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It's 7 p.m. Friday, and Love.45 is hosting a listening party at Brendan's Pub. Although it's one of Denver's most prominent bands, if it weren't for the promotional posters hanging around the bar, the four members would be indistinguishable from their fans.
Right now, this is a faceless band with a catchy-as-hell song on the radio. But in four days, when Love.45 is introduced to the rest of the country via its self-titled major-label debut, that could all change. While it's not the first outfit from Denver to get a record deal, Love.45 may have the best shot at breaking through to the mainstream. Unlike more left-of-center acts that never quite made it, Love.45 has an accessible pop sound with mass appeal, and the potential to cross over into multiple radio formats. In fact, the first single from Love.45, "Way Down," is not only getting substantial airplay on KTCL, but it's already been picked up by ten other markets.
"Love.45's goal has always been to put on a Kiss show at a Wal-Mart price," says guitarist Paul Trinidad. He and bandmate Danny Elster have been obsessed with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley since they were kids, and it shows.
"What's missing in rock and roll right now is having four equal and opposite members of every band," says bassist/vocalist Elster. "Now you only know bands by the ugly singer and that song you like a lot -- and you can't remember anything else about them. We're trying to bring it back to where people are like, ŒHe's my favorite member of this band.' You know, where people, for whatever reason, identify each guy as a separate entity but also as part the group itself."
And since each member brings something entirely different to Love.45, establishing their distinctive identities with the fans should be a cinch.
Elster, for example, is the perfectionist. He frequently deflects compliments and is rarely satisfied with his output. But even as he scrutinizes his own performances, his thoughts rolling across his face like a CNN crawl, there's a childlike capriciousness beneath that self-effacing demeanor that makes him instantly likable. Originally from Leavenworth, Kansas, and a diehard Chiefs fan, his eyes sparkle like those of a five-year-old on Christmas morning as he tells how he climbed to the top of Arrowhead stadium and spit over the edge.
Singer/guitarist Mick Shivers is considerably more difficult to read and takes longer to warm up. At Brendan's, while his bandmates eagerly volunteer information, he offers an opinion only when directly asked for one. Shivers says he's "a forever pessimist." But really, he's just cautiously optimistic and grappling with the bittersweet implications of what lies ahead. The band will probably be living on the road for the next couple of years, which means being away from his confidante and wife of four years, Stephanie.
Trinidad, too, is cautious about the future. "We haven't done anything yet," he insists. "We haven't sold a single record." Although there's no doubt he's the band's strategist -- "Who else do you know who carries around a cheat sheet?" he asks, revealing a folded piece of paper containing Love.45's complete itinerary -- there's a reason he got the nickname "Paulitician." But the diplomacy and networking ability that others recognize are really just small-town values (he grew up in Loveland) coming through.
Drummer Jim Messina is the heart of the act, the idealist. When he recently heard a pre-mastered copy of Love.45, he confesses, he was so moved that he cried. "It was my life's work," he says. "I couldn't believe it." A Chicago native who took up the drums in sixth grade after his family relocated to Florida, Messina also made a phone call to his junior-high band director to thank him for the inspiration. Shivers thinks of Messina as a "father figure," a gentle soul who always offers a kind word or joke when things get tough.
And there's been no shortage of tough times for Love.45. From endless jaunts across the country in Trinidad's truck -- sans heating and air-conditioning -- to having their gear stolen to heartache and divorces, over the years the four have forged an unbreakable fraternal bond.
Love.45 got its start in the back of a Thornton strip club in the summer of 1998, when Shivers and Trinidad, former schoolmates at Thompson Valley High School, fired the drummer of their band Undertow. Pat Elster auditioned for the slot, and while it wasn't a good fit for him, he did suggest that the pair give his younger brother a go on bass. Although the band already had a bassist, Danny Elster soon replaced him. Then Messina, who had been working on another project with Shivers, came on board a month later.
Undertow was at that time a third-tier act playing fringe clubs in the suburbs. But after changing its name to Love.45 -- with an okay from Pat Elster, whose band had used the moniker a few years earlier, as well as the ultimate blessing of C.W. Talkington, the director of Love and a .45 -- the group commenced dreaming and scheming. Rather than focus on a record deal, as many young bands do right out of the gate, Love.45 set its sights significantly lower.