By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
"We just wanted to get into Herman's," Danny Elster recalls. "We wanted to play on those Friday nights when it was packed."
To get to that next level, the members studied the bigger, more successful acts in town, taking extensive notes. After taking out a loan to pay for their first record, 1998's Day Glo, they realized they needed a way to "keep the machine running," Elster recalls. "Nobody could contribute their own money. They had their own rent, their own bills to pay. Then we finally figured it out."
What they came up with changed Love.45's entire trajectory: They decided to play cover gigs, a move that many in the scene shunned as counterintuitive, especially for an original act. But performing other people's music had undeniable benefits. Not only did it allow the group to build its stamina as musicians and provide an outlet to test new material on a captive audience, it was also lucrative as hell. So while Love.45 got stigmatized as a cover band, those gigs financed two of the outfit's three records and provided the means to purchase new gear and tour on a regular basis. Perhaps more important, covering songs that were already proven hits bolstered the members' intrinsic ability to write readily accessible pop songs of their own. For a long time, Love.45 couldn't get arrested here in Denver, but in places like Phoenix, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the band was getting top billing -- and playing its own music.
"We always thought that we had good music," says Elster. "And I think that our little clique of fans always thought that we had good music. But we could never could get anybody who could do anything about it to get into our music."
In the summer of 2003, a prominent person finally took notice. In what's become a chapter in local folklore, after a chance encounter with Chris Henderson, the guitarist from 3 Doors Down, who mentioned that he was scouting for new talent, Rogue frontman Bill Terrell helped Love.45 get its material to him, as well as to lauded producer Geoff Ott. Henderson and Ott liked what they heard and invited the band to Seattle to record. So after raising $5,000 -- playing covers, what else? -- Love.45 headed to the Emerald City. The group returned with a four-song demo, which it later pressed and released as The Seattle Sessions EP. The response was overwhelming, to say the least. KTCL added "Don't Ask Me" to regular rotation this past January. And by March, Love.45 had a record deal.
Elster, still stunned that Henderson set all this in motion by taking the group under his wing, says he "asked him why he was doing all of this for us. And he said, 'I don't want to be the only one with all this success. I want to share it.' And that's the exact answer that my mom would expect me to give."
Henderson and Love.45 were clearly kindred spirits. Henderson himself is from a tiny town in Mississippi called Escatawpa, which is roughly thirty miles east of Biloxi. Despite the massive success he's had with 3 Doors Down, his blue-collar roots have kept him grounded, which made it easier for Elster and company to bend to his whim as he produced their record. For example, after Love.45 returned to Seattle to record its full-length debut, Henderson and Ott told Elster that he'd be taking over vocal duties from longtime frontman Shivers. "I don't think that it's anything crazy," Elster explains. "Basically, what happened is on the Seattle Sessions, it turned out the best songs that we had written, I just sang more of them. So that's the sound they knew."
The producers offered to break the news to Shivers, since it was their decision. But Elster opted to do it himself, thinking that Shivers deserved to hear it from a bandmate who also happened to be one of his closest friends. Needless to say, Elster, the consummate worry wart, stewed over what he would say as he drove from the studio to the hotel. Ultimately, he determined that there was no easy way to tell Shivers, so he just laid it all out. The switch could have created an insurmountable chasm in the group, but it didn't.
"In a small sense, in the back of my mind, I wasn't surprised," Shivers reveals. "But it was the reality of the situation that I wasn't prepared for. My heart was pounding; it felt like my soul was being squeezed out of me. But at the same time, we had to be back in the studio the next day, so I knew I had to process everything fast, man. We only had a certain amount of time to get things done. So I said, ŒOkay, it's time to be a man. Grow some testicles. Suck it up and get back in the game for the good of the team.'"
But Shivers did more than just set his pride aside. When it came time to step into the recording booth, Shivers, who'd written and sung the majority of the songs, put his words down on paper and taught Elster how to sing them with the proper phrasing and inflections.