Bandwidth and Elbow Grease

Boys Like Girls' 'overnight success' happened thanks to a lot of hard work

Internet darlings Boys Like Girls play radio-friendly pop, mostly about boys and girls in varying stages of love and loss--an evergreen topic if there ever was one.

Martin Johnson's soaring, sky-clear tenor croons irresistible lyrics above propulsive arrangements with the intensity of hormone-and adrenaline-fired artillery. Check out "Thunder": "Your voice was the soundtrack of my summer / Your eyes are the brightest of all the colors." On "Heels Over Head," Johnson muses over the post-relationship clutter: "I've got your little brown shirt in my bottom drawer, baby / and your little white socks in my top drawer."

What drives the band's music, though, is less romance than exhilaration--the sheer, uncontainable energy of youthfulness. Songs like "The Great Escape" and "Hero/Heroine" express it best; they're tailor-made for driving no place in particular, pounding on the dashboard and singing along at the top of your lungs. And the kids love it; "The Great Escape" hit the No. 1 slot on MTV's TRL nine times in its 40 days on the chart.

To all appearances, Boys Like Girls is the one-in-a-million shot every band dreams of--a miracle of the Internet age. In 2005, they put up a MySpace page and posted a couple of tracks on PureVolume. A few influential blogs gave the tracks a push, and the resulting listens landed the band a No. 1 slot on PureVolume's opening page. Not only did that lead to many more plays; it scored them a booking contract, a production offer, a South by Southwest showcase in 2006, a recording contract with Columbia Records and a grinding, but rewarding, tour schedule. Their eponymous debut album went gold, and the single "The Great Escape" went platinum. Their MySpace page has logged more than 23 million plays.

It turns out, though, that their success didn't quite happen overnight, and it had less to do with Internet buzz than old-fashioned elbow grease.

Lead guitarist Paul DiGiovanni says: "We work our asses off. We had been touring nonstop for almost two years before then. We did the whole thing with sleeping in the van, breaking down on the road, playing small clubs for four people, all of that."

They even played a few dates at Skrappy's early on. DiGiovanni now refers to the Skrappy's shows as "train wrecks," but they recouped their dignity and made new Tucson fans during opening slots at the Rialto in 2005 and 2006.

The band also knows how to play. DiGiovanni got his first guitar at age 9, took guitar lessons off and on for five years and played in his high school jazz band. He's one of two band members accepted into Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music, an opportunity they've chosen to bypass in order to live the rock 'n' roll dream.

"We shook every hand; we answered every question," DiGiovanni says. "We never missed a show, except a couple of times when the van broke down. We never turned down an opportunity for an interview or a showcase or a radio show. We responded to every comment or question on the Web site. We talked to fans for hours after shows and thanked them for coming out, and urged them to tell their friends."

Now on tour opening for Avril Lavigne, they still make time for occasional acoustic shows and CD signings, as well as their own concerts, like their date next Thursday at the Rialto.

Constant touring has taken a toll on the band's ability to participate on all of their Web sites; DiGiovanni hasn't been able to update his tour blog since January. Still, both the official site and the fan-club site remain models of interactive community. Besides the basics you might expect, the sites are fan-driven. Fans are encouraged to upload photos from shows, keep up-to-date via text messages, and participate in polls, contests and ticket pre-sales.

Such concentrated fan focus has rewarded the band abundantly, DiGiovanni says. "We started out with mostly 16- to 18-year-olds, because they're the most Internet savvy. Now we have fans as young as 8 years old, and we have parents write us that they play our record all the time in the car with their kids and really enjoy the music."

It's likely those parents listen even when their kids aren't in the car. They may even pound on the dashboard and sing along at the top of their lungs, recalling happily that time in their lives when nothing mattered but being young, and feeling exhilarated about it.

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