Thursday, March 8, 2001
The Anniversary had one hell of a Mardis Gras. The Lawrence-based quintet just returned from a pair of Texas shows, where the band was caught in the epicenter of the celebratory madness that overtook Austin for the Fat Tuesday festivities.
"We were on the two streets that it was on, and it was out of control," keyboardist/vocalist Adrianne Verhoeven explains. "It was just a bunch of drunk-ass people ... They had to stop the show early because people were running into the club with their faces covered, screaming because they'd been maced. There was tear gas everywhere, the cops were wearing their riot gear. This guy got batoned directly in his chest. It was insane."
19th nervous breakdown
Road insanity has always been a part of the band's legacy, though it wasn't always apparent from the group's humble origin. The Anniversary (Verhoeven, guitarist/vocalist Josh Berwanger, guitarist Justin Roelofs, bassist Jim David, drummer Chris Jenko) formed in Kansas City in the late '90s as The Broadcast.
"It was just Adrianne, Justin and I for a year," Berwanger recalls. "We had numerous bass players. Our first bass player was a girl who was two years younger than us. She didn't have a bass so she played her bass lines on an electric guitar. It was hilarious."
The Broadcast relocated to Lawrence so the members could attend Kansas University. The band recruited a new rhythm section, re-dubbed itself The Anniversary and spent a couple of months kicking around the local scene, getting gigs where it could and trying to build an audience. Though local crowds didn't take an instant liking to The Anniversary's sound, the quintet managed to secure opening slots around the country with bands such as Superchunk, The Pulsars, Love is Laughter and Helium. Thus, The Anniversary built from the outside-in, selling out shows in faraway places while still struggling to fill venues locally.
"The music scene in Lawrence makes it kind of hard to get through to people," Verhoeven says. "We didn't do well for awhile, and now we're doing much better locally. It's really weird that we were doing better in Texas before we were doing really great in Lawrence."
"We get a lot of questions about the music scene in Lawrence when we go out of town," bassist David says. "People are always asking about Casket Lottery, Ultimate Fakebook, The Get Up Kids and Proudentall. Lawrence is a hard place to get popular because everyone is in a band. Everyone is kind of jaded in their own way."
The band got a serious boost in late 1999 from a split 7-inch shared with local favorites The Get Up Kids, who eventually signed The Anniversary to Heroes & Villains, the Kids' Vagrant-distributed label.
"We're all best friends," Verhoeven says of The Get Up Kids. "A couple years ago we had recorded a bunch of songs and we were going to put out an EP. That's when The Get Up Kids had just signed to Vagrant and they said, 'How about we start a record label called Heroes & Villains and put out the record?'"
In early 2000, the quintet released its full-length debut, "Designing a Nervous Breakdown." The album was recorded in 10 days at Kingsize Sound Lab in Chicago by Dave Trumfio, whose production work for bands like Wilco and Butterglory has garnered him much-deserved attention. Early in its career, The Anniversary had already recorded a batch of demos with the Trumfio, so the sessions for "Breakdown" went smoothly.
"Working with Dave was awesome," Berwanger says. "He's a really good producer and an engineer. Usually you have to find both, but he came up with a lot of great ideas. In a way, I think he helped improve a bunch of the songs."
"It was really hot," David remembers. "It was the middle of the summer and they only had a wall air conditioner in one room. (The recording) was rushed, but Trumfio was a really amazing producer. We did 12-hour days everyday, and he actually slept in the studio. We just wanted to write a really solid pop record, a lot of uptempo songs."
"Breakdown" was packed with The Anniversary's trademark bittersweet pop, cooing synth work, gate-crashing guitars and harmonic nirvana, expanding the band's musical vocabulary and cementing its sound. Songs such as "All Things Ordinary," "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" and "Emma Discovery" were instant classics ï¿½ a veritable blueprint for the quirky emo rock that has become a trademark of the region.
"When we started, it was virtually a pop band," Verhoeven says. "It was really innocent sounding. Everyone's musical tastes expand daily, and all of us have been listening to all kinds of different stuff and trying different things. Our next record will probably show a lot of musical growth. You have to grow in some way. There's no point if you're staying the same."
