lot of college frat boys who seem to love the vigor of the band," Strange says. "These are guys who will gladly kick our asses. There's lots of girls: well-dressed, Eastern-seaboard, Kennedy-compound types."

And you can bet they're all singing the words.

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From the April 16-22, 1998 issue of Metro.

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