When athletes attain enough rings around the tree stump (or on their fingers) to be considered veterans, their personal fate becomes much more self-controlled. If Kevin Garnett and Terrell Owens want to play, they have enough veto power to avoid being shuttled off to a team that doesn't meet their individual needs.
The same veteran authority also exists for some musicians. Take Everest for example, a Los Angeles alt-country quintet formed barely a year ago and composed of musicians who've played with so many bands that the L.A. Times proclaimed that they “sport résumés longer than the intro to [Neil Young's] ‘Cortez the Killer'” (more on that later). Those résumés include indie-mainstays like Earlimart, Folk Implosion, The Watson Twins, Slydell, Mike Stinson, Great Northern and John Vanderslice.
So, while they may technically fall into the “new band” category, Everest initially had no intention of signing to a label or doing any of the typical posturing needed to get a new band on the map. Sure, they had enough connections that they'd never have to slog it out in empty clubs again, but they were more a collective of friends whose only ambition was writing and playing songs together. The business side was something they had little interest in.
“It wasn't like joining an already-existing band and having to learn a bunch of songs. This was something we all did collaboratively,” reflects singer/guitarist Russell Pollard, who played in Sebadoh and Alaska! before starting Everest. “The music industry isn't really set up to where a band needs to find a label anymore, so we didn't focus on that… but then Neil came along and things changed a bit.”
“Neil” was none other than Cortez the Killer himself. After just a few months together, Everest was invited to Park City, Utah, to play a few gigs in conjunction with the Sundance Film Festival. During one of their sets, they were approached by Young, who was in town promoting the CSNY Déjà Vu concert film.
“He happened to be in the crowd and liked what we were playing, so he came up and talked to us after our set,” Pollard says. “We formed a pretty good bond right away.”
What Young saw was a buoyant, heartfelt sound that falls somewhere between the countrified Rolling Stones and The Band, with perhaps a dash of Neil himself. After the meeting at Sundance, Young kept tabs on the outfit, eventually offering them an opening slot on some European dates. The shows went so well that he asked if he could release Everest's debut, Ghost Notes, on his own Vapor Records imprint.
“He's an amazing person to be around…. This whole experience has been epic,” Pollard says. “The best part is that Neil has been involved with everything and really become a friend and mentor to our band. He coaches us through certain situations and is really one of our biggest supporters.”
Listening to Ghost Notes, it's easy to see why the band's making waves among the mellow-rock crowd. While certainly poppy, the tracks were written organically and with each band member playing an equal role in the process. Recorded live to analog tape inside Elliott Smith's old studio, the tracks capture the spontaneity with which they were created. This is clearly evident on the single “Rebels in the Roses,” a mid-tempo number that sounds almost like it's being performed in your living room.
Still, opening for someone as vaunted as Young has its challenges. His crowd is so seasoned and enamored with his revered body of work that it can feel like opening acts are just eating up time. Breaking through is challenging.
“I guess it can be that way for some people, but Neil's crowd is mostly open-minded fans of music, and I think they're pretty receptive to new things,” Pollard says. “Especially a group that was invited to play on the tour.”A savvy veteran response.
Everest plays with Death Cab for Cutie and Neil Young on Wednesday, Oct. 29, at Cox Arena. 619-220-8497. www.everestband.com.