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Sound, No Fury When Falkner Works Alone

Pop music: After stints in such bands as Jellyfish, the pure popster finds he's happiest as a solo performer. He plays Linda's Doll Hut in Anaheim tonight.

May 30, 1997|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Working alone has been a liberating experience for pop musician Jason Falkner.

"Author Unknown," his solo debut on Elektra Records, is virtually a one-man show: He wrote and sang every song, played nearly all of the instruments and served as producer.

Yet that freedom briefly gave way to fear one night last year during his tour as Suzanne Vega's opening act. Everything went smoothly until the sound snafu in a Chicago theater.

On the last song of his set, "Before My Heart Attacks," Falkner was performing a TV mix, a tape of the song without the lead vocals. "I explained to the crowd that I'm not lip-syncing, that I'm singing live but couldn't afford to bring an orchestra on the road," he recalled by phone from his Hollywood home.

"Well, about halfway through the number, the music just stopped. . . . I mean, dead. There's like 1,500 people, all being very attentive, and suddenly there's no accompaniment. All I could think of saying was, 'Who let John Wilkes Booth in here?,' and I fell over and rolled around on the stage. I guess I won over the crowd with that."

The soundman, it turned out, had inexplicably hit the STOP button on the tape player.

Despite that heart-racing moment, Falkner, who performs tonight at Linda's Doll Hut in Anaheim, has no regrets about becoming self-contained. Brief stints in the groups Three O'Clock, Jellyfish and the Grays had been unfulfilling.

"All [Jellyfish] really wanted was just a guitar player," making it hard to contribute as a songwriter, he said. "I had to fight to get my two cents in. And the Grays didn't work out for similar reasons. We basically had too many generals and no soldiers."

Through these other bands Falkner discovered that he's happiest on his own. "It's incredibly satisfying," he said. "I've found it's the only way to get my own soul and voice onto tape."

Falkner delivers a catchy concoction of pop, rock and psychedelia on "Author Unknown," which has sold 6,000 copies since its release last August, according to Soundscan. Laced with stream-of-consciousness lyrics, the songs range from the simple and propulsive ("I Live," "Miracle Medicine" and "Follow Me") to slower-paced, multilayered arrangements ("Don't Show Me Heaven," ". . . Nobody Knows" and "Untitled").

*

Falkner's intricate yet hummable melodies draw from the Beatles, Beach Boys and Love as well as such '80s-era popsters as the B-52s, the Church and the Buzzcocks. The goal, Falkner said, is to use these influences as a springboard for developing his own sound and style.

"Some people have this idea that all pop music is retro," he said. "Your average person hears a Matthew Sweet record, and says, 'That sounds like the Beatles.' But if you listen closer, you hear more than that. There are still some avenues that haven't been charted in pop, and I plan to mine them for every piece of gold they have in them."

The '90s have seen Nirvana and Pearl Jam turn "grunge" into a household word, punk crack into the realm of big business with the breakthroughs of Green Day and the Offspring, and alternative rock become a lot like arena rock. Ska and ska-punk bands like Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish and Save Ferris are being gobbled up by major labels searching for the next No Doubt.

So where does that leave hook-filled, harmony-rich pop?

"I don't see pop, in the classic sense, ever coming back to a place of mass popularity," Falkner said. "It just isn't trendy or cool enough. It's like this whole ska revolution. . . . it's the latest rage but, I'm sorry, none of these bands can hold a candle to the Specials.

"Pop music isn't that fashionable. I believe it's a thinking-man's music built around good songs with thoughtful lyrics and creative arrangements. I don't mean to be condescending, but I guess that's why your average 13-year-old is into Save Ferris and not me."

* Jason Falkner plays tonight at Linda's Doll Hut, 107 S. Adams St., Anaheim. 9 p.m. $6. (714) 533-1286.

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