Adam Prince wants to wait a few moments before heading over to Mayslack's with the rest of his band. He's just given money to the Knightcap's jukebox in exchange for a bout of prepubescent nostalgia, and he doesn't want his pocket change to go to waste. The outside sounds of thunder and rain fill a room that's more Chuck E. Cheese for adults than typical Nordeast joint. Guitarist/vocalist Adam and his Story of the Sea bandmates—drummer and brother Ian Prince, and bassist John McEwen—become silent in anticipation.
Suddenly, the rainfall gives way to a running keyboard instead of a screaming guitar, and there's a collective groan. Adam appears crestfallen. "Ahhhuuhhh!" he growls, as he throws his arms up in defeat. He's given up all chances of hearing Skid Row's suburban-juvie, dudes-rattling-chain-link-fences anthem, "Youth Gone Wild" tonight.
Skid Row-less and stuck in the first quarter of 2006, Adam begrudgingly heads across the street to Mayslack's with his band. In the bar's darkened and obscenely upright booths, everyone is forced to either lean into the table like they're whispering deep secrets or assume the posture of a freakish Pilates guru. The bandmates choose the former as they drink Blue Moon pints that come with orange slices the size of cartoon piano-key smiles.
That's the expression that's been glued to my face since I first heard SOTS' debut album, Everything Is Fine, which comes out later this summer. Their songs, live and on record, make you feel that way—like you did at whatever time in your life when music made you feel part of something bigger. When it was easy to drive past your house, onto the highway, and through some shadowy neighborhood you'd never seen, just so you could listen to your favorite songs on repeat. And you'd keep going, miles after the gas-empty light came on and started to look like an annoying vision spot you couldn't shake, and you nearly ended up stuck in the middle of nowhere, where everything closes at twilight.
Getting lost is easy to do with SOTS: "Future Subterfuge" has these dreamy, distorted guitars, while "Stylish and Romantic" escalates into a colossal and sweet chorus that's layered with the most creepy/gorgeous-sounding ghost-monster ever to belch a "hallelujah."
Part shoegazer, part sweet pop, part D.C. rock circa Jawbox, the band's songs were borne from loneliness and loner-ness. Adam says he spends most of his waking hours playing guitar, obsessing over sounds. He's constantly attached to a mini-tape recorder that holds snippets of his ideas, melodies, and lyrics. This solitary streak contrasts with the band members' close ties to the local scene. Ian Prince, one of the über-talented local drummers about town, plays with Kid Dakota and was a member of the Dames and Houston. His brother Adam was a member of Manplanet, while John spent time in Align.
SOTS turned to this local pedigree when it came to putting together Everything Is Fine. Engineers/producers Darren Jackson (Kid Dakota, the Hopefuls), Erik Appelwick (Vicious Vicious, the Hopefuls), and Paul Malinowksi (Shiner) make the modest three-piece into something gigantic. Live, the band already sounds at least three times its size.
Back at Mayslack's, Adam, Ian, and John are musing on everything from the art of quitting smoking to the television shows you love to hate (and hate to love) to life in the MySpace age, where you can web stalk someone before you've even met in person. ("Are you disappointed that I have skin?" Adam jokes, since his MySpace pic is a body diagram.) And yet, after many orange-infused beers, the conversation somehow turns from Skid Row's yellow-maned frontman, Sebastian Bach (he's on a network show, The Gilmore Girls, you know!) to Wheel of Fortune. Everyone in the band, it seems, is an avid Wheel watcher.
"It's a game show that's not at all about competition. They all clap for each other," John says. Ian agrees: "That's totally how we'd be if we were on there."
That's the thing about Story of the Sea: They're unpretentious and earnest about almost everything—music, TV, their game-show love, their bond with one another.
The band only has a few local gigs left before they head out on tour. With girlfriends and wives and mortgages to pay, they don't plan on staying out for more than a few weeks at a time. But they already have big plans for their West Coast swing: They want to try to get on The Price Is Right. "We can make matching T-shirts," Ian says.
Perhaps the showcase showdown will cough up a few nights in a respectable hotel. "We don't want to go back to sleeping on the floor, but that's just the way it is with touring," John says. "We just gotta do it. Unless, like with Zack Attack, the producer runs by the door and wants to sign us."
Adam and Ian exchange confused glances. "You guys don't watch Saved by the Bell, but I've seen it a million times," John says. He explains that a producer heard Saved by the Bell's Zack Attack after jogging by the band's practice space and singed the band on the spot. "We just need to practice in a prominent neighborhood," he says.
The band wonders aloud whether the new Jimmy John's next to the band's practice space could be that decisive agent of gentrification. "That's it, guys," John says, smacking that table. "We're home-free!"