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Photo By James Moses
Plan Of Man

Plan of Man beats the odds, finds the right eardrums

By Kevin Gibson

Sometimes there's nothing else to do but smoke cigarettes until you can't breathe, get drunk and play your guitar. Demi Demaree dropped out of school during his sophomore year, which left a lot of time to do those things.

And while the lyrics Demaree writes for Plan of Man, the band he fronts, are occasionally dark and sometimes even angry, they also carry in them the wisdom of someone who has seen a lot more than most 23-year-olds.

Plan of Man is actually the culmination of hundreds, maybe thousands, of those smoke/drink/play sessions Demaree shared with his friend Justin Reid, who is Plan of Man's lead guitarist. The two met in second grade and became fast friends. Reid's father was a drummer, but Justin wasn't allowed to play drums in the house because of the noise, so he got an acoustic guitar instead. Meanwhile, Demaree said he has been singing "as long as I can remember."

Because Reid's father left the family - Reid was no more than six years old - Demaree's company was even more important. And music was the preferred pastime.

"My dad is homeless," Demaree said. "I'm from a low-income family, so I thought, `What else is there to do?'"

"We grew up together," Reid said. "There was nothing to do but play music."

"If all else fails," Demaree chimed in, "play music."

Fast forward 15-plus years and Plan of Man is, in a way, a product of all those long-ago sessions of sitting around playing and singing. The group of friends now includes bassist Ron Ping and drummer Tim Bernauer; Ping, originally a guitarist, met Demaree and Reid during middle school and Bernauer was in a band with Reid in high school, which brought them into the mix.

(Interestingly, Ping took over on bass as a fluke - or perhaps because of slow reflexes. During one of the first practice sessions, he, Demaree, Reid and a mutual friend got ready to plug in and there was a stack of guitars. "Everybody kind of picked everything up," Ping said, "and the only thing they lift sitting there was the bass.")

Demi Demaree. Photo from www.planofman.com

The band now has a fan base as loyal as any in the River City and the band has been signed to a management deal by Hugo Records - due in part to a friendship with Tantric lead vocalist Hugo Ferriera. Major labels are sniffing around Plan of Man like hungry dogs and the band has played gigs all over the eastern part of the United States, even though it has been officially playing together only since the end of 1999. And things appear to be getting better all the time.

"I was always into music and bands," Demaree said. "I never thought it could take off like this."

What the Hell Just Happened?

Plan of Man has been fortunate to get its music into the right sets of eardrums. The Hugo Ferriera story is almost too strange to believe.

"It's kind of weird how it happened," Demaree explains. "We were recording our first album and I met Hugo at Akiko's."

Yes, they both happened to be at Akiko's on Bardstown on the same night ... for karaoke. It's difficult to imagine the lead vocalist of Tantric, one of Louisville's best-known and most talented hardcore bands, at Akiko's. (Perhaps he performed "Baby Got Back" for an incredulous group of wannabe singers?) After hearing a demo, Ferriera immediately fell in love with Plan of Man's sound and last year the group signed a "shopping agreement" with Hugo Records. Ferriera's connections within the music industry quickly put Plan of Man on the map. (A trip to the Grammy Awards ceremony is but one highlight.)

As for the sound Ferriera fell for, it isn't exactly like the many Louisville hard rock bands. There is a non-threatening tone to Demaree's voice that keeps it closer to a Seattle type grunge and there is a more melodic approach to the music than with many hardcore bands. Indeed, Nirvana is a band Plan of Man's members cite as a major influence, but it doesn't stop there. Alice in Chains is another, along with local bands Kinghorse and Hedge. (Bernauer's father, Paul, is the drummer for the Tymes Band, a Louisville cover band, which makes it an influence by default.)

Justin Reid. Photo from www.planofman.com

But the band sets itself apart through the individuals involved. "We all kind of have our own taste," Ping said. "We all bring all of our influences and experiences to the table."

"I think that kind of affects our songwriting process too," Bernauer said. "(A song) can come from one riff that Justin comes up with. We write the music first. Then Demi puts his lyrics in and we make whatever changes we need."

"We let each song take on a life of it's own," Ping agreed. "We don't use one formula."

