There's a story about Flybanger that says more about the band's passion and determination than any promotional copy ever could. Back in 1996, while touring the Pacific Northwest during the dead of winter, the band was three hours into a late night drive when their van hit a patch of black ice. The vehicle, packed with the four musicians and their gear, flipped over and landed in a snow bank off the side of the highway. The freak accident left drummer Rob Wade with a serious leg injury, their former bass player with liver damage, and what was left of the mangled equipment needed repairs. However, with the help of passing motorists, they managed to pull the van out the embankment, got back on the road, drove several hours to make the gig, and then went to the hospital. Talk about keeping the faith. Says Wade, "We've always had a 'do whatever it takes' attitude. As a result of that commitment, we've each lost jobs and sacrificed personal relationships. However, we knew getting into this that it takes a lot to build a band, and we've worked our asses off to get here."
They timed their arrival perfectly. In an era when rock raps more than it rolls, the fundamentalists in Flybanger--vocalist/lyricist Garth, guitarist Bryan Fratesi, drummer Rob Wade and bassist Tom MacDonald--fill a huge void by taking the genre's basics to new heights. Headtrip To Nowhere, the group's high-density Columbia Records debut, clears a path with an amp-taxing blend of super-chunky guitars, atom-smashing beats, and vice-grip hooks. By cushioning their crunch with moody atmospherics and dark, swirling melodies, Flybanger succeeds where others merely flail.
Says Garth, "This isn't like the typical metal records making the rounds these days. Yes, the songs are loud and harsh at times, but they also have some really catchy melodies. Bludgeoning people over the head with a heavy riff gets old after awhile--a good rock album should have more to offer--ours does."
Headtrip To Nowhere, recorded in L.A.'s Rumbo Studios, pairs Flybanger with platinum producer/mixer Matt Wallace, known for his work with bands such as Faith No More and the Deftones. Laughs Garth, "Matt kept things fun and laid back while helping us to recreate our live sound in the studio. He took both the band and myself to another level."
What's most impressive about Headtrip To Nowhere is its accessibility--despite its sheer sonic heft, the album's dozen tracks are hooky enough to feel familiar after a single listen. From the gut-crunch of "Radical" and "Haul" to the dark, churning tones of "Company" and "Pull," Headtrip resonates with both ear-grabbing melodies and bone-breaking riffs.
The album hits the ground running with the post-apocalyptic burn of lead single "Cavalry," a track featuring a guest appearance by former Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin, who later re-appears on "When Are You (Gonna Die)?" "It's got sort of a 'Mad Max' vibe to it," says Garth. "It's a futuristic story about a guy who refuses to conform to the new world order." Then there's "Evelyn," which delves into the downward spiral of the human spirit. Explains Garth, "It's about someone going down a dark path without caring about the outcome. My favorite line in that song is 'A pain invincible makes unpredictable youth,' which paints a picture of a person who dwells so much on the negative, they create their own pain." With "Blind World," the band examines the recent Y2K hype and hysteria. "Thanks to media manipulation, everyone was suddenly concerned about the planet's welfare," says Garth. "On New Year's Day, people actually seemed disappointed that there were no earthquakes or mass destruction the night before. They acted as if they'd been ripped off. It was ridiculous."
Flybanger's roots can be traced back to 1995, when Wade, after years of playing in local bands, approached Garth with a demo of new material. Laughs the drummer, "I got tired of dealing with flakes and decided to form something myself. I needed to find players who were as passionate about music as I was. Garth was the first guy I turned to." Of the demo, Garth says, "I was blown away by the quality of the writing and playing on it. It had a fresh feel and I wanted to be a part of that. Most important, I saw that it had potential to go far." With the frontman aboard, things quickly fell into place. Strengthened by the addition of guitarist Bryan Fratesi, Flybanger--then called Jar--recorded Harsh and Discord, an indie EP that quickly garnered radio airplay and a solid underground fan base. By the time bassist Tom MacDonald joined in '98, the band was already a force to be reckoned with. Word of their frenetic and full-tilt live show garnered a rapid and rabid loyal following, as the band toured back and forth cross country, opening for acts such as Filter, Soulfly, Machine Head, Orange 9mm, Nashville Pussy, Judas Priest, and many others. "You really need to see us live to experience our full effect," says Wade. "We put a lot of energy into our show and most people work up a sweat just watching us."
Knottskull, their first full-length disc, came next, and it didn't take long for labels to start calling. Recalls Wade, "We self-financed and self-distributed both of our records, and garnered serious airplay from them. In addition, we sold over 15,000 copies between our gigs and local retailers." During that time, Flybanger successfully completed 8 cross-country tours and 11 Pacific Northwest tours, establishing themselves in several U.S. markets.
Says Wade, "We were one of the only bands of our kind to tour back and forth. We'd sleep in our van in alleys and parking lots after playing any sh*thole that would have us, while constantly writing and rehearsing. We'd put flyers up everywhere, and hand out hundreds of demos for free. We made sure to build a solid following from the ground up."
So how devoted are their fans? Let's put it this way, some of them are so dedicated, they actually had "Jar" tattooed on their bodies. When legal matters forced the band to change their name, the group set up a promotion with a local radio station on the West Coast, offering free Flybanger tattoos to those who needed to "update their skin." "We've gotten support from some really great people," says Garth. "Now we're ready to take it to the next level."
Luckily, and this may be the best news of all, they'll be able to get there in a new van. "And," says Wade, "between that and our deal with Columbia, we couldn't be any happier."