In August 2004, local Pop/Punk band Bottom Line got some fairly life-changing news.
Word came down that the album following their final CD for Cincinnati-based Nice Guy Records — the forthcoming Eloquence, due in stores Tuesday — would be on major label Maverick Records, the imprint co-founded by Madonna. And they found out they'd be working on their major label debut with John Feldman, lead singer/guitarist of the influential Pop Punk band Goldfinger and producer of The Used, Good Charlotte and Story of the Year.
Raise a toast? Uh, sort of.
Instead of hitting the nearest bar, the members of Bottom Line — who were on the road at the time — pulled their tour van over and did what any youthful soon-to-be Rock stars would do: They bought ice cream to celebrate.
But even now they seem more excited about the prospect of working with Feldman that they do about their new "major label" status.
"Personally, I was obsessed with the guy," bass player Greg Yock says, "because this was the producer. This was the producer of all producers for me. The way kids feel (about) Michael Jordan is the way I feel about Feldman.
"He was doing a video and looking for an assistant.
So I sent him our press kit. While we were on tour, I was checking my voice mail and I saw this number that was listed as 'private.' And I listened to the message: 'Hey, I think your name is Greg or something, your band's Bottom Line. This is John Feldman.' And at that point I was like, 'What? Holy shit!' "
Yock says his bandmates didn't believe him when he repeated the phone message.
"So then I put it on speakerphone for the rest of the band," he says. "And it was like, 'What just happened to our band?' Tears were coming out of our eyes. We were going ballistic. I got so happy I couldn't even drive anymore. So we pulled off and got ice cream."
Celebrating with ice cream fits Bottom Line fine somehow. First off, they're quite young. All four members are 21 (drummer Cliff Revis just turned "legal" May 20).
They're also determined guys. Stopping to get drunk (frankly, I don't know if getting drunk even crossed their minds at all) would interfere not only with the tour but also with "The Plan."
And "The Plan" is a simple one: "To be the best band ever, to be flawless," according to singer/guitarist Benjamin James.
With Bottom Line's drive and dedication, "The Plan" might just be attained.
Bottom Line is more than just a Cincinnati band that was on the Vans Warped Tour and playing in Japan before they were out of high school.
They're a Cincinnati band that was on the Vans Warped Tour and playing in Japan before they were out of high school that's now signed to Maverick Records, joining a roster that includes Alanis Morissette, Deftones, MeShell Ndegeocello and Story of the Year.
Bottom Line — with Yock on bass, James on guitar and vocals and Dan Kinzie on guitar and vocals — formed in 1997 in junior high at Sycamore Junior High (drummer Revis joined in 2003). At first, like most new bands, they gigged around just for fun and friends.
In 2000, they caught the attention of Nice Guy Records. "Head Nice Guy" Jamie Mandel — "He's one of the people that got it from the very beginning," James says — took them on, and the group began opening for national acts like Dashboard Confessional and Thursday.
Nice Guy released their first full-length CD, In and Out of Luck, in October 2002 (it was an expanded version of an EP of the same name that was released two years earlier). The album sold more than 4,000 copies in its first year.
They began touring heavily, including their first stints on the Warped Tour. Mandel licensed the CD to Japanese label Big Mouth JPN, and so the band found itself touring Japan opening for American Pop/Punk crew Midtown.
Their tour of Japan was "life changing," James says. "If we didn't go to Japan, we wouldn't be the band we are now."
"We didn't know we were a good band at the time," Kinzie says. "We were on the plane, going to a country we'd never been to before just to play music, and it was so awesome. We couldn't wait to do this the rest of our lives."
The fan reaction in Japan taught Bottom Line a few lessons on how to deal with popularity.
"There were fans there who would just carry our CD around with them because they knew we were in town," Kinzie recollects. "They would just hope that if they went to the mall or something they would run into us. That happened a few times.
"There were two girls and one had a real CD and one had a burned CD. The one with the burned CD took her friend's CD booklet and went to Kinko's, or whatever they have over there, and scanned each individual page and made her own booklet out of it so we could sign it."
"That's hardcore," Revis says.
"It's like, 'OK, you went through the effort, I'm not even mad that you burned it,' " Kinzie says with a laugh.
"We would go into record stores over there and there would be photos of us hanging up," Yock remembers. "And there would be kids hanging around with backpacks and earphones and we'd go up to them and point at ourselves and then point at the picture like, 'That's us!' And one kid picked up the CD and ran — I mean he ran — to the cashier to buy it."