The band released a full-length album, Alchemy, in 2001 that sold more than 3,000 copies without label support. Louisville radio stations 100.5 the Fox and LRS 105.1 played the album's single, "Why is What I'm Asking," which also was the most requested song for several weeks on the Kentucky Fried Radio Hour. "Asking" also was track of the day on garageband.com for a few weeks and was used in an advertisement for Louisville's Extreme Park. Meanwhile, "What It's Worth," another tune from Alchemy, was included on a promotional sampler CD distributed nationwide by JVC.

Ron Ping

More importantly, the Hugo Records association gave Plan of Man the opportunity to showcase for numerous major record companies and share the stage with national acts. In March, POM played the Daytona Spring Break Nationals sponsored by JVC, Penthouse, Sirius Satellite Radio, Blender Magazine and HD Net. (The show will be broadcast internationally on HD Net to five million viewers over the next five years.)

Learning the Hard Way

Before anyone begins to think Plan of Man is charmed, or that somehow a higher force has decided to personally usher the band to fame and glory, there's another element to this story.

While discussing the way songs are developed, the conversation turned to the recording of Alchemy and how it differs from the band's new EP, The Times.

"The first album felt very young and very raw," Bernauer said. "That's when Demi had his fight with cancer. It's like night and day. There's so much more maturity now."

Hang on a sec, Tim. Backtrack to that `C' word for a minute. Did you say what we think you said?

He did.

So with that, Demaree launched into the story of his unexpected illness, which began the day after his 21st birthday, in March 2001.

Tim Bernauer. Photo from www.planofman.com

"I started noticing a golf ball type deal under my arm," he said. "I let it drag on for three weeks; I thought I had pulled a muscle. I went to the oncologist and he said, `You've either got AIDS or cancer.' I said, `Oh, great.'"

Demaree soon was diagnosed with stage four cancer and he spent nearly a month in a hospital. He underwent nine months of chemotherapy and had to endure treatments every day at first. The good news was the cancer was caught early enough that it was contained to Demaree's lymph nodes. In fact, the chemo kicked in quickly and Demaree soon found he had gained an advantage in the battle.

"I was beating it so quick, it drew the attention of all the other oncologists," he said. "I was, like, the luckiest cancer patient in there."

The band has since done several benefit shows for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society - and more importantly, the ordeal has taught Demaree and his bandmates to better appreciate their music and their lives. Ask Demaree how much it has changed him and he will talk for quite a spell.

"I'm like a different person," he said.

He admits he had, until his cancer diagnosis, always taken his life for granted: "I never looked at the fact that I had both my hands and both my feet and I was healthy."

Demaree continued, "I needed something like that. I was a good person who had turned into a bad seed. This told me I needed to do something. It's always in my head now that I have a limited amount of time to do what I want to do. It's weird how the worst thing that could happen could turn out to be the best thing that could happen."

And he wasn't finished. Sitting with his bandmates and another person at a booth in the Back Door, a bar in the Highlands, he said, "There are so many people in the world that have it ten times worse than anyone in this table will ever know. ... Plus, this has brought me closer to my family. They thought they might lose me, so they started coming around more."

So how has this affected Plan of Man's music? Well, you won't find any songs specifically about the disease or Demaree's personal ordeal.

"Cancer motivated me to write about life issues," he said. "I'm not trying to be the Cancer Band."

"I think a lot of that s**t comes out in your music more than you think," Bernauer said.

"I think anything I write is going to be based on things I've been through," Demaree agreed. He noted that "The Times," the title track to the new EP, is a reflection of his experience. Essentially, the song is about how he believes that, even through the war, terrorism, etc., no good comes from dwelling on it as an individual. "Enjoy what you've got," he said.

Moving Forward

So where does Plan of Man go from here? Everywhere.

The band finished The Times in February and plans to go back into the studio in June. In between, the four guys in Plan of Man will eat, sleep and play live shows, according to Dan Colucci, the band's manager and president of Hugo Records.

"We worked together and developed their sound and waited for Demi to feel better," Colucci said. "We got him vocal lessons to strengthen his voice and gave him time to recuperate from the chemo. I wanted to give him a year to do that. We did that and it was about a year ago in September. Since then, we've been going balls out with touring and getting the live show ready and shopping the band."

While he wouldn't name any labels that have shown interest, Colucci said, "A lot of labels are interested right now. What's important is we continue to write and we continue to get music out there to the fan base."

Colucci, who helped develop Tantric after the group's three founding members were fired by Days of the New front man Travis Meeks, recalls being immediately taken with Alchemy.

