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In a sound-stage-size practice room across from a Viagra warehouse, the next big thing just may be rising to the occasion.
Two teenagers from Galveston and another from Baytown are taking what seems like an eternity to get their shiny, new equipment to cooperate. While the band shakes off the rust after several days between rehearsals, incessant bitching is the order of the day. The members of Shulton's Youth are acting just like, well, a bunch of whiny teenagers.
They run through a few songs from their recently recorded CD, each cut from the same crunchy guitar power-pop cloth as All-American Rejects. Suddenly the kids catch fire with a surprisingly kick-ass rendition of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," reborn as a collaboration between ol' skeleton face and Simple Plan's Pierre Bouvier.
Shulton's lead vocalist Luke Boor, 19, a former high school thespian and aspiring babe magnet, belts out the J5 chorus like he damn well owns the lyrics, his left hand flying up and down the neck of his low-slung bass. Guitarist and former youth state-level surfer B.D. Hailey, 18, breaks into a smile, presumably because his ax finally sounds just right. Drummer Chris Frugé, the youngest at 16 but the most technically skilled musician in the room, blends solid old-school funk with power-pop beats. Back in Louisiana, Frugé's dad, a professional Cajun-style drummer, first strapped Chris into a chair behind a kit at age two.
The jury is out on Shulton's Youth. Maybe these nice kids with a record company advance in their pockets, a standard one-plus-an-option deal and a no-drugs-or-booze clause in their contract will release a CD that languishes on programming directors' desks.
Or maybe they're the next Green Day.
It's no surprise that enthusiasm oozes from all corners, from the kids to their manager (once a drum tech for Peter Criss of KISS) to the folks behind their deep-pocketed fledgling Houston label, Mlar Records. If fervor is all it takes to put a band on the Billboard charts and on the bedroom walls of 12-year-old girls, then go ahead and start printing up those counterfeit parking-lot band T-shirts.
"The first time I saw them in Galveston [in 2003], they forgot their guitar tuners and the sound system was terrible," says band manager Charles "Spyder" Wallace. "But they laughed it off and made it through the show, and that's everything. Bands that take themselves too seriously don't end up making any money.
"I think the relationships within the band could survive a nine-month bus tour. Heaven help us if we get that far, but if I didn't think they had a shot, I wouldn't be here."
Wallace was impressed with an early demo -- featuring former drummer Russell Smalley, who was later booted out -- recorded at Sugar Hill for $1,000. In 2004, while Wallace was still working at a Clear Lake-area Guitar Center, some Houston hip-hop moguls-in-waiting strolled in to purchase a staggering amount of sound equipment for Mlar Records. Wallace shoved a Shulton's Youth demo into the hands of the two -- Maduro "Fats" Hill and Keith Winfield -- and shit happened. Hill and Winfield both have plenty of industry cred. The former was a member of the Bomb Squad production team of Public Enemy fame, and the latter has produced tracks for the likes of Bell Biv Devoe and played keyboards on Will Smith's Big Willie Style CD.
Soon after the meeting with Wallace, Winfield appeared at a Shulton's Youth rehearsal on Galveston's 61st Street. "They wanted to sign us on the spot," recalls Boor. "But B.D.'s dad hooked us up with an entertainment lawyer so we could get a good deal."
Shulton's Youth -- a name that inexplicably popped into Hailey's head one day -- signed with Mlar in February of this year. Their 13-track CD was recorded this summer at South Coast Studios in Friendswood, and awaits final mixing and mastering. Hill says the first single, "Life's Not Fair," was just shipped to radio stations across the country. He awaits the band's ascent up the charts.
Mlar, with financial backing from two Houston health care executives, represents five acts, all of them currently flying under Rolling Stone's radar. Besides Shulton's Youth, the roster includes rapper Born Scar, R&B singers Dillan Cole Brown and AJA, and gospel singer Stephanie. At the end of August, the entire Mlar roster flew to Miami for a label showcase at Club Oxygen, a few days before the MTV Video Music Awards (and, thankfully, one day before Hurricane Katrina arrived). The plan was to create a buzz for CD distribution and maybe put the artists within smelling distance of some A- or B-list celebrities at label schmoozefests.
"A year from now, hopefully, we'll be on the road, heading for the side stage at the Warped Tour, and then we'll make it as big as we can be," says Boor, who lifts weights several days a week and possibly regrets a pair of tattoos on his shoulders. "I hope some people I know in Galveston will say, 'I just graduated with that kid, and now he's a rock star.' We're not some Blink-182 wannabes."
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