Rock & Roll Trading Spaces
Last fall, Bottom Line began recording what would become their last independent release, Eloquence (see sidebar review at right), again for Nice Guy Records. The band rented a house in West Chester for the recording and started writing and practicing there, on and off, while the members attended various colleges.
The remote locale, away from the relative hustle and bustle of the "Big City," gave the band some solace and time flexibility during the recording process.
"We tried other practice areas, like down on Mohawk (Street, near Central Parkway)," Kinzie says. "But we couldn't really do what we wanted to do. We wanted to be able to practice whenever we wanted to, write whenever we wanted to, record whenever we wanted to."
"No interference with families or parents or other bands," James adds.
"We wanted total isolation to keep focused," Yock says.
After a search on a limited budget, they found an old antique shop formerly owned by an elderly woman.
"It was like a haunted house," Revis says.
"It was like a gingerbread house," James contradicts.
"You had to go outside to walk upstairs," Kinzie says.
"I don't even know how old the place was," James continues. "This old, old lady (the former owner) had antiques in the basement and lived in the upstairs area. I don't even know how she could actually live in it, because it was so ... it was kind of scary, because we knew it had belonged to an old lady and we always kind of thought that maybe she died there."
They fixed and cleaned up the place and were able to indulge in a very Rock & Roll moment in the process.
"We threw the stove off the roof," Revis says.
Going along with Bottom Line's determination to make things "right," they dry-walled, painted and carpeted the place, giving it a Rock & Roll Trading Places-style makeover.
"You know, did we really need to stain the hardwood floors ... again?," Kinzie half-jokes about the band's mad home-keeping skills.
Their dedication ultimately came with a small "price," though — they all took a leave of absence from college.
"Once we had the house, we said, 'How much more could we get done, how much more could we work if we didn't have school,' " Kinzie says. "We could dedicate so much more time. There's not enough hours in the day to do everything we want to do. So we took a hiatus from school."
Not surprisingly, the Bottom Line moms and dads weren't exactly keen on the idea at first.
"When we all dropped out of school, our parents were all like, 'That's not too cool of an idea,' " Kinzie says. "But we slowly convinced them. And then when the Maverick deal and Feldman came along, they realized it was for real."
After the decision to take a break from college was made, the band began recording in earnest in February. And all their hard work paid off because their musical Eloquence caught Feldman's ear.
Other than the fact that Feldman has agreed to produce their next album and was the one that hooked them up with Maverick, the band members feel that their drive for excellence matches his sensibilities. They feel very strongly that he's the perfect match for Bottom Line's slick, melodic Pop/Rock stylings.
"Our band likes production on our CDs," says Revis. "There are bands like The White Stripes and stuff now that (are) really popular for having under-produced-sounding CDs. Our band has always thought, 'What else can we add to this song to give it another element?' We know that (Feldman) does that."
"His production is so polyphonic," Yock adds. "There's just so much going on. There's so much ear candy everywhere, and we all love that.
"He's also in a kick-ass band that we all like," Kinzie chimes in.
"I think we're all perfectionists, a little bit," James says, "but that's how we judge ourselves — the same way we judge other bands. For instance, when we're doing final mixes of a song, I take myself out of it and act like I did when I popped in Story of the Year's album for the first time. 'How did I judge this band?' And that's how I have to judge what we do objectively."
The shocking truths
Though they look like the kind of band you could fearlessly take home to meet Mom, Bottom Line is not without their dirty little secrets. Dirty secret No. 1: They like opening bands!
"Greg and I used to go to random Punk Rock concerts and say, 'I can't wait to see the opening band, because I have no idea who they are' or 'I'm going to find a new band to like,' " James says. "I know that there's a kid out there who's like, 'I don't even know who Bottom Line is, but I'm going to get to the show early to watch them because I just might like them.' That's what keeps me going."
It says a lot for Bottom Line that they actively seek out new sounds and new bands. It's a refreshing — and encouraging — thing to hear, especially from such young guys.
You can't help but think that their enthusiasm will help them keep perspective in the future, whatever it might hold. Confidence, not cockiness, seems to be the band's hallmark.
"There's always going to be new bands, there's always going to be more music," Kinzie says, "and I think that's another reason why we're so passionate about making this our lives. We just love music so much. It's an honor to be a part of it."
Now back to the salaciousness. Dirty secret No. 2? Despite what others say about them, they don't exactly consider themselves "Punk."
"We only consider ourselves (Punk) because people have in the past," James says.
