Ultimate Fakebook: Between the Niches
J. Gordon
7/25/2002 1:38:43 PM

"We sort of slipped in and out at just the wrong time"

When Kansas City-based Ultimate Fakebook take the stage, words come to mind like “energetic,” “fun,” and “what the @#&*?!” You’ve got guitarist Bill McShane with his Elvis Costello-ish vocals and his Weezer rawk!-posturing. You’ve got bassist Nick Colby being an industrial-tough rock dude. You’ve got wild man Eric Melin pounding the skins, infusing everything with a raucous punk rhythm. So, the question of the day is: what do you call this kind of music?

Bill: “We’re poppy-- we totally like bands like Matthew Sweet and Sloan. You know, the mature, classy pop bands. But we also grew up loving the arena rock, dumb-ass bands, so we kinda put the two together. It’s songs you can sing along to, like the Beach Boys and Elvis Costello—”

Eric: [cutting in] “--But we’re not like Elvis Costello cuz he’s wordy and mature and we’re not!”

Bill: “We like him, we love him, but we’re more silly-type guys.”

A ‘fakebook,’ for those not in the know, is a musician’s book of tabs-- basic chords for popular songs. But the facts are that most of Ultimate Fakebook’s audience is not in the know, and drummer Eric says that almost no one gets it. The name came, the guys say, in rebellion to “all those horrible third generation grunge bands, they all had the one syllable band name.” They lament that not only are those unpoetic names back, but so is the sound.

Eric: “The kids don’t understand where we came from. They think we were influenced by Weezer and Greenday and the Get Up Kids, but we’re not.”

Bill: “We’re just playing with all those bands. We all want to write pop hits, but we’re willing to, kind of, go over—[Bill motions in the air, dividing two distinct territories] like, here’s Classy World, the greats like the Beatles—and we’re like, ‘Ahhhh, I might step over just a little bit [he moves away from invisible Classy World] , because I know that not everybody understands all that great pop.’ And we like the idea of rock and roll being for everybody, and being a party, and being fun. It’s not only about writing the best pop songs, but also about reaching people. We want to be commercial, but still really good music. That’s the trick.”

Eric: “Our sense of commercial is so far off from everybody else’s. For our last three albums we’ve been trying to write these songs that we can play every night and still have a good time, and in addition to that they’re songs that people can sing along to. But that’s not what’s on the radio anymore. You listen to the radio and it’s all, ‘Ohhhhh’” [does a low-throated, phlegm-filled, Creed impersonation]

Bill: “We were just so sick of that. We were like, let’s come up with something with so many syllables and so long—”

Nick: “--and then it had “ultimate” in the title too! How ballsy is that?”

The band just completed a video in LA for “Inside Me, Inside You” that the guys say a lot of money and work went into and will be able to be viewed on their website at www.ultimatefakebook.com. “Big budget,” says Bill, “A real video, we think our fans are going to love it.” UFB will also be putting out a DVD release for those who want a permanent copy for their collection, and if that weren’t enough, an EP with 5 songs and one instrumental is in the can and coming out soon. The EP was actually already recorded prior to their last album, Open Up and Say Awesome. To top that off, they’ve written another album and going to start cutting some demos.

Although UFB often gets lumped in with Jimmy Eat World and the emo bands, [bassist Nick says, “emo is more of a clothing line than music.”] they claim they were signed before any of the labels understood what was going on, both with the musical trends and with their sound.

“We sort of slipped in and out at just the wrong time,” laughs Eric.

After years of hardcore touring, three records, and headlining packed houses, every major label knows the band Ultimate Fakebook. However, while UFB hasn’t reached the commercial success of the bands they hate, or the critical acclaim of the bands they love, being on a major label allows them the luxury of a good time and food on the table.

Bill: “Kids look at our CD and go ‘woah, you guys are on Epic?’ They never would have guessed it. We’re unloading all our own shit, setting up merch, and doing it the way we do it.”

UFB says that despite the fact their music has tremendous appeal to an older crowd, they’ve focused hard on performing in All Ages shows, because the kids are so loyal and they don’t want to cut them out of the loop.

Eric: “Our website explodes with all these kids saying [in a panicky voice], ‘I can’t come see you, what are you doing?’”

Nick: “Those kids are loyal. They’ll go to five fucking shows in a row and drive around the country for you and buy every last thing you have, and then be on the website talking about you! You can’t turn your back on them! They really care about the music. That’s why they’re there. They’re not there to drink beer and pick up and party. They’re there to see bands.”

The underage crowd, they say, shows more enthusiasm, more interest in the music, they buy more merchandise, and to top it off, they’re (probably) sober—so the band knows these guys aren’t just clapping because they’re drunk. Still, their music is somewhere between the aggressive punk of the kids and the classy Elvis Costello generation. The band has opened for almost everybody: heavy metal acts like Warrant, LA Guns and Dokken, to ska bands to punkers like MXPX and Lucky Boy’s Confusion.

Eric: “We’ve never had a niche. It’s like we’re between all these niches. Between emo and the power pop. Between the 18+ and the all ages. Nobody knows how to categorize us.”

Bill: “It’s one of those things that’s good about us, I like that. But it makes it very hard to market. Every now and then a kid comes up to me and says ‘this is the first show I’ve ever been to’ and that’s awesome. We all really remember our first show, you know? That’s why we’re doing this.”


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