How I spent my summer vacation
The Anniversary spent much of 2000 touring, both in support of The Get Up Kids and on its own. Touring with The Kids was a learning experience for the band, including the expected highs and lows of road life.
"There are a lot of funny stories," Berwanger says of the tour. "We sold out two nights in L.A., which is a funny place because they have The Rainbow Room where Guns N' Roses used to hang out. We stayed at that place in 'Almost Famous' (The Continental Hyatt House). I almost got arrested that night for peeing in the ice making machine."
While in California, Berwanger met actress Chloe Sevigny ("Kids"), who had just been nominated for an Oscar for her performance in "Boys Don't Cry." Though rumor mills around town were buzzing for months, Berwanger downplays the relationship.
"I went out with her a couple of times," he says. "I wouldn't really call it a boyfriend-girlfriend thing. I don't think it would've worked out ï¿½ two different lifestyles. At the time, she was going to the Golden Globes and Academy Awards and I think she's changed a lot since then. It was a lot for her. She doesn't consider herself that big of an actress and she was just going through a weird time. Liam Neeson hit on her one time ï¿½ tried to get her to come up to his room ï¿½ and he has a wife. Celebrity lifestyle."
Another highlight of the Anniversary/Get Up Kids tour was a five-week jaunt through nearly every country in Europe.
"Europe is so amazing," Verhoeven enthuses. "You just stand and look around. But the people are so great and so different ... The shows were awesome, but sometimes it can be really hard over there. Touring itself is hard anyway, but touring in different countries is really different."
Though the band has many fond memories of the European tour, it was confronted with unenthusiastic audiences in The Netherlands.
"The Amsterdam show was probably the weirdest one of the tour," Verhoeven recalls. "When we were playing, people were talking so loud in the crowd that you couldn't even hear us play. They were really rude. It was weird. The city itself is amazing, though."
Ask The Anniversary members about the worst show they've ever endured and you'll hear about Richmond, Va., home to hardcore bands like Avail and hardcore fans who are wary of outsiders.
"It's the worst place you could ever play," Verhoeven says. "It's all straight-edge, hardcore kids. People were really angry. It was a scary evening, a lot of bad stuff happened. People were jumping into the crowd and really hurting people. We asked them to be careful and they got really pissed off. It started an argument. One kid punched Justin in the face and someone threw a bottle at Josh.
"They were waiting for us and The Get Up Kids to fight after the show. They followed us and threw stuff at our van, on the highway going 70 miles an hour. It was the stupidest thing I've ever seen in my life, but it was the only bad show we've ever had."
Till we earned a holiday
Fortunately, the Richmond show remains the sole blemish in an otherwise stellar career. "Breakdown" has sold well and garnered the act critical acclaim around the world.
"There are a lot of people downloading our music," Verhoeven says. "Kids come to our shows and say, 'I have every song you ever recorded. I got it off of Napster.' We're like, 'Thanks.' But most of the time, those kids are still going to go out and buy the record. So I'm not really discouraged by it."
Currently, the band is hanging out in town, enjoying a rare bit of downtime, rehearsing for this weekend's Bottleneck show, crafting songs for its second record and preparing for another round of intense touring in the fall. The band is using the time wisely ï¿½ Verhoeven and Roelofs are taking classes at KU, David and Jenko are working, and Berwanger is holed up at home with a 4-track and a head full of music.
"I haven't been leaving my house except for practice," Berwanger says. "I have about 20 songs, but I'm kind of going crazy in a way. I don't go outside unless I have band practice. I have a little studio set up in my basement and I've been writing songs. Some of them are bad, some of them are good. Right now we have five or six songs we're definitely going to record for the new album.
"The songs are definitely different. Our first record might be considered sort of pop-punk ï¿½ upbeat speeds and stuff. There's not a lot of that so far with the new one, nothing really punk-rock speed. It's more mid-tempo rock 'n' roll. But it's not gonna be a country-rap record or anything."