The Sounds of Silence

Why the Bay Area has stopped producing big-time rock bands

The clubs have become more conservative as well. "The Hemlock is a perfect example," says Bonet. "It was really poised to be a great new space and do something with the intimacy of it, but they went straight for the 'hip new place.' There's no songwriters' night; there's no showcase night; there's "Fuck you if you're a new band.'"

Even successful musicians are part of the problem. For example, you won't find S.F.'s Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind hosting a songwriters' night anytime soon. He roasted the local scene in a piece for 7x7 magazine earlier this year and is known for his "Fuck you, Frisco" attitude -- which, Bonet says, groups have to have to succeed. "The bands who make it big are the bands that don't give a shit about the Bay Area."

Take Trapt, for instance. The quartet formed in 1997 while in high school in Los Gatos; its members dropped out of college to move to L.A. at the beginning of last year. "That's where the labels are and that's where the producers are," Trapt singer Chris Brown says. "In the Bay Area, it's like you have to know somebody or your manager has to know somebody."

Apparently, the proximity helped, as Trapt was the subject of a major-label feeding frenzy in the summer of 2001. Warner Bros. scout Damon Booth recalls via e-mail what drew him to Trapt: "The lyrical and melodic hooks reminded me of what I loved about rock bands like Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins growing up: fight songs about the mediocrity of mainstream society. In Trapt's case, sprinkled in with powerful break-up and love songs also."

Is Trapt's music powerful? Try whiny and loud, and not in a good way. When asked about the band's influences, Brown reels off the usual suspects -- new-metal acts like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Dredg (names that make English teachers cringe), as well as classic-rock icons Genesis and Pink Floyd. "Like, Phil Collins is a big inspiration to me," he says, apparently without irony.

One thing that sets Trapt apart from its peers is that Brown sings rather than rapping or screaming. He delivers his lyrics in a pinched fashion, sounding like Journey's Steve Perry with a bad case of constipation. At times his voice trembles as if he were in a boy band -- a similarity made clearer by his cute bob haircut and his onstage hand gesturing, which seem planned to appeal to the 12-year-old girls andboys in MTV's Total Request Liveaudience. Trapt's true genius may be in playing both sides against the middle: Its persona is one of non-threateninganger.

As for Trapt's lyrics, they're abominable -- banal riffs on the horrors of adolescence. (Take this line from "These Walls," I beg you: "Please help me because I'm breaking down/ This picture's frozen and I can't get out of here.")

Am I too old to appreciate Trapt? To find out, I checked out the band's all-ages show at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma. Opening for Florida's Nonpoint, Trapt didn't exactly take the crowd by storm. About 200 people watched politely, giving a wide berth to one of the least inspired mosh pits I've ever seen. After the set, I queried some of the assembled throng.

"I didn't like it," said John Nelson, who appeared to droop noticeably from the weight of his hair gel. "It was too corporate."

Elder statesman Mike Herringshaw agreed, saying he would "definitely not" buy Trapt's record. "I prefer a little more realism."

Young Tyrone Rivera liked the group well enough, but said, "I didn't like the drummer. He was too like Aerosmith -- too experimental."

I headed off, relieved that maybe Trapt -- with its big-label bucks, crossover game plan, and cuddly frontman -- isn't the Bay Area's musical messiah after all. Inside my car, I turned on the radio, searching for something experimental -- you know, like Aerosmith.
-- By Dan Strachota

This Band Should Be Your Life

Scarfing chips and salsa at Juan's Place, a budget-priced Mexican joint in Berkeley, guitarist Andy Asp and vocalist Christopher Appelgren of the Pattern turn heads when they drop soundbites like "our manager" and "video on MTV2." But when curious diners look up, they usually frown in nonrecognition and hastily return to their food. That's how it is for the Pattern -- a band whose sound is turning heads both overseas and within the music industry, even if it hasn't earned much distinction in the U.S. or its Bay Area home.

"I heard one A&R person at Columbia call our music 'small-scale rock,' meaning I guess that we sell records on a small scale," says Asp, whose group is often lumped in with other rock-revivalist acts like the Strokes, the White Stripes, and the Hives. "She said, 'Small-scale rock will be the new ska.'"

This prediction worries the guys a bit, especially because the Pattern has one of the best chances in the Bay Area to overcome the region's recent mainstream-success drought. All the pieces seem in place: The Pattern's sound is currently in demand, it has valuable industry connections, and it's developed a following among international taste-makers. But these advantages are the very qualities that may prevent the talented quintet from making it big, particularly if the rock wave goes the way of the short-lived '90s ska movement, in which a slew of similar-sounding bands rose from the underground, gained hype-heavy support from the industry, and then vanished into obscurity.

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