The Sounds of Silence

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

"The timing couldn't be more right when it comes to what's big in music right now," says Jordan Kurland, the Pattern's manager and the producer of the high-profile S.F. Noise Pop festival. "But at the same time, there's a lot of skepticism in the industry about the rock revival. I don't think radio has room for 10 more artists like this."

As Kurland points out, the Pattern was playing its punk-influenced, British Invasion-inspired rock long before the members ever heard a Strokes song. Also, unlike other bands in its genre, the Pattern boasts true punk roots, its members having spent time in the PeeChees, Nuisance, and the Cuts. Though the Pattern -- Asp, Appelgren, guitarist Jason Rosenberg, bassist Carson Bell, and drummer Scott Batiste -- originally intended to play only barbecues and parties, the group quickly outgrew those venues, soon emerging as the Bay Area's major "new garage" delegate.

Unfortunately, according to Michael Aczon, a local entertainment lawyer and professor in San Francisco State University's Music/Recording Industry Program, the band's unique standing in the local indie scene may not be enough to guarantee greater success. (In fact, when the Pattern was featured on Live 105's recent local bands weekend, neither it nor any of the other chosen artists garnered enough listener votes to get into regular rotation.) "It's hard to break a band with radio now," says Aczon. "If bands have to do it another way, then they have to gig. But the same company that owns all of the Clear Channel radio stations is also the gatekeeper to gigging. So what bands have to do is go out and find their audience."

As Aczon points out, finding an audience often means leaving the local arena and breaking out first in other parts of the country -- or even the globe. "It's like the Bay Area doesn't embrace you until you're big somewhere else," he says.

That's just what the Pattern did in the United Kingdom, though achieving popularity there was something of an accident. Before Kurland even became the band's manager, he passed a burned CD of some Pattern songs along to Dick Green, the former co-owner of Creation Records, the label that thrust Oasis upon the unsuspecting world. Green's new imprint, Wichita Recordings, liked the Pattern so much that it released the group's first EP and helped book two U.K. tours.

But while the Pattern regularly sells out 600-person venues in England, the band's recent S.F. release party for its first full-length, Real Feelness, drew about 250 people to Cafe Du Nord. The fact remains that more people in anonymous English cities care about the Pattern than in the act's hometown.

Appelgren isn't too concerned. "It seems like a lot of bands are taking this approach that you need to go make yourself an English phenomenon, then come back to America with all this credibility," he says. "That works more for the music industry than it does for fans. You're able to get more attention from the industry, which gives you the opportunity to reach people."

The Pattern has certainly attracted the attention of the right people, but like its popularity in Britain, its industry connections arose more from circumstance than from a grand plan. The group didn't pursue Kurland -- it simply sent him a CD-R in the hopes of playing Noise Pop (the band was accepted for the festival both in 2001 and this year). And though its new album came out in England on Wichita, Real Feelness was released in the U.S. on Lookout!, the prominent indie label that Appelgren runs and where Asp works as bookkeeper, and which launched the careers of Green Day, the Donnas, and the Mr. T Experience.

The Pattern's newest connection is Shepard Fairey, the poster artist responsible for the "Andre the Giant Has a Posse" phenomenon. A fan of the band, Fairey proposed the Pattern's "Fragile Awareness" single be his first music video, and the act handed Fairey the reins. The Pattern plans to deliver the resulting product -- startlingly professional, with hip, edgy animation -- to every music-video venue and see what happens. (An older, more amateurish video for the song has already gotten rotation on MTV2 in the U.K.)

"We don't know if the video will be the thing that does something for us," Appelgren says. "In a perfect world, the fact that it looks really good might be enough to get attention. But we're realists about everything."

Perhaps the Fairey video will be the piece of Pattern outreach that finally gets the attention of U.S. audiences. Or it could be the group's British press and industry connections that ultimately hand it the key to success. At a moment when the covers of both Rolling Stone and Spin are trumpeting the return of rock, the time is right for the Pattern.

On the other hand, if the supply of "small-scale rock" bands outstrips the demand, the Pattern's indie ethos and punk background, while admirable, could ultimately make it too small-scale. Though the "Fragile Awareness" single seethes catchy pop energy, most Pattern songs (and live shows) project a hard edge that may alienate the band from MTV and radio. Recent breakout rockers the Hives, the Strokes, and the Vines all gained fame with major-label backing, and the Pattern's devotion to Lookout! could leave audiences just as unconcerned about the band as Asp and Appelgren's fellow diners at Juan's Place.

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