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Courtesy of a Last-Minute Favor and 'Star Wars,' a Band Was Born

July 05, 1996|MIKE BOEHM

Two years ago, Jenni McElrath was a friend in need. She had gotten a call to play the annual Beach Fest in Long Beach, a high-profile charity gig. But, unbeknown to booker Steve Zepeda, McElrath's band at the time, Honey Dust, had just imploded. Rather than turn down his offer, she kept the band's breakup to herself and turned to her buddy, Beth Carmellini.

A friend indeed, Carmellini not only agreed to join McElrath for the show, but brought along an insta-band: drummer Adam Zuckert and bassist Greg "Hedge" Jones, with whom Carmellini was then woodshedding under the name Garbage Hearts.

After some hasty rehearsals and songwriting sessions, the ad hoc band, playing as Honey Dust, was well-enough received that the foursome decided to keep going. But there was one problem.

"I was fretting about the name," Carmellini recalled.

"The name was way too lame," McElrath agreed.

The solution came a few months later, when McElrath rented "Star Wars." Luke Skywalker, who fought under the code name Red Five in the movie's climactic battle, had barely finished blowing up the Imperial Death Star before McElrath was on the phone to Carmellini, excitedly proposing a new band name.

None of McElrath's or Carmellini's previous bands had received any attention from the music industry as they plied the club circuit in Orange County and Long Beach. Red Five's agenda was also modest at first, recalled Zuckert, who got his early experience in the Orange County hard-core punk band Final Conflict.

"Doing shows was the only thing going through our heads. It wasn't until the labels approached us that we said, 'Wow, something might happen.' "

Interscope Records signed the band after it had started to build a club following in Los Angeles. After just a year together, Red Five recorded its debut album, "Flash," then faced its first lineup change: Hedge's other band, Mr. Mirainga, had also landed a major-label deal.

The other Red Five members always knew that they were "sort of the mistress band for Hedge," as McElrath put it, and that he would eventually choose Mr. Mirainga, in which he plays a prominent songwriting role.

Mitchell Townsend arrived as Hedge's replacement on a recommendation from a mutual musical friend. After growing up in Washington, D.C., Townsend had moved to Orange County, hoping to connect with the Southern California rock scene. Red Five recruited him from the Orange County band Pull. Townsend, who lives in Costa Mesa, is the last Red Five member still living in Orange County. Zuckert, who grew up in Tustin, lives in Redondo Beach, while McElrath and Carmellini have moved to Hollywood to be closer to their record label and the rock 'n' roll night life.

About a year elapsed between the completion of "Flash" and its release June 18. Red Five stayed busy with periodic low-budget touring, including a series of shows on last year's Warped Tour. This year, the band will be on the entire five-week tour, which has turned into a major summer attraction on the alternative-rock circuit.

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