From left: Marc Koch, Mike Buxbaum, Kris Renfro, Carly Baker, Michael Sherman and Xander Bourgeois. Photo by Kevin Longwell.
A City Serene know they'll be talking about it for the rest of their careers. Sure, they're one of the hottest bands in San Diego, having reached next-big-thing status with their mix of metal, screamo and hardcore, complete with a diminutive female vocalist toting a hell of a set of pipes. And, yeah, they've been lauded by Alternative Press, had a track reach No. 1 on music networking site PureVolume and recently scored a clothing deal with the popular Atticus line, all without a record deal.
Still, sitting in the offices of the Epicentre on Friday, March 5, a few hours before they'll debut their first music video and play a short acoustic set, the band's members aren't kidding themselves—they know the two news vans and the TV reporter with the bad hair aren't there because of their video or buzz.
“We knew that we were gonna go somewhere,” says co-vocalist Xander Bourgeois. “But for someone else, who didn't know the scene, they probably weren't familiar with us until after it happened.”
“It” is the accident that nearly killed the band last September. A City Serene, all in their teens and early 20s, had put up their own money to embark on a 17-date tour. A few days in, on the way to their next show, a pickup truck heading south on Interstate 5 near Bakersfield, lost control, crossed the divide and collided with several vehicles, including the band's converted school bus. When the dust settled, each of the musicians were in critical condition; singer Carly Baker and drummer Mike Buxbaum were in comas.
The band doesn't mind talking about the accident, but even the members who remained conscious after the collision, like guitarists Kris Renfro and Michael Sherman, were in such a state of shock that now it just comes back in bits and pieces. Renfro almost lost one of his feet, broke numerous bones and now has to undergo physical therapy three times a week. Even so, he looks back on the ordeal—including being airlifted to the hospital—with a strange sense of humor.
“It was fun because it was a helicopter ride,” he says as the rest of the band laughs.
Naturally, the “if it bleeds, it leads” media picked up on the story but didn't say much about the band's music, a surprisingly catchy brand of hard rock that has Bourgeois' coarse growl countering Baker's lovely, Amy Lee-esque singing.
“It got a lot of attention, but there's been a lot of reviews where someone saw what happened on TV and they were like, ‘We just wanted to support you guys at first, but after listening to it, I really do like you guys,'” Buxbaum says.
Even after they'd recovered enough to shoot the video for the single “With Swords Crossed,” things remained difficult. The cops shut down the initial shoot at an abandoned lot in San Marcos for lack of a permit, and after relocating to North Park, they were accosted by a man wielding a chain with a master lock welded onto the end. Yet they still managed to get it done.
That's the story of perseverance that has drawn people, including the media, to the Epicentre: Despite all that has happened, A City Serene hasn't given up. In the crowd before the show, Renfro's mother, Yolanda, recounts getting the phone call from a pastor in the hospital, telling her that her son was in critical condition. She says she'll never forget that call, but she also can't help but admire her son's resiliency.
“I never wanted to tell him to stop,” she says. “This is his dream—their dream.”
“As far as mentally and physically wanting to do it, it's all we want to do,” Baker says. “We're just not all the way there yet.”
“Yeah, for all of us it's pretty much a no-brainer when it comes to getting back out there and doing it,” Buxbaum adds. “You can mug us, take all of our equipment and shoot us all in the knees, and we'd still be at band practice.”
Baker's vocal chords are still healing after having tubes down her throat when she was in a coma, but the band still hopes to head into the studio in June to record their first full-length LP and has a show booked around the same time. For tonight, Baker, with Renfro and Sherman accompanying, asks the crowd nicely to sing along if they know the words, explaining that she might not be as loud as she usually is. Some tears are flowing in the audience, and after the first song, Baker invites the three absent members onstage. On the way up the steps to the stage, Buxbaum stumbles and falls and there are some apprehensive murmurs in the audience.
“Oh boy,” says a slightly worried Baker.
But Buxbaum collects himself, smiles and shuffles onto the stage to join his bandmates. People in the crowd chuckle. Seems it's safe for that now.