Out of Sight

Actionslacks is a good band playing good songs. Simple as that.

Before we go any further, let's get this out of the way: Actionslacks is a band. Four members are in the group now, there used to be three, and the number of members named Tim Scanlin remains at one. Remember that, and highlight or underline it if necessary.

There are those who will attempt to convince you otherwise, that Scanlin is the only one who counts. That Actionslacks is little more than a glorified solo act. Those people do not include Scanlin, who sings and plays guitar and writes most of the songs. Or drummer Marty Kelly, who's been around since the group formed in Berkeley in the summer of 1994. Or the new guys, bassist Ross Murray or guitarist-singer-keyboard player Doug Modie. They, of course, know.

Ready for action: Actionslacks is, from left, Marty Kelly, Ross Murray, Doug Modie and Tim Scanlin.
Ready for action: Actionslacks is, from left, Marty Kelly, Ross Murray, Doug Modie and Tim Scanlin.

Here's who will: People who know Scanlin from various day jobs he's had over the years. People who recognize his name from the pages of Snackcake, the 'zine he founded, or CMJ New Music Monthly, one of the music magazines he's written for. Maybe from Sonicnet, an online music site where he wrote and edited.

These people, music journalists mostly, will and do ignore the other members of Actionslacks. (Marty, Ross and Doug--remember them?) They will and do ignore the band's three albums, including the recently released The Scene's Out of Sight, to focus on Scanlin and his résumé. Not a word of which helps Scanlin write a three-minute pop song that sticks in your head for three days. Well, save for the part under Related Experience that says 1994-present: Singer-guitarist for Berkeley-based Actionslacks.

Fact is, The Scene's Out of Sight has a dozen such tunes, and it doesn't matter that Scanlin could've probably come up with a better description for them than that. For instance, try forgetting the chorus of "Tad Loves Kimberly James": "I like you/I'll tell you why someday/I won't jinx it trying to explain/I like you/You like me/It's simple and easy." It's as uncomplicated and beautiful as the Saturday rain Scanlin notices earlier in the song, but not nearly as overwrought as that explanation. The band is naïve, in a good way, especially on songs such as the title track or "Folding Chair" or "The Sun in St. Tropez." It's like each time Scanlin stomps on the distortion pedal or Kelly holds back until the last possible moment, it's the first time anyone has ever thought of that. And you're willing to believe them, completely. Whether you've heard it all before becomes a moot point, irrelevant, not even worth mentioning.

The point? They're good songs because they are, not because of who wrote them. So, for the last time, writing songs is much more difficult than writing about them. Obviously. Clearly. Time to move on to bigger and better things.

Or, in Scanlin's case, traffic school. At the moment, on a Monday morning at the beginning of April, that's exactly where he is. Not in "some stupid classroom somewhere," but in his Berkeley apartment, which is probably worse. Sitting at his computer, staring at the screen, putting in his time. He could be playing his guitar, or doing pretty much anything else. But no, here he is, his modem and phone line acting as ball and chain, trying to get his ticket taken care of before he goes out on the road for a month with Actionslacks. Which is why he's stuck in his apartment in the first place.

As tedious as it is, speeding tickets were the least of Scanlin's worries following Actionslacks' last tour. Scanlin left the tour with a ticket to pay; bassist Mark Wijsen left the tour, then left the band.

"He was going through a bunch of stuff; he was going to get married when we got back, and you know, his fiancee was trying to plan this wedding and he wasn't around," Scanlin says, taking a break from his defensive driving course. "I mean, he was out playing in a fucking rock band. That didn't go over too well. He was just totally stressed and super-cranky the whole time. Not to put it all on him, but I think he definitely contributed to that tour not being the most enjoyable tour. So when we got back, we kind of just said, 'Look, you obviously have other stuff to deal with.'

"We went our separate ways, and we're friends now, but it was a bit touch and go for a while," he continues. "Any personality conflict in a band can be amplified tenfold on tour. That's where you really understand whether or not you can get along with the people in your band, when you go on tour. Because you can't get away from each other, you know? And it's hard."

Scanlin's not ready to get away from Actionslacks at the moment, or anytime soon. With two new members in the van for the first time, the band is out supporting its finest album to date, The Scene's Out of Sight, though 1995's Too Bright, Just Right, Good Night and 1997's One Word still hit the spot when they hit the stereo. And Scanlin couldn't be happier--with the record, his band, everything.

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