Chemical Kids

There isn't much margin for error if you're zigzagging across the stage at Fitzgerald's while peering through a five-foot foam rubber vagina. Yet Faceplant's Bryan Broussard seems to have this rare skill mastered as he darts past other members of the band, not to mention a cloister of stage divers stomping around in front of the drum kit.

It all contributes to the orchestrated chaos that is a Faceplant concert. It's not your typical kind of Inner Loop Houston crowd, but something with more of a blue-collar feel. Many fans have traveled far, as evidenced by vocalist Billy Hargrove's shout-outs to homies from Pasadena and La Porte and elsewhere in the chemical corridor.

Meanwhile, testosterone-laden moshers clear out a large circle in which to conduct their impromptu boot camp. On stage there's a lineup of twitching stage divers, as nervous as kids nearing the front of the queue at a waterslide before leaping off into a sea of probing hands. Faceplant's funky metal hybrid riffs build while the tall, gangly Hargrove motormouths his rap and Broussard holds up a series of cardboard placards, spurring the crowd to shout a response during favorites such as "Tap a Keg" and "Smooth Hit." In a split second, all eyes turn toward an erupting fistfight just as businesslike bouncers appear out of nowhere to drag the combatants down the stairs.

At this stage in the band's evolution, its five members are wrestling with an age-old rock and roll dilemma: how to translate that unbridled, helter-skelter energy of the live show into major radio play that, in turn, propels the group from the fringes of stardom to the butt of Jimmy Fallon's jokes.

Some of the pieces are already in place; this year, Faceplant signed a publishing deal with EMI Music Group. And the band's aggressive New York management company has engineered promotional deals with Jägermeister, Red Bull and Hurley International clothing. Buy a CD at the gig and take home some Jägermeister swag, Broussard tells the paying customers at Fitzgerald's, just before he chugs a Red Bull on stage.

Judging by the brisk business at the bar, the fans have the product identification part nailed. "I don't see any problem with it," says Broussard. "It's a symbiotic relationship, like that little fish that sucks the bits of food off a manatee's teeth."

Besides continual grueling club tours around the country, the band has opened for the likes of Foo Fighters and Creed, and performed at an Ozzfest after-party in Chicago attended by members of Drowning Pool three days before the death of DP front man Dave Williams. All these things add up, but at a recent gathering at a Hooters restaurant, the band members are candid in discussing their exposure to the underbelly of the music industry beast. Nothing, they say, is certain.

"EMI and the record companies are telling us they're waiting for that one song that'll break us. That's pretty much where we stand," says Hargrove. Meanwhile, rolling her eyes at classy one-liners from patrons ("Are you the dessert?"), his attractive wife, Melanie, brings him a steak sandwich. "The labels say we've already got hits No. 2 and 3, but just not No. 1."

What about "Here I Am"? That two-year-old tune would seem ready to stand alongside other radio hits by the likes of System of a Down or Incubus. The song was even purchased by Levi Strauss for a promo CD compilation. "Nope," says Hargrove with finality. "They're very picky. It's too old now."

The band has focused so much on its raucous live show, Broussard adds, that being able to step back and write more meaningful songs may not be an automatic process. And that's not what they're about, anyway. "We're all about having a good time, so when people come to see us they can forget how crappy the world is," he says. "I think this whole world economy thing has us primed for being in the right place -- people need a smile now, not some guy in a band crying under a bridge about his girlfriend.

"I don't think we really want to be political, so we write about things that everyone can agree on: boobs, beer and getting laid."

But there is a maturation evident on their more recent demos, which feature compelling harmonies by Hargrove and guitarist Jason Self, with Broussard's menacing rumble rising up at various junctures. Drummer Charlie Carlisle, whose claim to fame at Pasadena High was being kicked out of the school band for stealing a set of cymbals, is precise without coming across as a technophile, and even tosses in African- and Latin-inspired rhythms underneath the grinding guitars. Hargrove's love for early Chili Peppers shines through on a track titled "Houston Weather," but when the harmonies kick in on "Slowly Running Dry" and "You Win," Hargrove's nasally intonation gives the pulse of the songs the feel of early Faith No More or Alice in Chains. And that's a good thing. The newest songs, meanwhile, play up the band's Texas roots with redneck lyrics that Broussard -- a former repo man -- describes as "heavy metal Charlie Daniels."

While some fans and younger bands already see Faceplant as a success, life for the band is still a daily struggle. Upon signing their deal in February, EMI told the band to quit their day jobs in return for a chunk of cash and tour support. The six band members went home with a four-figure check, but much of that was gobbled up on repair bills for the band motor home. That money-pit-on-wheels also sucked dry the band's road take on a recent tour and held up a recording session. Something had to give.

That something was guitarist Jake Fisher, who quit the band in early August. He couldn't afford the pauper's lifestyle while waiting for a hit, and at a late-night keg party at his house following the triumphant Faceplant gig next door at Fitzgerald's, Fisher added that his impending divorce also helped him decide to chuck it. EMI has provided Fisher with a convenient payment plan to return his advance. "All that money up front, well, it ain't free," says Broussard, philosophically.

For his part, Hargrove feels lucky that Melanie is willing to wait tables at Hooters while stardom beckons. With his three-year-old son, Kyle, chattering in the background on the phone, Hargrove praises Melanie for understanding the commitment and "putting up with all this crap."

Now the band has replaced the money-guzzling RV with a (hopefully) reliable 15-seat Dodge van, just in time for the latest Jägermeister tour across nine states and 16 cities. And the trimmed-down Faceplant is psyched for the job ahead.

"With that RV out of the way, we're going to do okay on this tour as far as the money goes. We're going to look at doing some live recordings," says Carlisle. "It sucks that we can't give people a new CD to go home with," adds Broussard, "but you learn to be very patient if you're serious. There's no doubt in our minds we are going to do this. Sure, the music industry sucks financially, so maybe we won't wait for them to come around to do a [record] deal, and we'll just go do it ourselves."

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Greg Barr
Contact: Greg Barr