The Price of Fame
"Nothing has really changed," said Flickerstick guitarist Rex Ewing, since the band won VH1's Bands on the Run competition and signed a multi-album deal with Epic. Ewing made the comment on a recent Friday evening as he loaded his plate with free Mexican food and grabbed another drink from the open bar at Sony Music and Epic Records' "Flickerstick meet-and-greet" prior to a sold-out show at Fort Worth's Ridglea Theater.
A year ago, a Flickerstick meet-and-greet consisted of conversation with the band over $3 beers while sitting at the back of half-filled Metroplex locales like the Aardvark. Have Ewing and the rest of the band simply not realized how much has changed for them, or are they filled with a naive sincerity that has kept them from letting their newly discovered success go to their heads? It's a little of both.
Flickerstick has not changed much -- yet. The guys' live show remains as energetic as ever, they're as modest as ever, and their music is hitting its peak. But with a new record contract, a seemingly unmatched amount of notoriety and hordes of expectant people in almost every city, the band has experienced dramatic changes, whether the group sees them or not. The changes are twofold: those within the Flickerstick organization and those outside it.
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The first change is inevitable. As a band gets bigger, it needs more people to make sure it shows up in the right city at the right time on the right date. Flickerstick's four managers, publicist, roadies and Epic representatives have jobs ranging from telling the guys at which hotel they will be staying to making sure the rider -- in which bands tell the clubs their preferred backstage food, drink and M&M color -- gets filled at each venue. Less than a year ago the Flickerstick empire consisted of little more than a manager and a roadie, and the chances that its rider would be taken seriously were slim to none.
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But with the band's explosion in popularity and a seemingly endless number of Epic personnel available for its use, a growth in the number of "helpers" is understandable. The second group of changes is also inevitable, if more annoying to old fans. For the past four years or so, Flickerstick has had a small but loyal following consisting mainly of TCU students and area friends and family members. Together, the group formed a family of sorts, as fans could easily join the band for drinks at any number of local establishments and at after-show parties. Flickerstick was the family secret that no one was about to share.
Now there is little trace of the close-knit fans who once filled the Aardvark. The original fans haven't disappeared, but they're outnumbered by boppers chasing the latest fad fueled by VH1. It's nice to see the band get enough support to sell out the Ridglea, but it's disconcerting to see a group of high school girls out front crying uncontrollably because they could not get tickets to see their "beloved" band, and to stand in line behind high-fiving frat boys with fake IDs. The idea, real or not, that Flickerstick was our own little band is gone forever.
Three-year fan Jennifer Rogers remembers the good old days. "You actually used to be able to get close enough to Brandin to have a conversation," Rogers says. "Now, there is no way it could happen, so I don't even try." Rogers is not the only one bemoaning the changes. Lead singer Brandin Lea feels like his entire personal life has vanished.
"I can't even go to dinner with my girlfriend without someone stopping by the table to ask me if I knew about what I did on Bands on the Run," Lea says. "Of course I knew what happened! I was there, remember?"
Not only can longtime fans no longer sit in the back of a venue and share a drink with the band, they can no longer even get a drink without waiting in line. But there's always the after-party, right? Wrong. No one can get in without a laminated pass.
Despite the crowded shows and lack of after-parties, Rogers will continue to go to every Flickerstick show she can. "I understand that it is not the guys' fault and that this was bound to happen eventually, but I can't help but feel a little bit hurt that the band I supported for so long has been overrun with people that don't even care about the music. Most of these people are just at the show because they saw the band on TV."
Lea understands that outside of old-time fans, bitching about his current circumstances will probably fall on unsympathetic ears. "Yes, we have less of a personal life and less free time, but it is not something we are complaining about," he says. "We knew this was part of it when we got into [the music business]. We will just have to deal with it."
Despite his seeming comfort with the extra attention, Lea is also quick to add that in the future, he may work on projects with less exposure. "Right now, it is not a problem," he says. "But if and when this ride ends, whether it be a year or ten years, and I start to work on another project, I would probably try to keep a much lower profile."
Now that Flickerstick has joined the ranks of the major labels, the band must confront a common problem in the music biz: record execs who water down once-great groups (e.g., Old 97's) until they all sound the same. Those execs keep their jobs by producing albums that the fans want to hear. If the Flickerstick fan base continues to be infiltrated by the same demographic that puts annoying pop acts into the spotlight, the result will be frightening.
The Flickerstick boys will have to decide whether to let themselves be watered down by the corporate rock machine or to stay true to themselves. One path leads to fame, fortune and possibly supermodels. The other leads to the Aardvark. Which way will they go?=
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