THE FIRST QUESTION people ask the members of Nevershine is usually the same these days: How did these local boys make it onto the KFMA playlist? The manner in which it's asked varies -- everything from how much it cost them to who they might know on the inside -- but any way you look at it, interest in the band's success has been pervasive in the local rumor mill. While some bands in their enviable position might take the question as a stab at their worthiness, the members themselves seem just as surprised about the situation as anyone -- especially since the version of "Breathe Again" that the station has had in heavy rotation comes from a "rough, four-song demo we were going to use to try to get gigs in the bars," singer/guitarist Chris Sahlin explains. "We had just finished recording it, and got a couple copies out of the studio." Manager Dave Messerschmidt dropped one off at the station, where KFMA DJ Matt Spry discovered it.
"(Spry) called me two hours later," says Sahlin. "I thought I'd won a contest or something. But he said, 'Some guy named Dave just dropped off your disc, and it's incredible. It's ready to go on the air.' He said he was going to play it on the Test Department the next weekend. A couple days later I got home from work, and my girlfriend said, 'You guys just won Fresh Meat!'
"We recorded (that demo) in two nights. We never expected anything," he says.
The band's thirty-something members (Sahlin, and singer/guitarist Darren Kerr, bassist Brian Anderson and drummer Tony Bernard) have toiled away in countless bands over the years with scant results. Sahlin, a songwriter languishing in obscurity, is the relative outsider. Meanwhile, Kerr was frontman for Ockham's Razor; Bernard drummed for several bands, most notably college party faves Pet the Fish; and Anderson, during a stint in L.A., played bass in Kicking Harold -- a band signed to MCA and dropped unceremoniously not long after. As such, he's more than familiar with the "Here's your per diem, now get in the van" aspect of "making it" onto a major label. In other words, the group is wary of the whole process, especially since they're pretty well invested in their day jobs: Anderson owns a graphic design company and Bernard owns Sticks 'N' Strings music store, for instance. Sahlin is a graphic designer, and Kerr does turf-grass research.
They're too prudent to think they're headed for fame, even though, under pressure from a reporter, they'll enthuse over the breaks that've come their way so far. Take a trio of choice gigs in Phoenix, where they recently opened for Dramarama, played on the side stage at the Journey/Foreigner show at Desert Sky Pavilion ("It was a good exposure show," Sahlin says), and were semi-finalists in the Jim Beam Back Room Band Contest. They've also seen ink in the prestigious industry rag R&R; and are enjoying the aforementioned air time on local KFMA and Phoenix stations KUPD and "The Edge." They won The Weekly's Tucson Area Music Awards readers' poll for Best Alternative Rock Band in May 1999, and they've been garnering interest from a bundle of well-established labels.
So, healthy reluctance aside, they're excited. And it's downright refreshing to hear them talk about it, as each discusses how this gang of four -- despite enormous differences in personality and musical influence -- hit it off from the start in a way that none had experienced in any previous band. As Bernard states, "We've had a lot of really good luck."
"It's been really pleasant surprises all the way," Sahlin adds.
And Anderson concludes, "This band has just clicked...we have the right chemistry. It's weird."
In truth, it's not that weird. Anderson and Bernard provide a tight, rock-sturdy skeleton for the dual singers/guitarists (Kerr plays lead, Sahlin rhythm); and their songwriting, both individual and collaborative, knows its way around a hook. Sahlin tends toward the dramatic dynamics that show off his crooning voice (as in "Breathe Again"), while Kerr's slightly raspy vocals perfectly suit the more direct, pop-punk tunes like "Lucky." But the real magic happens in the chorus, which is always ultra-catchy and often delivered with Sahlin and Kerr joining voices in an amazing, salty-sweet harmony.
Though they do what they do well, they'd be the first to admit it's not incredibly unique. (Asked what kind of music they play, they sheepishly agree on the generic answer, "Pop-alternative, whatever that is.") The airwaves are loaded with similar sounding bands (which, frankly, can only be advantageous commercially). But Nevershine is just dead-on in writing infectious pop songs, which is all pop audiences ask. After only seven months they've literally got their act together -- a radio-friendly package ready to market.
As such, they're anxious to get into the studio to record a proper album -- a plan in the works for the next month or so -- with their eye on an October release date. With a repertoire of more than 25 songs ready to go, the hardest part may be deciding which tunes to put on the disc. They've already got about 500 self-burned demo CDs in circulation from their gigs.
The bandmates credit much of their good luck to their "fifth member": manager and brother-in-law (to Bernard) Messerschmidt, who's doggedly promoted the band, free of charge, since being dragged to their first gig last winter by his wife. He says he simply believed that strongly in their potential.
To Messerschmidt, a salesman by day who admits to knowing almost nothing about the music business, "A good product sells itself."