The car bumpers are so close they're practically kissing, the smog pungent as the car idles at the crosswalk. Before he can even step into the street, a piercing horn wails at Jealous Sound guitarist Pedro Benito.
"L.A. is so prick," the musician chortles. "Someone is crossing the street! That is the perfect prick attitude of Los Angeles-he and his '84 Montero need to get somewhere."
This time last year the Jealous Sound were the ones trying to get somewhere. Even after predictions (including one in this very mag) that they were going to have a big rock record with a big rock sound and a tour with a big rock band, they wound up like most musical acts who get all gussied up for the major label prom: stuck sitting curbside, stood up, wondering if they were ever really cut out for the big dance.
"I knew it was going to happen, I just didn't know how it was going to come about," Benito says.
Such cautious confidence is believable coming from the guitarist, who survived open-heart surgery to repair two heart murmurs when he was 12. "Sure, there were some crazy nights," he says about being briefly signed to Jive Records (Britney Spears, N*SYNC). "It makes you into a different person when you are worried about major labels, worried about budgets, worried about your music and how they are going to help you or how they are going to shelve you.
"It was absurd for someone to tell me we weren't allowed to make a record. Someone was not allowing us to release music."
So the major label machine notorious for chewing up and spitting out bands decided that they had a soft spot in their hearts for the Jealous Sound and let them walk away scot-free-right back to their old home, L.A. indie Better Looking Records, which was waiting the whole time with open arms.
"If you surround yourself with good people and they really believe in what they are doing, you will get to do what you want to do," Benito proposes. "Or I guess it was dumb luck."
Dumb luck and influential fans. After their Jive contract was dissolved, producer Tim O'Heir (Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, Superdrag, Folk Implosion) contacted their lawyer in the off chance the band was looking for someone to help them record.
"John [McGinnis, the bass player] talked to Tim on the phone and two weeks later he was on a flight to stay with me at my house."
Benito's pad has some lore of its own. It's the same house where the script for the film Heathers was written, as well as the former home of both the A&R representative who signed Hot Hot Heat and the gentleman behind DNTEL (who also masterminds The Postal Service).
Is there a pattern forming?
"We practiced every day for a couple of weeks. Tim would come down, just sit in the corner and write notes," Benito explains. "He is a true producer-a great listener. He can set you at ease, draw stuff out of you, and make you look at things totally different."
The patience and determination paid off in the form of their big rock sounding record, Kill Them with Kindness, which recently received an "A" grade from SPIN magazine.
Now only one other prophecy remained to be fulfilled-the big rock tour.
The J-Sound achieved that after a successful jaunt with The Fire Theft (ex-members of Sunny Day Real Estate) segued into an opening slot for the Foo Fighters (ex-members of, er, Nirvana). Benito reminisces about the tour like a pubescent kid who just returned from visiting his older brother at college.
"Our first show was in Illinois at the University of Chicago arena. It was crazy. It was like that Scorpions video where they erect that big stage in time lapse. I just sat in the back and watched them put up this huge stage. Then techs did a sound check for the band, then the band came up and jammed for a little bit. It was like Spinal Tap.
"To see 15,000 kids go ape crazy-regulars, not scenesters, not hipsters, not college radio kids, but straight up dudes and gals-9 to 5'ers drinking beer going crazy for it. At one point during the show they would turn on the house lights and the whole floor would be moving. Seeing those 15,000 people going, smiling, crying... it was crazy.
"The guys in the Foo's were aces," he says. "They were really nice to us. They were usually out for our sets. The made sure the tour was so comfortable. We would arrive at the venue and people would unload our equipment. You never get used to teamsters loading your stuff in and out. It was real strange. We would walk around, play ping-pong. Man, Dave Grohl is really good at ping pong."
So the Jealous Sound have made it safely across Industry Street and back. Who knows-they may even cross again.