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Pick 'Em and Flick 'Em

Nice bands like Flickerstick finish first on reality TV but flop in the real real world

Fat Wreck Chords, the punk rock empire and San Francisco record label founded by Fat Mike of NOFX, is home to Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Lagwagon, Propagandhi and of course, Floyd. Fat's official human mascot, Floyd works in the mailroom and can be seen on the covers of most of the free Fat (Fat-free?) promo CD samplers. That's him dressed up like Misfits-era Danzig on the cover of the latest sampler, Floyd: Squawk Among Us. He's what the dictionary would describe as "fubsy" (look it up), with a short Mohawk and an easy laugh not unlike the trill of a kid's plastic machine gun. Despite his jaunty nature, he's also something of an intellectual and a veritable Smithsonian when it comes to the history of punk rock and music in general.

That's not to say that he doesn't get stuff wrong. A lot, in fact. I've had many a shouting match with Floyd over his goofball facts and opinions. But he has an interesting theory, and unlike most of what he spouts, this one has some teeth. Floyd says that if a band is nice to people -- polite, friendly, always shows up on time -- it will invariably suck. Nice equals crappy. The opposite is also true: The better the band, the bigger the assholes they are.

You really can't argue with him on this one. Dang it, he's right. How else to explain Flickerstick, the band that won the VH1 reality TV show Bands on the Run? The premise of the show, which debuted last April, was to pit various groups from around the country in a week-to-week televised battle of the bands that traveled throughout the Midwest and the South. In order to stay on the show, you had to sell more merch and garner more audience response than the competition. Whoever performed the worst each week got the boot. Flickerstick won in part because it didn't play dirty like some of the other bands -- that, and the fact that its pedestrian brand of crescendo-dappled power rock was the least sucky in the show's surfeit of subpar songsmiths.

Let's hope their boozing skills have improved since Soulcracker drank them under the table.
Let's hope their boozing skills have improved since Soulcracker drank them under the table.

Since winning the show, the band has gone from being a big bar band in Big D to getting a major-label deal with Epic and selling out shows across the country to…slowly fizzling out and being dropped by the label completely. But singer Brandin Lea doesn't care. "We just left Epic recently," he says over the phone from Dallas, gearing up for a six-week tour. "It's a good thing; we're very happy about that." His telephone demeanor is plucky and genuine. See? Nice. "It's a long story, but after September 11 they had a lot of cutbacks, and we didn't get cut, but a lot of people who worked for us at the label did due to economic uncertainty," he says. "That kind of irked us a lot, so we just decided to part ways."

Hmmm…sounds like an excuse for not selling enough records. Then again, Flickerstick's Epic debut did come out on November 6, 2001, a shitty time to launch anything. Maybe it wasn't the band's fault. Its music is certainly no worse than the Goo Goo Dolls', and that cleft-chinned Monchichi is a millionaire now.

The real oddity about Flickerstick, the thing that proves Floyd's theory, is how a group of guys who are pretty cool and aware could collectively dupe themselves into thinking that going on a television show wouldn't reduce their hipness quotient. The band is too naive, ergo nice, ergo sucky. Face it: Being on TV is okay for a band like O-Town but poison for a band that wants to be respected for payin' its dues -- which, for the record, Flickerstick did, having been together a full five years before stepping in front of the studio cameras. Flickerstick even saw itself as being "independent," expressing admiration for bands like the Flaming Lips. All of that work and any attempt at street cred was erased when the band went on television.

"Now we're back on our own," says Lea. "We have a live album that's coming out on WAR Records -- that's like an indie label that's really cool, a little more our style."

The irony in all of this is that Flickerstick came across so well on Bands on the Run because it didn't compromise itself by cheating, yet nothing could've compromised the band more than winning the damn thing honestly. Now Brandin Lea and company have to pick up the pieces of their failed major bid, reinvent themselves as an indie band, and try to make it in a midsize club circuit that thinks of them as post-Nirvana Monkees. Maybe nice guys really do finish last.

 
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