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Upward Mobility : O.C.'s Mind Over Four No Longer Sleeps on Floor

August 09, 1993|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's no mere figure of speech to say that Mind Over Four has learned the music business from the ground up.

On their first tour of Europe four years ago, singer Spike Xavier, guitarist Mike Jensen, drummer Mark Fullerton and bassist Rich Castillo wound up sleeping on the bare earth when they couldn't find more inviting accommodations in abandoned slums. During one memorable, if less-than-pleasant stopover, they spent three straight days camping under the stars on a mouse-infested patch of grass in Luxembourg.

The band dates back to 1982, when Xavier, a hard-core punker who also liked funk and rap, and Jensen, a heavy-metal fan with an ear for jazz and John Lennon, met while working at a Del Taco in Fullerton.

In those days on the Orange County rock scene, short-haired punks like Xavier and long-maned metalheads like Jensen were supposed to be sworn enemies. But the two hit it off, blended their tastes, and got an early jump on today's common hard-rock blend of punk and metal.

There was no ready-made audience for Mind Over Four's hybrid approach, which also incorporates elements of progressive rock in the band's use of frequent shifts in loudness and tempo--all in support of darkly philosophical lyrics that the leather-lunged Xavier delivers in a big, operatic voice. Starting in 1988, Mind Over Four began jumping in vans and touring on the cheap in search of an audience.

Lately, things have begun to improve, Xavier said over the phone recently from Dallas, a stop on a tour that will bring Mind Over Four and its two touring partners, the Buck Pets and Season to Risk, to Bogart's on Thursday.

After years of touring with no budget, Mind Over Four, whose members are in their late 20s and early 30s, can appreciate life on a low budget. Thanks to a modest infusion of cash from its new record company, Restless, the band members have been able to sleep in motel rooms rather than in their touring van, and to eat decent meals along the way.

"We're touring on what I would consider the minimum level to seriously do long-term, professional rock tours," Xavier said.

"It makes a big difference in the performances. When you're a vocalist, just screaming like a banshee night after night, (touring without a bed to sleep in) really catches up to your voice. It really needs the proper rest and the proper food," he said.

To further safeguard his voice, the tobacco-hating Xavier has issued a new edict to his three puffing band mates: no smoking in the van or in his motel room.

Xavier, 30, sounds like a true student of the music business as he speaks about the logistics of touring, the marketing of bands, and the stylistic trends sweeping rock.

He attributes his acumen to "just straight necessity. Nobody was going to do it for us, so we do it ourselves. Mike does all the bookkeeping, I do all the advancing of shows and booking hotels, Mark does all the routing and most of the driving, and Rich sells the T-shirts. It's a touring machine."

On this tour, its first since 1991, Mind Over Four has gotten to see how rock's high-budget elite live as it crossed paths at several junctures with the Lollapalooza festival.

When Mind Over Four played a club in Des Moines, Lollapalooza was also in town, and members of Alice in Chains, Babes in Toyland, Tool and Fishbone turned up to join Mind Over Four in playing a Black Sabbath oldie--an effort that Xavier jokingly describes as "the worst version of 'War Pigs' that's ever been done."

One of Xavier's theories is that Lollapalooza, which has been credited for fueling the boom in alternative rock, hasn't been all gravy for bands lower on the ladder.

"In a recession, everywhere we drive there are things closed down and boarded up, and kids don't have that much money," he said. Consequently, Xavier believes, fans who shell out $30 for Lollapalooza tickets can't always come up with an additional $6 or $8 to see lower-profile club-level bands they might otherwise have checked out.

"This isn't sour grapes, but just an observation," he said. "I can't wait till we're in the Lollapalooza."

That would seem a long way off for a band that--according to Xavier's accounting--has spent just $17,000 to record its entire discography of five albums, including the recently released "Half Way Down."

In 1990, Mind Over Four's fourth album, "The Goddess," won the band a good deal of critical acclaim that placed it as a comer in the world of alternative hard rock. Subsequent negotiations with major labels failed to pan out, and the band wound up with Restless, the fourth small, independent record company for which it has recorded.

Because of delays caused by business wrangling, "we lost the momentum we had coming out of the Goddess tour," Xavier acknowledges. But he is still upbeat about the band's prospects as the boom in alternative hard rock reaches more fans who might key in to Mind Over Four.

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