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KNOT's Landing at Roxy : Teen-agers play at a revered Sunset Boulevard club after winning a countywide battle of the bands, and the record industry starts to notice.

August 07, 1992|MICHAEL SZYMANSKI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Michael Szymanski writes regularly for The Times

The band was 45 minutes late for its warm-up.

Concert promoter Mike Maize tapped his fingers impatiently and said: "It's not like them. They're usually more punctual."

He wasn't talking about some prima donna rock 'n' roll band. He wasn't even talking about a band with much of a track record. He was talking about four high school kids from the San Fernando Valley and their debut performance on the Sunset Strip.

The four teen-agers in the band KNOT eventually waltzed into the Roxy, seemingly very cool on the eve of the biggest night of their very short musical careers. When asked why they were late for the rehearsal, they pointed at each other accusingly.

The band has been together less than a year and already has developed its style of music, which members call "three-ring mosh"--somewhere between the strange funk sound of Primus and the traditional heavy metal of Black Sabbath.

KNOT consists of singer Jason Peck, 17, and his friend since childhood, Justin Farar, 17, both of whom will be seniors at Calabasas High School; Darren Staley, 15, the bass player, who will be a junior at Highland Hall in Northridge, and guitarist Dan Bartlett, 18, who just graduated from Taft High in Woodland Hills and will soon be studying music and oceanography at Pierce College.

They've already developed a following, and record industry types are beginning to take notice. KNOT beat out 30 high school bands from Los Angeles County in June to win a spot performing at the Roxy, one of Hollywood's hottest rock clubs.

One of the judges, Benet Garcia, a former Capitol Records talent scout now working for American Enterprises Inc., said: "The band the KNOT really showed raw talent and potential for national recognition. For their age, their musical energy was extraordinary."

"Originally, we had to cut this band from the contest because the show was running too long," said Bruce Burman of RockVision Concert Productions, which selected the finalists from taped performances for the Battle of the High School Bands.

"We were devastated that we were cut from the contest because we had a feeling that it was going to be our big break," said Farar, the band's self-appointed manager.

But because of the Los Angeles riots the contest was moved from Culver City to the Electric Ballroom in North Hollywood, where promoters were allowed to extend the time of the concert. KNOT was allowed to perform, and it won the contest--beating out a heavily favored rival high school punk band from the San Gabriel Valley.

So, on July 11, the four young musicians arrived late and rehearsed one song for their opening show. It would normally cost the band $1,100 for a Saturday night showcase performance at the Roxy. They're playing on the same stage that has featured some of the biggest names in rock.

"This is a high school band that not too long ago was playing in their garage and at small parties that's now playing at the No. 1 concert hall in the country. It's a chance of a lifetime for them," said Stewart Day, media relations specialist for RockVision. "It's a nice way to launch a band, but they will be regarded by the audience like any other band."

Day may be overstating the Roxy's importance a bit, but the club has helped launch the careers of such rock luminaries as Billy Joel, the Pointer Sisters, Chuck Berry and Bruce Springsteen.

Before the four went on, they relaxed in a dressing room, a wood-paneled room with mirrors on every wall and a beat-up sofa. No one seemed the least bit jittery.

"The idea is to have fun out there," said the frizzy-haired Staley, wearing a "Clockwork Orange" T-shirt and pants with one leg cut short and the other long.

"The idea is to go crazy," added Bartlett, with an unshaven face, jeans riddled with holes, and hair past his shoulders.

"We want to take this as far as we can go with it," said Farar, who started playing with Peck about three years ago, just after his first lesson on the drums. KNOT was formed within the past year.

"And we expect that to be far," added Peck, the puckish, self-assured lead singer whose short-cropped hair was bunched in five ponytail tufts that stood on end. "We were once real bad. We've improved a lot."

The four band members came up with the name together in a brainstorming session, much the same way another Fab Four came up with the name of Beatles. They chose KNOT, although Farar and Bartlett had their doubts, but then Staley came up with an abbreviation for the name--Kapo's New Order Terrorists, named for a prisoner who turned against his fellow prisoners.

"The point is to fight violence with violence," Staley said.

And the underlying message of their original songs is: "Don't depend on other people to solve your problems, solve them yourself, whether it's personal problems, school, whatever," Peck said.

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