Bells’ Toll on Empire Rock & Roll

Posted December 13, 2007 in Music

Halloweenheads—Cardinal-speak for Ryan Adams’ disciples, stoners and outsiders—are about as widespread as alt-country, the genre that spawned this southern-seed monster and his covert dialect. Though only one of these three labels actually applies, we’re among the rare handful, making Halloweenhead-ism our choice-faith, Adams our master, and his albums the word. As true H-heads, we’re living in the twilight of our youth and are constantly penning post-it reminders (note to twin-selves: don’t change for anyone, just lie). But perhaps the hub of our two-year adulation—rotation-worthy words and oh-so-pretty songs aside—is sharing Ryanisms (see Bell-speak: lyrical insight), accounted for in random numbers, or searching-out the occasional wonderwall (B-speak: music-makers with Ryan-glory).

Well, for Francisco the Man, a pack of young Empire wonderwalls who found us, Ryanism No.343 pertains: some want to go forever, others want to burn-up hard and bright. Right now the band is alt-country and anti-rock star. Rough musical translation: generally unheard, fully DIY and on the 10-year success plan. Named after an itinerant character from Gabriel García Márquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, they may end up doubling as Fuck the Man (and the record biz) one of these days. But they’re to the IE what Adams is to mainstream rock; the perfect blend of rural and recent times (paying homage to a Midwest none of the band-boyos originated from). And, let’s just say it; they carry good music to the people. 

Resultantly we’re FTM-heads, evident by two lost demos, handed to us in a Denny’s last week. (Note to t-selves: don’t travel with most beloved fancy-free in purses, even if it means they’re easily accessible). Not to worry, they’ll turn up in a Heartbreakers compact case, make-up bag, or something.

Anyway, to be young is to be sad is to be high, but not for FTM; they’re God-fearing boys. Grouped since 2006 of last year, these four 20-somethings (lead singer Scotty Cantino, guitarist Joel Bond, drummer Abdeel Ortega and bassist Nestor Romero) have a tour-heavy schedule, but don’t actually tour, not since their cram-the-van, post-demo-drop disaster. Francisco the Man (the EP) was recorded at Corona’s Living in Truth Christian Fellowship, which faithfully permits four to five weekly rehearsals in its wooden-coffered sanctuary (making for good acoustics and a full-bodied, lap-steel sound-quality).

With his young’un features and faux-Mohawk, Cantino belies the voice behind Fran—a lovelorn gentleman, whom we assume is down-home-schooled, wails at us from our speakers. See, FTM has already been there, done that with the whole alt-country thing, recording full-length LPs in past-band-lives, and is now ready to nix the bad karma of quick classification (possibly going jazz?!), despite the relative newness of the ticket. After hearing the line, “I’ve got a noose around my neck, it seems to get tighter every time I check,” we sympathized, yet, by now, these fellows should’ve somehow realized what they gotta do. 

Ryanism No. 788: work hard for every little bit you got. Cantino attends college full-time, waits tables and single-handedly promotes FTM, and, as our night at Denny’s winds on, we see how. He swallows six mugs of coffee, never turning down a refill (easy, tiger!). Presumably fame, and maybe a few funds, would be a bonus to all the out-of-pocket, over-caffeinated music-playing, but isn’t a rock-prerequisite. 

“Our main goal is to write good music, we don’t want to get rich,” Cantino says. “If people like you they like you, and if they don’t, we’ll probably pull 20 heads a show and gain more friends than fans.”

Rather than fading out in the dance of improbability, FTM operates on probability, so far playing better venues, longer sets with similarly-styled musicians and self-recording a demo, as intended. Of course, like rolling stones, the band wanted to ride easy down the road in summer ’06, but, for Ryan out loud, ended up homebound, merely one of 11 shows down. It was a real knoxer (C-speak: bad gig).

Ryanism No.98: So break and go home. Following the first performance, a broken van window wasn’t the sole sign of break-in—the band’s cash box (kept robber-ready in the front seat) was strangely-situated in the street, Cantino’s camcorder and iPod pinched. FTM’s savings were salvaged, but the drive onward was nearly catastrophic—the sound-asleep man-at-the-wheel lost control, pummeling the vehicle. So they called it a tour, almost.

“Most of the windows were broken, the doors wouldn’t shut, the roof was caved-in, the rims were split, the tires were all flat and (the van) was pretty much irreparable,” Cantino says.

Ryanism 622: This is it. The band escaped the freeway freak (C-speak: spin-out) with minor injuries, and, sadly, may soon escape its sound. Will FTM become Francisco the Jazz Man? (Note to t-selves: persuade boys to remain alt-country). Not to worry, we’ll likely catch them at an upcoming Adams prom (C-speak: gig). They’re H-Heads too, and, after all, our wonderwalls.

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