Nothing's come easy for theSTART, and the members are fine with that.
One of the first groups to reach back into New Wave and blend it with a chunky rock crunch, its trendsetting style hasn't yet snared the attention of other novelty acts, despite forming more than a decade ago, well before its sound was fashionable.
Pulsing synths waver and race against jagged blasts of guitar, while front woman Aimee Echo's sultry croon struts with a leggy kick. It's reminiscent of '80s acts like Missing Persons, Berlin and Siouxsie & the Banshees, updated with additional rock verve. The Los Angeles band made its 2001 album debut, "Shakedown!," for Geffen, scoring a minor hit with the infectious "Gorgeous," but its tenure was short-lived. Several releases and labels later, theSTART is still plugging away, slowly building its audience from the ground up.
"It's like you have a 5 percent chance of having a grand success, and for that to happen all the stars really do have to align," Echo said. "It's part magic. I feel pretty blessed because there are a lot of bands that started at the same time as we did that who knows where they are now, and we're still slugging it out."
COMMITTED ROCK 'N' ROLL LIFER
She's a committed rock 'n' roll lifer who spent a half-dozen years leading dark hard-rockers Human Waste Project after conceiving the band with bassist Jeff Schartoff on their way to the first Lollapalooza in 1991. Tired of their Korn-y ways, Echo bolted with drummer Scott Ellis for theSTART in 1998. Originally dubbed Hero, the group scored a major-label deal, and a wide variety of plum opening slots for an odd array of acts, which as much as anything, may have stalled the band's early momentum.
"We would tour with anybody and didn't turn any tours down, even though the most random people were asking us to go on tour: AFI, Hot Water Music, Offspring, Incubus, Weezer, Sparta, Garbage. They're miles between each other and yet really high caliber bands, so what are you going to do, say no?" Echo said. "It might not have been the best for growing a fan base, but boy, did we do some living."
While Echo and company were throwing themselves at the feet of some of the least likely audiences, others were hitching a ride on the New Wave revival, surpassing theSTART in short order. Echo recalled an interview with Matt Pinfield for Fuse Television a few years ago, when off-camera, he asked, "How do you feel about all these bands following in your footsteps and having better success than you?"
"I'm like, 'Arrgggghhhh,'" she said, with a laugh. "He's like, 'Because obviously bands like Metric and The Sounds have definitely taken notes from you guys and yet have had a better run of it.' I just think it's all a timing thing."
BEVY OF CLANGS AND CRASHES
Whatever the timing, it's hard to deny theSTART's latest, 2007's "Ciao Baby." From the punchy bounce of "Just A Fantasy" to the fire-starter "Millionaire," Echo seizes the stage with shoulder-shimmying allure amid throbbing beats, effervescing keyboards and a bevy of clangs and crashes that help make the songs as arresting as one of Michael Bay's special-effects sequences. The release has a lot more heft and style than one expects from typical dance-floor fare. In the end, "Ciao" is a near-perfect synthesis of the rock and dance-oriented impulses on its first two albums.
"I think this record harkens back a little bit more to the 'Shakedown!' type of sound. Whereas on (2004's) 'Initiation,' we had our punk moment where we got really heavy into guitars, on this one, we came back a little more to the electronic element and things like that," Echo said.
Regardless of the outcome, she is without bitterness, just happy to have an opportunity to do what she loves. Indeed, through all the band's ups and downs, Echo maintains a strikingly positive attitude.
"There's always going to be pain. You can choose whether or not to suffer through it," she said, recounting a recent pair of polar-opposite experiences to illustrate her point. "We flew (to New York) in a private jet, got in a limo, and stayed in The Ritz-Carlton. The next night, the van broke down and we slept in our van behind Fenway Park. I had to pee in the middle of the night, and had to go behind a Dumpster. And I was totally laughing because it's all your personal judgment of a situation. You can call it what you want to call it. I just call it living."
TheSTART with Normandie and The Bells perform at 8 p.m. Sunday at The Conservatory, 8911 N. Western. "Chris Parker