"The label doesn't really matter," Kinzie says. "You're either going to like the music or you're not. There are ethics of Punk Rock that we still follow — we do it all ourselves. We always have, probably always will."
The band has no idea what Maverick has in store for them. But the members are completely behind the concept of evolving from within.
"Something I write this week or last week is going to be completely different from something I wrote last October," James says. "Our sound is always going to mature."
But something near and dear to Bottom Line's collective heart is being sure they're not "maturing" to the point that the sound becomes stale.
"I remember when I bought the back-to-back Blink-182 albums, Enema of the State and Take off Your Pants and Jacket," Kinzie says. "I seriously thought that they made the same exact record, just with different songs. I hope that we never have the same exact record."
Given Bottom Line's drive and enthusiasm, it's difficult to imagine anything like that happening. They're the kind of guys who won't settle for anything less than perfection — on their own terms, of course.
As if a major label record deal wasn't enough, good things continue to happen for Bottom Line. James has recently been working in Los Angeles as Feldman's assistant, and Kinzie has an endorsement deal with Paul Reed Smith guitars. Following their recent string of dates around the country opening for Goldfinger, the band has tour dates scheduled in South America for the summer.
Even their friends are finding good fortune: Nice Guy's Mandel now has a distribution deal through Suburban Home Records, which will give his label's releases a much larger reach.
The bar has been set for Bottom Line. In their favor, they have youth, ambition, smarts, practicality, Feldman's sonic instincts and some rocking tunes. To their disadvantage, even a signed band, in this age of a purely hits-driven music industry, has a Powerball's chance in hell of "making it" and sustaining a career on that level.
The deal is done, and now the hard part starts. But Bottom Line has all of the personal and professional elements in place to make it work.
Bottom line? From here on, it's all up to the music's ability to catch on.
Eloquence (Nice Guy Records) starts at an escape-velocity tempo and never stops to see if it cleared the atmosphere. The second full-length CD from Bottom Line is a breath of fresh air in a rather crowded room.
The band shares kissing-cousin similarities with Story of the Year and Yellowcard, but there's something different about Bottom Line. They sound as if their very lives depend on getting to the next note, but there are some interesting electronic stops along the way. While only momentary, they allow you to sit back briefly and recognize that Bottom Line is at least trying to branch out sonically from their peers a bit.
That's all the more impressive considering that Eloquence is self-produced. The band shows a remarkable maturity in their instincts, though they could vary the tempo a bit more, particularly within the span of the opening tracks. They're all "a train just ran over me" fast, which is fine — nothing wrong with being hit by a melodic train, after all — but you want to take them aside for a second and caution them about the tribulations of premature ejaculation. Slow down a little, boys, we've got all night.
Still, the assault is entirely in character with the band that just wants to go, go, GO and take in as much as possible while they're still young. And vocally the band pulls off flawless, non-whiney harmonies that soar like jets in precision formation.
The production isn't as "sunny" in spots as the band intended. The drums drop out every now and again, and there's a strange muted quality every so often. But neither of those things detract much from the CD's overall enjoyment.
"Saddle Oxford" is really a stand-out track (but not in the "I hear a single" kind of way) because it's such a non sequitur amidst all the sonic fury. It's a short, 1920s Jazz-inspired horn and drum interlude with a unique Hip Hop feel. It would be a complete anomaly if it wasn't for the Swing Jazz break in the following track, "False Alarm." Both of them make you wonder what Bottom Line is up to — they throw you for a loop and make you say, "Wait, don't I have the Bottom Line CD in?"
Very clever and very confident moves, and anyone who was ever in a marching band will understand what they're doing completely. There are a number of interesting touches that the band throws into almost all of their songs just to make sure you're paying attention. And, if you are paying attention, they're a real treat rather than a distraction.
Like the track "Mystique," a spacey, Electronica-inspired track that serves as an intro to the rocker "This Far From a Fire," another smart move from the band. They're saying, "Here, we can do this too," without being terribly self-indulgent about it. There's an intelligence to a segue like that, something only a band as self-assured as Bottom Line could pull off.
This is a drive fast/spin around in circles/ go crazy CD for those who are looking for a souped-up Lexus of an album. And it's also a promising step in the evolution of Bottom Line as musicians. (Dale Johnson) Grade: B+
BOTTOM LINE celebrates the release of Eloquence (which hits store shelves Tuesday) with a concert at Top Cats Friday. Special guests are The Interns and Mint 6 Ten. For more on the band and their new CD, check out bottomlinepunk.com and niceguyrecords.com.