Eric Richter, guitarist and lead vocalist for Denver-based Christie Front Drive, boasts an extensive--not to mention goofy--range of influences.
"One of the albums I'm listening to a lot these days is the Xanadu soundtrack," he reveals. "It brings back a lot of memories of when I was a kid. And I like the songs, too. I love Olivia Newton-John and ELO. I think they're great."
Whether Richter--who also professes a fondness for Treepeople and the Thinking Fellers Union Local 282--is sincere in this claim is anyone's guess. But one thing is certain: The band's self-titled debut EP (on Denver's Freewill label) doesn't sound anything like Xanadu. In fact, the ebullient harmonies and idyllic guitar melodies produced by Richter and his mates--bassist Kerry McDonald, guitarist Jason Beegin and drummer Ron Marshall--would sound more at home sandwiched between cuts by Superchunk and Yo La Tengo than between any of Newton-John's waxings. Richter's lithesome vocals call to mind a melancholic Michael Stipe, not Jeff Lynne, while the six cuts on Christie Front Drive constitute some of the most earnest indie rock to come out of this area in a very long while.
A large part of Drive's appeal can be attributed to the passion its players exude. The group infuses original songs such as "Turn," "Dirt" and "Dyed on 8" with a richness and maturity that's seemingly beyond its thrashier contemporaries. It comes as no surprise, then, that Richter sees his music as a vehicle for self-expression. "As corny as it sounds, we actually do get into our songs emotionally," he concedes. "One of the reasons I started playing music in the first place is that I'm the type of person who has a hard time showing my emotions. So music sort of acts as an outlet for that.
"The trouble is," he adds, laughing, "it causes me to throw my guitar out of tune sometimes."
The members of Christie Front Drive weren't always so concerned with such musical niceties. Prior to joining the act, Richter played in two noisy punk outfits--Liliwatt and the ultra-explosive Turnkey--while Beegin and Marshall did time in several short-lived but equally assaultive high school bands. For his part, bassist McDonald spent his hours "playing with this kid who lived outside of Pine Junction somewhere. It was way out in the middle of nowhere. We used to play drums with twigs off trees and stuff like that."
By August 1993 McDonald had grown tired of using foliage as an instrument and signed on as Christie Front Drive's bass player. According to Richter, the chemistry between McDonald, Marshall and Beegin developed rapidly. "I wasn't too sure about playing with these guys at first," he admits. "I mean, I didn't dislike them or anything. I just didn't know how it was going to turn out. But after we practiced the first time, it seemed pretty cool. [Things] started happening right away."
The music came together so well that the Drivers booked a West Coast tour for June 1994; during the jaunt, they played shows with Alcohol Funny Car, Dirt Fisherman and Super Nova, an Amphetamine Reptile signee. While they were on the road, Richter says, the band's melodic sound drew some unexpected comparisons from their mainly punk audiences. "Everytime we went somewhere, we would hear something different," he explains. "Which is a good thing, I think. We've definitely heard some interesting ones, though. We've heard Catherine Wheel. We've heard Ride. We get compared to those Manchester bands quite a bit, which is kind of odd coming from punk rockers. We've heard Samiam a couple of times, too."
"Probably the weirdest thing we've been compared to is Moss Icon, this old hardcore band from D.C. with these screaming vocals," McDonald says. "For some reason, we draw these radical, postpunk, hardcore kind of kids."
It wasn't just a random fan who likened Christie Front Drive to Moss Icon, however; it was Kent McClard, who puts out a nationally recognized hardcore 'zine called Heart Attack. Thanks to rave reviews (Heart Attack wrote that the outfit made "really beautiful music") and a pact with McClard's mail-order distributorship, Ebullition, Drive's chiming indie rock has reached ears all over the globe. Thus far the foursome has received letters from listeners across the United States and Canada, as well as folks in France and Germany; in the last nation alone, followers have snapped up more than 100 copies of the band's recording. McDonald, for one, is dumbfounded. "[The first pressing of the album] is sold out," he enthuses. "All 1,000 copies. We already have to repress."
This minor triumph hasn't gone unnoticed. Caulfield Records, the small, Nebraska label responsible for breaking indie upstarts Mercy Rule and Sideshow, has agreed to issue Drive's release on CD early next year. The group also is slated to appear on a pair of split singles with Canada's Sineater and Phoenix's Jimmy Eat World. In the meantime, the foursome is planning a tour of the South in support of a new Freewill single due out soon; stopovers are set to include Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and Arkansas.
McDonald, the band's acting tour manager for this trip, says the response he's received from fans in Southern states has been overwhelming. "The network out there is so huge it's scary," he claims. "When I started putting this tour together, I only had two phone numbers--one for a guy in Albuquerque and one for a girl in Phoenix. From those two people I found enough contacts to book the entire tour. It took me like three days to round them all up.
"I mean, it was actually kind of weird," he continues. "I called one girl in Houston, and from that we started getting calls from people that we've never even met. A guy from Austin called us. A girl from some town on the [Texas] coast called us, asking us to play in her town. It all stemmed from that `telephone thing.'"
A handful of record execs have also picked up the buzz on the group. Since the release of Christie Front Drive, McDonald and his pals have been approached by representatives from a number of independent and major labels, all of them eager to cash in on the quartet's modest underground success. But although the prospect of signing to a more affluent label might appear rather tempting, Richter asserts that the band is happy right where it is--at least for the time being. "We're not interested in [recording for a larger label] whatsoever," he declares. "That's all just way too scary."
"The only thing that would be nice about that is having some money," notes an otherwise reserved Beegin. "On this last tour we were really short. For the last five days of our tour, I had, like, five dollars in my budget. I was to the point where I had to ask myself, `Can I really spend a quarter on this or not?' It was tough. On our way home, I literally did not have any money.
"Other than that, though," he continues, "the whole do-it-yourself thing is pretty fun. I don't like the big corporate thing. I think when people do things individually, it's much better."
"When you do it yourself, you always know where you are," McDonald adds. "You know you're not getting ripped off."
"Well, most of the time you don't make any money anyway," Richter interjects. "So you can't get ripped off."
If the members of Christie Front Drive don't aspire to corporately sponsored stardom, what is their goal?
Beegin has the answer. "We'd just like to get our name out there a little more. I think it would be great to just go somewhere and hear someone say, `Christie Front Drive? Yeah, they're pretty cool.'
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