By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
A to Z can't cop to being a huge fan of classic rock. No, not even a year and a half of living in St. Louis has changed that. But we do admit to having a weakness for the keytar, that bastion of dinosaur rock/new-wave cheesiness.
Ah yes, the keytar. The half-keyboard, half-guitar that's the epitome of onstage wankery, a favored instrument of folks such as Morris Day and the Time, Ben Folds, Donald Fagen and the local sextet Blinded Black.
The young emo-pop/rock band didn't have a keytar player in their midst when they formed in 1999. (Drummer Jake Rohlmann was all of twelve years old then; the oldest member of the band now is still only twenty-one.) In fact, ivory-tickler Chuck Kraus (formerly of NEOxGEO) had to convince Blinded Black that his services were necessary.
"He wanted to be in a more serious and a little harder of a band," says vocalist Jeff Nizick. "He saw us and was like, ‘You need to get a keyboard player!' At first the band was a little skeptical of it, because we didn't know how it would fit. [But] after awhile, we decided on taking him in. He doesn't play keytar much anymore. The label has been pushing him to start it up again."
The label to which Nizick refers is the well-respected California indie label SideCho Records, which will be releasing Blinded Black's full-length debut, Under the Sunrise, on February 27. Nizick and label owner James Cho corresponded for months before the band signed its deal in June (the vocalist even flew out to meet with Cho on his own dime), an act that reflects the band's professional ambitions.
"We get along really well. He saw how motivated we were and how much we really wanted to be signed," Nizick says. "I knew he could do a lot for us, if we made it happen. [We're] the first band of our kind to be on his label."
An advance copy of Sunrise reveals a band brimming with confidence, and one that's improved immensely since A to Z reviewed its demo last year ("Locals Only," September 7, 2005). Shades of scream-poppers Hawthorne Heights, synth-heads Motion City Soundtrack and pop-punkers Cartel abound. Nizick gives credit to producer Marc McClusky for Blinded Black's newfound focus.
"Before we went into the studio, we were more screamy, screamo," Nizick says. "Then [Marc] started talking to us and was like, ‘Well, we can do it your way or we can make it more presentable to the mainstream.' We compromised on what we wanted it to sound like [and] took a lot of the screams out. Our angle matched his angle. We wanted it to be more presentable to the mainstream artists."
This move is already paying dividends: Blinded Black licensed some tunes to MTV, has plans to play South by Southwest in March and will be on tour for ten months next year. Oh, and the piéce de résistance? The band's hook-filled song "Set in Stone" soundtracks the opening scene of Automaton Transfusion, an upcoming zombie movie. Keytars of the living dead? Two thumbs up!