The Continuum discovers Sacramento’s Flawless Design

I’ve been a professional writer for many years. I have been a lover of music forever. I became a music journalist because I wasn’t a good enough musician to make it in that walk. I live and breathe music with every beat of my heart and breath of my lungs. I get excited about a lot of things musically. What happened this past Sunday night will rank among the greatest experiences of my life. This is one of those stories that changes the way the script goes.

It began with me setting up an interview with the Sacramento based band, “Flawless Design.” I miss connected with them a couple of times in the last month. In one case, they were out of town. In another case, I was assigned another work project last minute and had to reschedule once again. I kept chasing. I wanted to make this happen. This time, it finally came together.

For a solid three hours they were here in my living room. Technically, it was an interview, but it was so much more. For three hours the seven of us (the five band members, my business partner and myself) sat and talked music, life, business, school, work and even some politics. I got into their heads (and they into mine) on a level I could not have expected.

When I interview bands (which I do a lot) I try to go into it with a different mindset than many journalists. My perspective is that my job is to have a conversation. I am a guide, not an attraction myself. I want to bring out the personality, character, artistic vision and truth of the band. I want to know what makes them who they are and “to find out what makes great music possible.”

On this night, I got all of that and more. These guys did not have “rock star” attitudes by any stretch. They didn’t have an agenda, they weren’t trying to sell me anything. Instead, they showed me their truth. They let me in. I’d like to think that a lot of this was because of me, how I treated them and how I spoke to them. That may or may not be true, but that’s not the point. The point was them. They sat on my couch and talked to me. They treated me as one of their own. I was not the enemy. I was not media. I was not a journalist. I was not an inconvenience.

I was just like them.

I was just another person whose greatest life passion is a love of music. By the end of the night, I believe I understood why they are a band. I understood why their music is great. I understood why they’re going to get where they want to go. I understood what makes their great music possible. I could see that their success in music is so very similar in creation to my success as a writer. It is a combination of two major factors. One is a deep seated love of music and a desire to express that love. The second is a work ethic that is true and sincere and is brought to the surface for the right reasons. If they never make money with their band they are going to be just fine. They have a passion that transcends money or any material gain. These guys truly do what they do because they love it.

They are just like me.

They are playing out of Sacramento and doing everything on their own, from the music to promoting and everything in between. They pay their own money for studio time to lay down their songs. They do not compromise in the recording process. If they have to come back and re- do a song, they do it. If they need to re- track, they do it. They are currently not looking for management, as they want to do as much as possible on their own.

Their efforts are well worth it, as they have defined their own sound. In comparing them to other bands, the first that come up would be Incubus (especially with vocalist Patrick Lucas) and Tool. There is definitely also a taste of Rage Against the Machine in them, particularly lyrically. To my ears, they are the music of Incubus with the lyrical content of Rage.

The dual vocal style employed by the band suits their music beautifully. Patrick Lucas brings more of a true singer’s touch, while Mason Lowe brings the lower, growling, screamo aspect. They work both as individuals and in tandem creating beautiful symmetry. Drawing on music, art, life, politics, school, and each other, the two of them write lyrics with meaning and purpose. They have stories to tell. They have points to make and lessons to teach… and they can make their ideas sing- literally.

Lowe is the closest thing to a rock star personality in the group. He talks shit (more than average), he takes smoke breaks, he shoots vodka when offered. At the same time, his music intelligence and business knowledge are off the charts. He knows he is talented. He knows he is a key player in an amazing group. And yet, he still comes across as humble. He seems to appreciate how lucky he is to be where he is. He loves music more than anything.

Playing the foil to Lowe is Lucas. Lucas shares the love for music that everyone in this band has. He is talented, to say the least. Singing is something he is great at, but it seems more like a means to an end. In talking to him, my impression was that his natural drive is to want to change the world. If he couldn’t sing, I would expect him to be a teacher or philosopher. In the 60’s he would have been a hippie on the streets holding anti- war signs. This band gives him what his good heart and brain so desperately need: an outlet to express his wealth of knowledge and emotions. Through his lyrics and singing he has found one outlet for his creative energy. I am looking forward to providing him another forum for what he has to say. (stay tuned)

Leading the way musically are the phenomenal guitar chops of Jon Tobin. He is arguably the most experienced member of the band. He has a way about his speech that demands attention. He doesn’t speak loud, but when you hear him talk, you can’t stop listening. As soon as his mouth opens, everyone stops joking around and listens to him. He sounds like James Hetfield in his speaking voice and understated authority. He has been around the block and learned from his experiences. He is able to play any number of styles for any situation. His band- mates look to him as the source of origin for their music. To a man, they agree that his riffs are the basis for most of their songs. The rest is filled in around his one- of- a- kind guitar work.

Holding down the low end is bassist Blair DeLeon. When I asked him, and the band, about his style they said that he definitely holds down the low end and also plays the role of the rhythm guitar (as there isn’t one in this band). At 18 years old, I wouldn’t call him a prodigy, but he definitely plays far beyond his years. I have been playing bass for almost as long as Blair has been alive and I have to admit his skills with the instrument are far superior to mine. He draws on his main influence, Blink 182 and definitely has that vibe about him as well. In this band he and his instrument play a complementary role. I have little doubt that in time he will be a leader, whether in this band or in the world and his life.

Filling out the band and holding it all together is drummer Derek Ruuh. Ruuh is a longtime friend of DeLeon. In fact, he recruited DeLeon to the band. Their similarities only begin with their age. It is their maturity and musical knowledge that defines them. When asked about some of his favorite drummers and influences, Ruuh spills out a list of jazz musicians and drummers from the 60’s. Buddy Rich is his favorite drummer ever. I find myself asking, “what 18 year old listens to that kind of music?” The answer is that Ruuh does. His responses are not just talk, he lives it. The evidence is in his playing, which is far more complicated than what you might expect from a drummer in a metal band.

I bring up the ages of DeLeon and Ruuh only to make a point. If these guys are this knowledgeable and talented at this age, how good are they going to be in five years? In ten years? The ceiling for these guys is set absurdly high, in my humble (expert) opinion.

Grouping these two amazing young talents with the guitar wizardry of Tobin and the artistic vision and expression of Lowe and Lucas… even modestly speaking, there is no limit to how good these guys can be. How high is the ceiling for this band? As high as they want, and I believe they want a lot.

It is one thing to have ability. It is quite another to have a vision that can lead a person (or group) beyond where they are. All the elements are in place here. Put in a room with their instruments, I have no doubt they could do anything they want. The only force that could possibly stop them from achieving their dreams is themselves. Bet on that. I will.

Stay tuned for part two next week, which will be my running blog of my conversation with them.

Hear their song, “Rooted down” on the free mp3 section of this website.

Learn more about them here: http://www.myspace.com/341964248

Flawless Design is now a major friend of Chicks with Guns… and of the continuum.

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