"We're not rock stars," contends Bill Buffo, drummer for Kindred, a collection of teenage rockers based in Louisville. "We don't, like, walk around all cocky and stuff like we're these big musicians, you know?"
Vocalist Cody Qualls seconds Buffo's emotion. He maintains that he's "a dork" at Fairview, the high school he attends, and because he spends most of his time studying, rehearsing or working at a local bagel shop, he says, "It's just like I don't really have any friends."
Don't expect that situation to last. Along with Buffo, guitarist Matt MacDonald and bassist J.P. Manza, all of whom are enrolled at Centaurus High School, Qualls is suddenly experiencing a level of star treatment that's rarely associated with performers his age. At a time when most people in their musical peer group are still trying to figure out how to tune their guitars, the members of this two-year-old band are rapidly collecting fans at Denver-area nightspots and have already secured managerial representation in the form of a contract with Denver's World Entertainment Services Inc. The company's president, A.J. Fisher, is literally among the act's loudest boosters. A former Los Angeles session drummer, he often speaks in tones so deafening that he may soon attract the attention of investigators with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Whenever Kindred is on stage, he practically hollers, "The women are mesmerized, and the guys want to get down and have a party. Seriously."
Lest such comments be dismissed as mere hype, Fisher's got the videotapes to prove his assertions. MacDonald admits, "I didn't buy all that until I saw this girl have a seizure, pretty much, and go crazy just because Cody looked at her. I don't see it myself, but the chicks do." For his part, Qualls is quick to point out that "I've personally never mesmerized a woman in my life. But I'd certainly like to."
Such easygoing banter is fairly common among the bandmembers, whose history together predates their musical collaboration by several years. In fact, MacDonald and Qualls have known each other since they were tykes, although their earliest interactions were hardly the stuff of which Kodak moments are made. "When I moved to Colorado when I was five, Cody came to my first birthday party here and broke the toy that he gave me," MacDonald recalls. "So my brother threatened to kick his ass."
Fortunately, Qualls escaped the party unscathed, and he and MacDonald went on to hook up with Buffo and Manza while all four were going to middle school. Over time, the players' various influences--which run the gamut from rap and heavy metal to, in Qualls's case, the Artist Formerly Known as You Know Who--gelled to the point at which the bandmembers felt that they deserved to be heard beyond their basements. So about two years ago they answered an ad that World Entertainment had placed in a local publication and were instructed to bring a demo tape to the firm for critiquing.
The foursome did not have such a recording at the time, so they raced to a nearby studio and slapped one together. "And we thought it kicked ass," MacDonald says. "We were like, 'Yeah, we're good.'" However, he goes on, the folks at World Entertainment thought it was, "like, a joke. They weren't mean about it, but they told us totally what was wrong with it--so many things that we could do better musically, because, really, we were just kind of on our own when we practiced and stuff. We didn't even have a metronome. We didn't believe in those, or something."
Still, Fisher felt that the musicians had potential, so he sent them home with a list of tips and suggestions intended to enhance their day-to-day rehearsal productivity and help them identify their long-term career goals, among other things. "The band took a lot of A.J.'s information and went back and diligently worked for almost a year before contacting us again," reveals Terri L. Fisher, World Entertainment's vice president (and A.J.'s sister). This time, both sides agreed that the project was much improved. After a meeting attended by all the boys' parents (at press time, none of them had turned eighteen), a deal was finalized.
Since then the combo has been landing more gigs in any given month than it played during its previous years of existence. In addition, Kindred has issued a self-titled three-song demo that A.J. claims has already caught the ears of some label types around the music industry. He's hoping the four-piece will turn even more heads with a debut CD that should be completed by summer's end and released shortly thereafter on an as-yet-unnamed imprint operating under the World Entertainment umbrella.
If the platter is anything like Kindred's work to date, expect to hear crunchy, post-Nirvana guitar work overlaid with thoughtful lyrics from Qualls. "I like to think of us as a more intelligent band, because it's not just two or three chords here and a scream there," the singer says. "It's music. It goes somewhere. It stirs you up."
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For the most part, he's right. In "Dirty Gingerbread," for example, Qualls delivers lines like "Children are not cookies/Beg you not to chew" in a voice that alternates between a feathery near-falsetto and a Bible Belt bellow that's beefy enough to make Meat Loaf drool. Accordingly, the number's musical accompaniment both seethes and scorches, with MacDonald delivering distortion-laden licks and Buffo attacking the kit like the varsity footballer that he is. "Jesus Tune," meanwhile, puts the power back in power ballad while raising questions such as, "If He's such a miracle/Why the hell'd He leave us?"
When put on the spot to identify Kindred's greatest weakness, A.J. jokes, "There are no weaknesses," but that's not quite true. Although MacDonald plays with an Edge-like precision, his leads aren't as flashy as the music sometimes requires. Furthermore, the outfit already seems a little too polished for its own good, despite the precociousness of its participants. As songsmiths, their efforts compare most directly with acts on the more commercial end of the rock spectrum, like Live, and in performance, they seem too rehearsed. Their stage show--which includes a pseudo-ad-libbed band-introduction segment during which Qualls works the crowd with the charisma of an Eighties-era metal god and the sensibilities of a Nineties rapper--appears so well-scripted that you almost wish that Kindred would spontaneously break into a sloppy chorus of "Sweet Home Alabama" as an antidote to its ever-growing professionalism.
But what might appear to be shortcomings to a journalist seem like valuable attributes to A.J. Fisher. He concedes that the Kindred instrumentalists may find it difficult to balance the demands of completing their education with the hard work required of touring musicians. However, he thunders, "there's nothing this band can't overcome--and I don't get paid enough to lie."
Kindred, with Ivy Pub. 7 p.m. Friday, July 11, 9110 The Dream, 9110 W. 44th, Wheat Ridge, $3, 882-5528.