Meet the (High School) Press

Last Saturday, The Vanished held a press conference.

"Thank you for spending your afternoon with us," said lead singer Kevin Kirkwood, twisting around on his swivel chair somewhat nervously. "I wouldn't even be out of bed yet if I was you guys."

The room was lit for a hangover, or else a group date--dim lights, comfy leather couches, end tables cluttered with votive candles that flickered romantically. As the band launched into an acoustic version of their love-bruised single "Favorite Scar," digital cameras strobed across the room.

"Maybe you've heard that song on the radio," said Alan Ayo after the band finished. "Ayo," as he's called on the air, is the program director for the Edge, which has been playing the song over the past month. "The purpose of this press conference is to take everybody a step further," he continued. Then he roll-called the attendees: "Plano East is here. Skyline, Jesuit, ESD, W.T. White." Every once in a while, someone gave out a pep-rally whoop.

This wasn't your typical press conference; it was designed for high school journalism students. Approximately 15 area schools participated, sending both a writer and photographer. They learned about the Vanished (platinum in South Africa! members toured with Three Doors Down!), got a free CD and a picture of the themselves with the band, cozy and casual on the couch--and in return, all they have to do is put together something for the school rag, thereby introducing the Vanished to thousands of teens with disposable incomes and impressionable aesthetics. It's terrific PR, really: marketing sugarcoated as education--or perhaps vice versa.

By 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, the room at Maxi-Media Studios (the former studio of televangelist Robert Tilton, now gloriously repurposed to record and showcase rock music) started to fill with blondes baring their tummies, boys in black band shirts or loose khakis. Their questions were mostly standard-issue softballs, the kinds you might hear on Oprah or The View.

"What would you be doing if you weren't playing music?"

"Sleeping," said Kirkwood, who wore a Marshall T-shirt underneath a fashionably torn Army jacket. A permanent marker was safety-pinned to his sleeve (for autographs?).

"How would you describe your music?"

"Rock," said guitarist Dallas Perry, who originally played with Kirkwood in Seven Channels. "There's too many categories for music these days--emo, screamo."

The kids were quick to laugh, generous with applause, perhaps a wee starstruck with the twentysomethings (remember when even college students seemed like celebrities?). But not all of them.

The first question of the afternoon came from a lanky kid at Jesuit, with glasses and shaggy hair that fell in his eyes. "Justin at Dallas Music Guide has called your latest CD 'background music for deciding which AFI shirt to buy.' How do you respond to that?"

"That's pretty good," Kirkwood said, laughing off the insult. "We like AFI. If we're mentioned in the same sentence, that's cool."

The Vanished proved naturals at press--self-deprecating and funny, rather than the spiky-haired, soul-patched posers of their band photo. Though their music is sometimes uninspired, it is downright catchy (I drove home with the chorus to "Favorite Scar" stuck in my head) and quivering with teen angst. "Daddy was never there/ With a crooked smile never cared" begins "Latchkey Princess." The press conference may have introduced them to their ideal audience--kids who find comfort in willfully dark songs like "Anesthesia Winter" and "Anna's Leech." And maybe it even bolstered the future of my own profession; God knows we need it.

"What was your worst gig?" asked the kid from Jesuit, microcassette perched on the arm of his chair. "How would you describe your audience?" And later, "I've got a follow-up, too."

Kirkwood clapped his hands together and pointed right at the kid. "Now that's a journalist!"

Calm before the storm: It's a light week for live music, especially touring acts, who have instead chosen to descend on Dallas next week, practically all at once. It's the SXSW bumper syndrome, in which our city will host a litany of acts going to the Austin festival: Broken Social Scene, The (International) Noise Conspiracy, N.E.R.D., the Wrens, and so on. In the meantime, a few local shows that stand out this week: 41 Gorgeous Blocks at the Wreck Room on Friday; Trey Johnson from Sorta plays Bob Dylan covers at Club Dada this Saturday, followed by Petty Theft; The Deathray Davies and OHNO at the Aardvark on Saturday; and, finally, this week's column subjects The Vanished open for Dexter Freebish at the Curtain Club on Friday. Rest up: Next week's gonna be a doozy.
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Sarah Hepola