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Accidental Superhero

Driving to Sean Mulholland‘s house in Colorado Springs, I kept looking for your typical, modest neighborhood. But the houses just kept getting bigger. No offense, but most musicians I interview are of little means because of their dedication to their art.

I discovered that Sean, the bassist and producer for Accidental Superhero, was one in real life, holding down a full-time job at Cypress Semiconductor as an engineer, playing, writing, and producing the band, and is a husband and father.

Their latest release, Full Circle, has kept him in the production studio in the basement of his abode, sometimes until three or four in the morning. But as he points out, the creation of Full Circle has been a labor of love, requiring a lot of patience as he strives for perfection.

“But by three in the morning, my creative energy’s been stolen. You’re delirious,” Said Sean. “You come up with the weirdest things, thinking ‘That would be just AWESOME,” but the next morning on his way to work, he pops the CD into his car’s player, and his reaction is, “Nope. It’s not there.” Or worse, after working all night on a song, he calls the guys as they’re playing video games, and after a quick listen, they shut him down too, and then get back to their game. Jonathan, the group’s lead singer and lyricist, thinks this is pretty funny. Sean looks at me and just shakes his head.

But A.S. knows the process by now, having seven years to refine their power pop sound. They are now embarking on the ol’ label shopping, as the music industry takes notice of their talent. Milestones for the band include performing to an audience of 2,500 at the Idaho State Pavilion and well known clubs that regularly host music showcases – Whisky A Go-Go and the House of Blues in L.A. Their last release, “Everyman”, sold 10,000 copies, and over a quarter of a million hits were reported on in mere three months this past summer, putting them at #7 on the download charts, and #2 on the Pop and Rock charts.

The result of all this spawned a label interest tour to New York City this past summer. But after this trip and a number of experiences, they all seemed to believe that getting on with a label may not be such a priority for them at this point. Jonathan says that, “in the last month or so we got in the mind set of playing for a record deal. And I think that’s just a bad place to be,” describing their experiences of meeting record label reps who were interested in their band, “We came back feeling kind of weird.”

Sean comments, “It’s like it wasn’t about the music anymore, it wasn’t even about normal business either.”

Jonathan points out that A.S. has a sense of business and understands the need to make a profit, “But I think the more we do this the more…just musicians we become and the farther away we want to get from some of that other stuff. We realize we’re doing a pretty good job on our own, so…why don’t we just keep doing that?” As they work more in the process of building label relations, they discover the weaknesses and disarray within the music business that has caused the group to shy away from it, “I think the labels are in a flux right now. They don’t know why their losing money. They don’t know what’s going on,” he says.

The whole indie versus major topic came up as always, due mostly to the convergence of a number of labels into the big 5 we know of today. Six or seven years ago when this happened, bands on labels like Geffen got caught in the middle of a custody battle, not knowing where their home was. The scenario that precluded these mergers for many years before was the pressure for bands to sell hundreds of thousands, maybe even a million, of their first release – or it’s bye, bye, bye. And unless they have a stylist, a million dollar music video, and a slot on TRL, those occasions are rare. Jonathan sees majors as a positive channel, only if , “you can have them sign you, love you, and then promote the heck out of you – then great. But odds are your going to be signed and shelved. And that’s just scary.”

Jonathan recalls a conversation Sean had with a pioneer in the industry, Al Cafaro, the former president and CEO of A&M, who had some words of advice, “You’re going to meet a lot of nice A&R guys, who will buddy- buddy you, but watch out, because then they’ll be gone in three months. So take the biggest offer possible.” That’ll work as long as the bands don’t have to give it back. There are so many stories where a band selling a ton of CDs still ends up owing the label money. Once everyone else is paid, including their manager, publicist, tour manager and the expenses involved in touring, booking agency, video producer, music producer, and the chick who styles their hair for their photo shoot – all those people get their cash before the band ever sees a dime. After all is said and spent, if sales don’t exceed expenses, than they’re worse off than when they were selling their own DIY CD at a local venue.

In a certain aspect, that’s where Sean sees them, continuing to build their buzz in a grassroots way. Instead of calling out to the L.A. or New York music scene, they’re more into calling out to their existing and growing fan base they’ve built all on their own, “We’re very much a Colorado band, and we feel it’s going to build from here.” The methodical and persistant effort has reaped many successes, one being their inclusion in movie sound tracks – they got a couple tracks on the trailer for “All The Pretty Horses”. They’ve made this happen just by working at it and “getting exposure. It’s been seven years of doing anything we can to make it happen.”

