By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"I paid for it already," White Light Motorcade front man Harley Dinardo snaps. He's fighting with a gas-station clerk about an ice cream sandwich. "I'm trying to tell her that I paid for it already," he says. After he smooths things out he heads back outside to the van.
"The girl behind the counter had this big hickey on her neck and, like, no teeth and stuff," he says with a sophomoric giggle. "You gotta love being in Bumblefuck, Texas. I fuckin' left my wallet in San Francisco. And FedEx is screwing me over and not sending it, so I got one of the guys to buy me an ice cream sandwich. For some reason today I was like, 'I could really go for an ice cream sandwich.'"
Dinardo is out of his element. The dating pool at gas stations in Bumblefuck isn't up to the social standards of his big-city pedigree. Back home in New York he's used to trolling for chicks within Don Hill's, an intentionally seedy rock-and-roll bar near the meatpacking district in Manhattan's Lower West Side. The bar's now-infamous weekly dance party, 'Tis Was, is where Dinardo's new band was born.
"We all just hung out there," Dinardo says. "Steve and Tommy would come to see us play, and we all clicked at the same time. It's a scene where fashion and music come together--a lot of major cities have these--dance nights for kids who like rock. The guy who started it at Don Hill's was ahead of his time--booking bands like Interpol and the Strokes. We played there, everyone did, but we never knew anyone was going to explode."
To stretch the analogy, the explosion created by Interpol and the Strokes can be likened to atomic fallout. Huge grassroots followings of bands like the White Stripes and the Hives had majors scrambling to clone the career pattern of newly empowered underground heavyweights. The chain reaction set off a true hype explosion, and ground zero centered on New York's fashion-conscious rock set. The first bands that broke from New York--namely 'Tis Was buddies the Strokes and Interpol--had their hands in deep pockets, employing stylists to create a paint-by-numbers, fuck-all ennui.
Eventually everyone seemed on the bandwagon, and from the cracks in the New York pavement sprung a second vanguard of new rockers (including the Capitol-funded Star Spangles and the BMG-funded White Light Motorcade) that came ready-made with worn denim, reckless drinking habits and press releases gushing MC5 references.
"No, we don't look current," Dinardo says in a slightly defensive tone. "We like the kind of music that we like, and we've had these haircuts for a long time. To us, it seemed like there wasn't a scene going on at all. We didn't know that Interpol was going to be massive. We would see posters for their shows when we would rehearse, but there were tons of posters around. I think it was cool--all at the same time people all just woke up to them, ourselves included."
The wake-up call led to Dinardo assembling a quartet of Don Hill's patrons including guitarist Mark Lewis (a former bandmate who used to work sound at Don Hill's), bassist Tommy Salmorin (one of the club's bartenders) and drummer Steve Slingeneyer (whose credits in "the biz" included gigs with his wife, songstress Tracy Bonham). After they settled on a name, Dinardo knew how to get the band hooked up with a big-money deal from major-funded upstart Octone. It was a skill he honed from the rough ride of earlier band Closer, which allegedly nabbed a seven-digit deal from Revolution in the late '90s. But things went sour quickly.
"You feel like your whole career goes by in two weeks," Dinardo says. "I think Octone, which is part of a major, wants to develop artists and not throw their ass against the wall with one novelty radio hit. Closer would have had a better chance if we would have had more of a push or a better record label. That was my first shot at it and I got a bad taste in my mouth from the record industry, and I'm really a lot happier in this situation."
The situation that White Light Motorcade finds itself in these days operates on the formulas set forth by in-the-trenches indie success stories. Octone isn't throwing their asses against the wall to see if they stick; they are throwing their asses on the road to see if anyone gives a damn.
Unfortunately the system is rife with contradictions: Instead of toughing it out by sleeping on floors and employing the charming four-guys-against-the-world cliché, the big bossman behind the Motorcade has the boys shacked up in hotels every night and jumping on everything from buzzy CMJ/MTV2 tours with the Ravonettes and the Mooney Suzuki to support slots on legs of a recent Alice Cooper tour.
When their recently released debut, Thank You, Goodnight!, immediately found its way into stores and major media outlets throughout America and Europe, it seemed like there was more than meets the eye. Comparing their résumé to the disaffected slacker poses they strike on the record cover, things don't add up. When it comes to their quick and calculated music industry maneuvering, Dinardo and company seem to be either playing dumb or they just are dumb. If Dinardo is playing, he's good at it.
"On tour, life is about a lot of drinking and getting drunk," Dinardo says, mouth still full of ice cream sandwich.
Coming from the other end of the phone, as the band rolls through Texas farm country, are Dinardo's genuinely earnest confessionals about the trials of hitting the road trying to get people to hear his new record. You have to give it to the band in one respect; they are going to be on the road 200 days this year, consuming fast food and hauling gear to spread their gospel. ("America, man, it's so fucking big. It's hard to go to the same place twice. It takes so long," Dinardo muses.) But by now, critics have lined up to take pot shots at the more recent, formulaic NYC rock exports, and the message presented on Thank You, Goodnight! has been met with mixed reviews. The super-glossy collection of guitar-strong Oasis throwaways has gotten a black eye from writers who find Dinardo's adopted Brit drawl and mind-numbing lyrics ("Time is a friend of mine/She's an ocean"--wha?) a little hard to stomach.
"Some critics don't like it, but whatever, we're doing what we want to do," Dinardo says. "The British press respects new artists more than they do here. They want new stuff. If you go to Rolling Stone, they are like, 'Yeah, yeah, never heard of them. Forget about it.' In the UK they are like, 'Oh, I've never heard of them, let me check it out.'"
Eventually, no matter how suspect Dinardo's path to stardom is, his unbridled passion to live the rock-and-roll dream is obvious by the tone of his voice. No matter how painful it is to hear him wax philosophical about the on-the-road struggle as an artist, by the way he talks it's obvious he really believes.
"We know those other people in bands in New York, but it isn't anything like that. We don't think about that kind of success," he says. "Those are bands that people fall in and out of love with very quickly. They are very for the moment. Even though they are good bands, it reminds me of the Romantics or bands like that, bands that are all about a fad. We're not really like that. We're fans of Bowie or the Beatles. We are like bands like Aerosmith and Zeppelin--bands that just tour. When things are tough I always go back to the Sex Pistols, who got stuff thrown at them in the Midwest. That's us, man."