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Stunt Monkey takes a swing at national success.

Monkey Business

Stunt Monkey takes a leap of faith with new UTR Music Group label

By Sarah Quelland

FLASHBACK TO CHRISTMAS EVE 2002. Stunt Monkey's Aram Sarkissian and Michael Rossi are confident that they will not be putting out the album they recorded with Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore at the Blasting Room in Colorado on their own Tastes Like Chicken label. They also promise that the songs they recorded in Colorado will be released in 2003. They were right on both counts.

San Jose pop-punk band Stunt Monkey has jumped on board with UTR Music Group, a brand new independent label with major-label know-how started by three industry veterans: San Francisco-based Ralph Tashjian, New York-based Ron Urban and Los Angeles-based Stu Rick. Stunt Monkey's new album, [self-titled], will come out on July 22 with national distribution through UTR. The first single, "Girlfriend Likes Girls," is already getting spins across the country, from Santa Cruz to Tallahassee.

The band's DIY ethic played a major part in their decision to go with UTR. Frontman and guitarist Sarkissian explains, "We've been doing this nearly five years on our own and we're getting pretty bullheaded about doing everything ourselves. We're not really big on giving up a lot of creative freedoms. We've come too far on our own. This last album we recorded, we went out to Bill Stevenson's and said, 'Hey dude, let's do an album!' And we got it done like punk-rock pirates."

Stunt Monkey wanted to sign with a label that would look out for their best interests and they didn't want to get lost in the corporate shuffle. When Stunt Monkey was approached by Tashjian (who was introduced to the band's third self-released album With Lifelike Action! by a family member), they liked his pitch. A subsequent meeting with Tashjian, Urban and Rick sealed the deal.

"It's a choice that I don't see ourselves regretting," says Sarkissian. He describes the appeal of UTR, saying "It really is an indie attitude with a major label sensibility. You look at that and go, 'That's something I believe in.' We like to work hard. We'd like to succeed. We don't just want to stay in the garage. We'd like to get out and expose the music to people, and these guys want that too. But they want to do it in a way that makes sense, and they understand a lot of the current problems with the way things are done. In understanding the business, it'll help navigate through some of the bullshit."

It was important to the band to put the new album out quickly and without changing the work they'd done in Colorado.

Sarkissian says, "We needed to work with people that really understood that we wanted help, but we wanted help in working our already existing vision. It's not like they said, 'Oh yeah, well great, you did your DIY thing. That's cute. And now we put it in the DeluxeCorporoHitMaker 3000 and it spits you guys out the right way.' It's not like that. They really have embraced what we did."

Rossi adds, "You don't want to hand the keys to the car completely to somebody and let them drive if you've worked for five years on building that car. We're not in the driver's seat. We're riding shotgun and we're telling 'em how to drive the car."

"We are riding shotgun, but shotgun's a hell of a lot better than the back of the bus," Sarkissian concludes.

HOT TOPIC: The lineup for this year's free Foster's Music in the Park concert series (held every Thursday at Plaza de Cesar Chavez in downtown San Jose) includes Wishbox of Voices (with Pat Travers, Glenn Hughes and Robin McAuley) on July 10; Caribbean Pulse on July 17; Pato Banton on July 31; Chico DeBarge on Aug. 7; Eve 6 on Aug. 14; Jennifer Hansen on Aug. 21; Pete Escovedo on Aug. 28; and Greg Kihn on Sept. 4. ... Music in the Other Park continues this Thursday (June 12) with Brenton Wood, 5-8:15pm at St. James Park in downtown San Jose. ... Rockstars and Bitches presents Cecilia, a New York City-based family jam band managed by Scott Long in its San Jose debut. Cecilia plays a free show this Monday (June 16) at Waves Smokehouse with Hippie Aggression, Everything Taken and Friction. The band returns to San Jose on June 21 to perform at the Blank Club with Luckydog.

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From the June 12-18, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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