By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Because if there's one thing that truly drives the mall punk scene—both the one that exists here in Dallas and those in other cities—it's the artists' penchant for social networking. In fact, that's how Forever the Sickest Kids, itself a collection of Dallas-area suburbanites, got its first big break. Within days of finishing its first song ("Hey Brittany"), the band purchased an option on band networking site PureVolume to have the track featured on the site's main log-in page. A few days later and the rest of the band's details fell into place: It signed with a manager, earned its major-label deal and enlisted a Hollywood producer to craft its sound.
"Nowadays, it's about the whole experience for the fans," says FTSK frontman Jonathan Cook. "The music is just a small part of it."
That explains why, for a full six hours before the band's headlining April 7 performance at the House of Blues, all six members of Forever the Sickest Kids, having already sound-checked and readied their set, having already coiffed and ironed their hair into their perfect angular forms and already dressed in their onstage digs, stood out on the street next to their parked tour bus, mingling with the fans who'd come to see them.
Not just their show. But them.
Actual, legitimate conversations take place. Band members and fans alike (parents included) reminisce with one another about prior run-ins, previous shows and future plans. Hugs are exchanged. Pictures are taken (incessantly, actually). Marriage proposals are jokingly offered and accepted. When one group of barely tween-age girls walks past the bus and starts squealing at the simple revelation that the televisions on the bus are turned to Family Guy, the members not only pop out of the bus to say hello to their adoring minions, but they spend minutes actually discussing the specific episode.
What the fans don't see is guitarist Caleb Turman sneaking a cigarette around the corner of the venue, fearful that his fans might spot him setting a bad example.
They're all simple gestures, sure. But, considering that, for this modern set of fans, Forever the Sickest Kids might as well be N*SYNC, if not the Beatles, well, it's the stuff that prepubescent dreams are made of.
"I remember going to my first show, and I remember buying an At the Drive-In T-shirt and thinking that they were the greatest band ever," explains Luis Dubuc, the brainchild behind another sugary-sweet, Dallas-based power-pop act, The Secret Handshake. "But I couldn't meet At the Drive-In. These kids can meet me, and they can hang out, and it's cool. And they want that. They need that. They have to feel like they actually know you, in a weird way."
But for the 24-year-old Dubuc, the scene, as fun as it is, as successful as it has allowed his career to become, leaves something of a bad taste in his mouth. When asked about his thoughts on his interaction with the other bands that make up the suburban scene, he balks at offering up his full opinion.
"I feel like if I say what I want to say, it won't come off well," he says cautiously, in a recent interview in Uptown, not too far from his home. He worries about the way in which the scene manifests itself, the ways in which bands distinctly copy one another's styles, the lack of knowledge that other bands have about the acts that came before them, both in and out of the mall punk genre.
Dubuc, who moved to Dallas from Canada at the age of 16, blames American radio, for one, but also the other musicians in the scene, who are wholly unaware of the acts he considers his biggest influences, like indie dance icons Daft Punk and Ratatat.
"It's just a different game," he says. "I'm not trying to slam the other bands—I'm friends with them and they're all great guys—but there's another side to it all, where it's all about making money and pandering to the young kids. It's not about the music."
And though Dubuc goes through the same motions of interacting with his fans, he's quick to explain that he does so simply to help put a face to his music—and to a large degree, because, with so many shared fans between his act and acts like Forever the Sickest Kids, whose members are all around Dubuc's age, he's forced to play the game of pandering to his younger fans, if only in his one-on-one interactions with them.
"Our fans can definitely get as old as 21, 22," Dubuc says. "But for the most part, it's a lot of really young kids—like 14 to 20, somewhere in there. It's mostly pretty fun, though. It would be weird if I was Boyz II Men or The Backstreet Boys and I was trying to be, like, this suave guy or something."
(For the record, he isn't: Dubuc got married last weekend.)
But whatever bitter taste is in his mouth, the payoffs are sweet.
"If people think they know me, they're more likely to come to my shows. And they're more likely to have fun at the shows. I mean, even someone like me who came from being into indie rock—people go to those [indie] shows to see those bands and they cross their arms and they nod their heads and they leave and they're like, 'That was the best show ever!' Really? Are you showing it? Even me, when I go to an indie rock show, I just stand there. But these kids, they come to a show and they have fun and they don't care about being ashamed of anything. Me? No. I'm too cool. I don't stage dive. Are you kidding?"