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Doing Slow Simmer Suits August Burning Just Fine

Pop music: Newport Beach band wants to create a solid base before seeking fame and fortune.

June 28, 1996|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — Some musicians will do practically anything to gain greater exposure. If you're in a hard-core band, tattooing your body and shaving your head is a start. At last year's Independents' Day Festival, O.C.'s Supernovice donned shiny spacesuits to get noticed.

On a larger scale, the recent KROQ Weenie Roast at Irvine Meadows proved that even the spectacle of KISS is alive and well.

The Newport Beach rock band August Burning, however, doesn't put much stock in attention-grabbing tactics. Members of the quintet don't wear fancy duds. They're not pounding on the doors of label executives. Heck, they're not even sure what they're doing beyond next month.

If anything, the group is doing what it can not to become an overnight sensation.

"There's a fine line between [blanketing] the A&R community with [a demo tape] and letting people hear your songs as they more naturally progress," keyboard player Eric Carter offered between sips of decaf at an Irvine espresso bar. "We're not in that big a hurry. We're going to try and come up with a CD by the end of this year."

To that end, Carter and his cohorts--vocalist John List, guitarist James Wagner, bassist Patrick List and drummer John Ray--are writing and recording new material with assistance from Dada producers Adam Weiner and Scott Gordon.

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During the interview, band members made it clear they aren't interested in rushing their deliberate creative pace to satisfy someone else's timetable.

"First, you have to do it on your own, by making the record and selling it yourself," said Wagner, who along with List, has a bachelor's degree in business from Chapman University in Orange. "That's what Hootie [& the Blowfish] and the Dave Matthews Band did before signing with majors."

Added Carter: "Right now, I think, we're focusing and working on the right things--like coming up with good new songs, perfecting our live shows and enjoying our friendships within the band."

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Touring occasionally in support of their 1995 self-financed album, "August Burning," the group, which plays Saturday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana, has landed some noteworthy opening slots for General Public, the Dave Matthews Band and the subdudes.

In its new material, the band has been experimenting with different combinations of sounds, from Carter's dual accordion parts and Wagner's full-throttle slide playing in "Jimmy & His Dog" to the pretty-sounding 12-string guitar in the country-flavored "Drag." The dreamy, atmospheric textures inhabiting the trembling, gospel-tinged "Above This World" bring the group back to its signature sound.

The band members seem most excited, though, over "Seabound Fool," a bluesy, R&B-styled song they've been using to close gigs recently.

"It's definitely a big song, a screamer," said List, 26, with a wide grin. "It builds up to a climax where everyone is smokin' and jammin' hard. It's kind of tough to play another song after this one."

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Its rocking side notwithstanding, the group's strength lies in the emotional delivery of its mature songs, which recall both the Call and Canadian heartland rocker Tom Cochrane. Addressing, however abstractly, darker themes of self-doubt, heartache and betrayal, List frequently seems possessed of demons as he cries out his lyrics.

"I want the audience to experience or feel every emotion, just as I feel them," said List, who cites Peter Gabriel, Midnight Oil and Sting as his biggest influences. "I think it's also equally important to obscure the lines and boundaries [of what's acceptable] and take people out of their fragile shells--even if it's only for 40 minutes a night."

Though frequently thought-provoking, List's abstract lyrics often leave even the most attentive listener searching for a specific meaning. But that's just how he likes it.

"I intend each song to be open-minded and encourage everyone to interpret the meaning for themselves," List said. "I don't like all the videos you see on MTV today because they kill the imagination. I don't want my songs to be scripted out in advance."

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So just what are the band's goals regarding commercial success?

"I want to be [like Journey singer] Steve Perry," joked List, who works by day for a cellular-phone company. "But seriously, I want to sit down with a guitar and these guys and write the perfect song. Or at least strive for it. To make records the way we want to--and get paid for it--that's what Perry did, actually."

The art-above-commerce sentiment was echoed by Carter, who joined the band about eight months ago after stints with Box the Walls, Choir Invisible and a Drop in the Gray, which released a CD on Geffen Records.

"[Making] money has become an end to itself, rather than a means to an end, and I think that's sad," said the classically trained pianist who's also a substitute teacher in Los Angeles.

"I'm happy to have the ability to get up in the morning, go to the piano and create. When we leave this planet, what I want to leave behind is music that is enduring and timeless."

* August Burning performs with the Buddah Heads and Good Rockin' Daddy on Saturday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $10-12. (714) 957-0600.

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