By Oakland L. Childers
By Kelsey McClure
By Melinda Cooper
By Allison Babka
By Christian Schaeffer
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By RFT Music
These days, you can barely turn on KSHE (94.7 FM) or the Point (105.7 FM) without hearing "Champagne" from the St. Louis quartet Cavo. To say the tune has staying power is an understatement: The Point's support of the song in 2007 — it appeared on an EP that also featured a cover of Duran Duran's "Come Undone" — helped Cavo earn a record deal with Reprise Records.
But "Champagne," which is a groove-heavy hybrid of mid-'90s Soundgarden and metal-plated modern rock, isn't just a regional hit anymore: The song has reached the top ten of Billboard's Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks and stirred up excitement for the band's Reprise debut, Bright Nights Dark Days, which was released on August 11.
Bizarrely enough, vocalist Casey Walker says that "Champagne" was a complete fluke that almost didn't see the light of day.
"I used to do cable around St. Louis," the easygoing frontman says, calling from Mountain View, California. "I'd drive around all day, and I'd sing little things into my phone, little quips here and there if I had an idea. And one day, I just sang the chorus to 'Champagne' into my phone.
"After three weeks, I was going through my phone and I was like, 'Oh my God you guys, you gotta hear this. It's kind of dumb, I'm gonna erase it, but you guys gotta hear it before I do.' I play it for 'em, and no one says a word. I'm thinking, 'Yeah right, everyone thinks it's kind of dumb.' And then [guitarist] Chris [Hobbs] out of nowhere starts playing some chords, and it sounds like what I sang. The song just literally wrote itself in five minutes."
Such good fortune is long overdue for Cavo, which has been kicking around the local music scene since 2001. The quartet was originally known as Hollow before changing its name because of copyright reasons. (Cavo, incidentally, means "hollow places" in Latin.) After years of gigs at places such as the Galaxy, Hi-Pointe and Blueberry Hill's Duck Room — and a prolonged period without a bassist — the current lineup solidified in 2006 with the addition of Brian Smith.
Walker credits bassist Smith, whose first Cavo show was the release party for the pre-Days album, The Painful Art of Letting Go, for bringing a "more aggressive side" to the band's music. The O'Fallon resident (he lives there with his wife) also can't say enough good things about Days' producer, David Bendeth (Paramore, Breaking Benjamin, Hawthorne Heights).
"The thing about David is, he's amazing at what he does, and he's so aware of how to do it," Walker says. "He made our songs better, and made us a better band. But at the same time, he showed us how he was [improving the songs], so we understood. That's the best way to teach anybody anything."
Unlike many rock albums, Days has depth beyond its monster radio hit. Although its touchstones are familiar — grungy rock riffs, radio-friendly vocals, longing lyrics — the album's massive hooks and welcoming production make it accessible and diverse. (Think a heavier Lifehouse crossed with future Cavo tourmates Shinedown and '90s acts like Pearl Jam, a Walker favorite.) And while he's in awe that Cavo is currently on a "rock & roll tour" — that would be performing on the second stage at Mötley Crüe's traveling road show, Crüe Fest 2 — his band's versatility makes him prouder.
"We've never sat down and said, 'Here's the type of band we're going to be, we're going to write this type of song,'" Walker says. "We pretty much all get together, and we let the song write itself and [let it] grow and build on its own. We don't try to hide that fact. A lot of bands out there try to say, 'We're going to be a heavy band, we're going to write heavy songs, and we're not going to write a ballad or an acoustic song.' That's a big thing to people to know about Cavo — there's a lot under the surface."