Jonathan elaborates on this point, “We get blessed by meeting the right people, and if you can get your music in front of somebody that’s decent, then stuff will happen. We are really songwriters, above anything else. That’s where our strength is, where we put all of our energy, and it’s been good to us.”

Listening to “Full Circle”, they’ve moved in a slightly new direction from their foundation of pop melodies, using hints of urban stylings on “Hold On” where some wha, wha chunky guitars tie intricately to a driving force of power chords, backed up with an almost MC vocal style during the interlude. “Don’t Care Anymore,” has a funky, industrial sample that transcends into harmonic reflection as the melody floats over despondent lyrics. Jonathan feels the addition of Chris Willard, or as they affectionately call him, “Cornbread”, brings guitars and backing vocals to the group in addition to some tricks from is past. “The last band he was in was kind of hardcore, kind of a Korn sound with samples.” They had wanted to go in that direction anyway, “but we couldn’t really do it right or genuinely. It’s fun when you play with just musicians, but I think sampling adds another layer where you can add almost anything you want.”

As Chris explains, adding this element has also changed their songwriting methods. Now they have the need to come at if from a different angle, “as opposed to the band sitting around jamming and doing stuff, it’s about sitting down and having that stuff on the table. Instead of trying to fit it in at the end, you use it as more of a foundation.”

Contrary to how they created the last album, where they had a lot of layers and complex progressions, A.S. chose to keep it simple this time around. But having to dump old habits was not as easy as one would expect, “It’s one of the hardest things to do,” Jonathan explains, “I think it’s very easy to write an interesting song with lots of layers. Have you ever listened to a song and it’s got a really cool intro? Then it’s gone. And you think, ‘Why didn’t they just keep rolling with that?’ That’s what we decided to do on this album. Keep it simple, get a nice groove, and not go any further than that.”

That’s not to say A.S. wasn’t’ working those simpler grooves for a while until they got it right, complete with a chorus with strong hooks, melody and flowing song structure, even if they had to leave it for a month and go back to it. According to Sean, “Sweet Castaway is one we labored over for months. We went back and re-laid some drums, and kept going back until we got it to build right. And that’s why it has one of the most interesting song structures on the album.”

The result of their labors, working late nights until early mornings, and sore wrists from playing video games has resulted in achieving the goal they set out for themselves – to catch someone’s ear with something different, something unexpected.

That methodology for sound structure and style worked well for them in New York, getting A.S. positive feedback from those labels that saw them gigging throughout the Big Apple. One stop on their New York tour included the infamous rock club, CBGB’s, where many a rock star from the 70s until now have used the rickety, worn torn venue to launch their career, and some even calling it home. Amazingly enough, the original owner, who is now in his 70s, is still workin’ the door. Sean recalls, “We had some fun in NY. It was very different. You can get two hot dogs and a juice drink for $2.45. And they got it ready in like, seven seconds. That was one of my better memories.”

If you have a chance to see them in the next week at one of the two shows they have scheduled, you’ll get to experience the guys’ dry sense of humor along with their mix of melodyic progression, rock, and some amazing pop vocal energy by Jonathan, who is also the main lyric writer for the group. Taking a sweet and sour approach to his whipping up of creative dishes, he wails his endearing desire for love right before he brings in a bit of biting sarcasm and bitterness on “Miss You Like Crazy” belting out, ” so I thought I’d come up to the bedroom, but i tripped on your straw broom… i thought of nothing else but you, and it looks like he did too,” giving their songs some raw meat to chew on. “I try to write hard stuff, but the stuff that comes out is never like that. I think what we do naturally is a little more tender.”

In the sea of new bands that pop up every day, and new music that continually hits the shelves, Accidental Superhero’s new twist of sampling and urban diversity is a perfect match to their power pop style, “we’re trying to go there and still have melodic chord progressions…stuff that gets under people’s skin,” says Sean.

Accidental Superhero plays Sunday, September 22 at The Gothic with Battery Park, Rainville, and Loose; a FREE show at The Fox in Boulder on September 23 with Tinkers Punishment and Battery Park; and is the first band to play opening night at THE new live venue in downtown Colorado Springs, 32 Bleu on September 27.


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