Downriver rockers Bliss 66 construct a fantastic reality from scratch.
Your hands gently grip the steering wheel; your foot applies steady pressure to the gas; your eyes stay focused on the white lines slipping beneath the tires. But your mind is somewhere far gone. Whether heading out or home, radio has an uncanny ability to transport you to places your car never could.
And with heavy radio airplay, Bliss 66 is providing thousands of hazy, personalized music videos every day. Driving to the house where they practice, the home of Bliss 66’s rhythm guitarist, Aaron Schossau, I put their newest CD, Trip to the 13th, in the player. It’s an alternative rock album with all the hooks you’d expect from something getting airplay on a commercial radio station, but there’s something more, maybe a few extra ounces of heart to soften the initial sting of a sound that’s almost too marketable. It’s not just fancy microphones and studio tricks, either. An acoustic performance at Harmony House (13721 Eureka Rd., Southgate — 734-285-5840) will prove that June 26 at midnight (Monday night/Tuesday morning).
But heading south on I-75, past the smokestacks and factories and then navigating between strip malls and road construction, it’s not too hard to imagine where they’re coming from.
Six sweet kids with big dreams, practicing the same songs over and over again in the garage, only coming inside for a dinner of green beans, mashed potatoes and fried chicken. Minutes after wiping off the milk mustache, it’s back outside to meet with friends, drive around with the windows rolled down, searching for some sense of identity and freedom, sharing sorrows, joys. Waiting to hear that one song on the radio and singing along at the top of their lungs when it finally gets played. Lying under the stars, way past curfew, they imitate crowd cheers, visualizing arenas packed with fans. It’s a dream of nearly every high-school kid in a band and for these six guys from Downriver who met through a youth group almost three years ago, hard work (and a few days of skipped school to practice) has made the fantasy a reality. And now kids just a few years younger are passing their driving tests and taking the long way home with the hopes of catching “Sooner or Later” on the way.
Epic Records releases Bliss 66’s CD on June 26 and the band has already performed for massive crowds, playing gigs with such established acts as Smashmouth, Shaggy, Vertical Horizon and Seven Mary Three.
“The festival (with Seven Mary Three) was awesome because there were at least 10,000 people out there and they had us on this huge screen on the side,” Schossau says. “We had never done that before so that was quite a rush, because we had such a tremendous response from the crowd.”
At one of the shows, Rob Harbin, the band’s lead guitarist, picked up his first superfan.
“This one girl seemed to follow me around,” he says sheepishly. “We played three different times over the course of three days. And it just so happened that wherever I was, somehow she was lurking there around the corner, peeking through a fence. It was interesting. But security for some reason escorted her out because they thought she could possibly be a threat. She was eccentric. She was definitely a unique person.”
Large-scale festivals and a headlining gig at St. Andrew’s Hall June 22 are a far cry from the vomit-stained college bar circuit they played four days a week at times in the early days.
“We played any place we could get a show regardless of how many people showed up,” Harbin says. “In Mt. Pleasant, there were three people at a place called Rubbles and we played just to get experience and practice. They were a couple fans that came with us.”
The band’s keyboardist, Jordan Barnett, makes a slight correction: “They weren’t really fans. More like the sound guy.”
So how did a bunch of kids from Taylor and the surrounding suburbs get a record contract with a major label? Of course, talent, almost sickeningly dreamy good looks, dedication and a lot of luck didn’t hurt, but it took support from a few local radio stations and a savvy manager, Rick Smith, to get them to where they are now.
“We were at the Verve show,” begins Cheyenne Goff, the band’s lead vocalist who auditioned for Bliss 66 in a church parking lot, singing an a capella version of Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.” The group had brought a copy of an 11-song CD they had recorded at Tempermill. At the show, former radio station 105.1 the Edge had a booth set up. “We went there and dropped it off. They started playing a song called ‘Do it Again’ that was kind of a standout on the first record. They gave a call to Rick because Rick at the time was doing Days of the New and Days of the New was blowing up. And Rick called us. He was real cut-and-dried at first. He was like, ‘I like this song. I like this song. I like this song. This song could be better. Write new songs. Write better songs. And go and learn how to be a bar band.’”
After following his advice for a few years, it was time to look for a producer.
“As soon as our manager agreed to manage us, he didn’t start trying to shop us,” Schossau says. “He wasn’t right away looking for record deals. He knew that we needed some time. So we got to the point where he did take the demo on some of his trips to New York and LA. One of the people that he was out there doing some Days of the New stuff with gave him some feedback, saying he ought to find a producer first. Somebody said we needed Glen Ballard [Alanis Morissette, Dave Mathews, No Doubt], that it would be so perfect. He’s really good with unique vocalists and crossing formats. And Rick’s like, ‘That’s really out of our reach, for a new band that hasn’t done anything, that hasn’t been anywhere really.’ But he’s like, ‘What the heck?’ He tapes a CD up and he puts a little note in there saying how this could be like Matchbox 20 but younger. And he sent it off. And Glen gets the thing and he’s intrigued by it because of the note, but he opens it up and there’s no CD inside. That actually was probably the best thing that happened to us, because Glen obviously gets tons of these, but he happened to open ours and he looked inside and there was no disc, just this little note. He called Rick up on the spot. He’s like, ‘This is Glen Ballard and I got your package here about Bliss.’
“And Rick’s like, ‘Really? What do you think?’ And he goes, ‘Well, I don’t know yet. I still haven’t heard it. You didn’t send me the disc.’ And he says, ‘Oh sorry. I meant to do that. Yeah.’
“So then he sent him some of the demos immediately, the next day. And Glen responded again right away. He was really into the stuff. And he had Rick go out there the next day. Rick got on a plane and was in a meeting. We were all roofing the Hilton out by the airport. And we got a phone call. It was actually Glen on the phone with Rick there, telling us that he was really into the stuff and that he wanted to produce us and sign us. The very next weekend, they rented out the Magic Bag and had us play a private show. That went really well — and next thing you know, about three or four months later, we recorded an album.”