"I first heard them though Hugo," he said. "He played them for me when Tantric was playing the Rock `n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. He told me Demi was an incredible musician and his band kicked ass. I got on the phone with Demi that night after hearing the demo. I was more blown away by him than the music. Then I met the rest of the guys and I was in."

Interestingly, the band doesn't believe the highly reputable Louisville hardcore scene helped it get as far as it has.

"There's a lot of those people who have never heard of us," Demaree said. "We started our own fan base. We're gaining fans and the ones that were there from the beginning seem to always be there."

"Then they tell their friends and they start coming (to shows) too," said Bernauer. "Seeing them branch out that far makes you realize it's the music that's bringing them."

Not that Plan of Man has anything against the Louisville scene. But they feel there are cliques and they want no part of that. "We're trying to avoid all the political bullshit," Reid said. "We want people to listen to us because they're interested, not because there's some hype going around."

The band relishes the time spent in the basement refining their craft and even has fond memories of the first gig. It was at Air Devil's Inn - and they used a drum machine.

"When we got old enough, we said, `Hey, we're good at this s**t,'" Demaree said, bringing laughter from his bandmates. "Now we're like a family."

Apparently, Plan of Man really is good at this ... uh, stuff. Toby Wright has agreed to produce POM's first national release. If that name doesn't ring a bell, Wright's a four-time Grammy winner who has worked as a producer/engineer with Alice in Chains (including the acclaimed Jar of Flies album, circa 1994), Kiss, Cheap Trick, Metallica, Motley Crue, Primus, Soulfly, the Wallflowers ... well, you get the picture. Even Michael McDonald and the Temptations (!) are on Wright's list of credits.

But the band has every intention of refining its sound and waiting for the right offer before jumping in. The music industry is about as stable as a lean-to in a windstorm these days and labels aren't just handing out multi-million dollar advances to any group of muckety-mucks with cool hairdos and brightly-colored Stratocasters.

"We've got labels saying they'll give us a $150,000 deal," Demaree said. "But that's not going to pay for a tour or for Toby. We'd starve to death."

And they want to be careful not to be cast with the hard-rock mainstream as it stands. The business can tell us Sum 41 is a punk band all it wants, but the truth will come through - the Sums and Blink 182s of the world are really Backstreet Boys on steroids and nothing more. It's more flash than substance and they sell albums because the labels back them with lots of cash and hype. Naturally, the public buys it, because ... well, that's what the public does.

"All in all," Reid said, "humans are just apes and apes like shiny things."

So Plan of Man trusts in Colucci because he sees things the way the band members do.

"He didn't even put a piece of paper in front of us to sign for like six weeks," Bernauer said. "Everything we do is built on trust."

"We're not going to be doing anything differently if we have a deal anyway," Demaree said. "I've been to the Grammys and met these people and they're not any happier than anyone else. The best times of my life were sitting around getting high and writing joke songs."

He then launches into a faux blues vocal about someone's mother being shot, which his bandmates eat up.

"For a while there, I wasn't enjoying music as much as I used to," he said when his impromptu song was finished. "I was feeling like I had to make a song for a certain category to make a label listen to it."

"The other day," Reid interjected, "we sat around with four acoustic guitars and played that way for five hours. We wrote some really good stuff. ... We've slept on floors and given up girlfriends, but we've stayed with our goal."

"You have to decide, do you want all the money and fame, or do you want to make your music?" Demaree said. "I could just go out there and sound like Sum 41, but I would have a whole lot less respect for myself."

The band members credit their fans, friends and family for helping to keep them on course. Naturally, they have many kudos for Ferreira and Colucci. So where will Plan of Man be in two years or five years or 10 years?

"I see Plan of Man as the next Chili Peppers," Colucci said. "I see them as a touring entity for long time. And career musicians."

And if their genre of music goes out of style (and every genre does, always)?

"I think we've built enough of a fan base locally and if we continue to do so regionally and nationally, we'll have what we're looking for."

The next step comes June 6, when POM celebrates the release of The Times EP at Phoenix Hill Tavern (it won't be available in stores or online until late June, so be there if you want a preview). The disc, which took only a couple days to record and was produced by Ferreira, shows considerable growth from Alchemy.

If the five new songs hit the right sets of eardrums - and Plan of Man's music has certainly done so in the past - what the next step after that is might just be anyone's guess.

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