Photo of
Photo By James Moses
End of Me

End of Me Chases Destiny,
Loses No Sleep Over Criticism

By Kevin Gibson

"Bodeco Rules; End of Me Drools."

That was the headline in Velocity, the Courier-Journal's new faux alternative weekly that debuted about a month ago. The header sat atop a less-than-complimentary review of End of Me's self-titled album, which was officially released last month. The reviewer basically called End of Me a sell-out while comparing them to Louisville barroom blues-rock mainstay (and admittedly great band) Bodeco.

"End of Me fails to rise beyond a lame incarnation of the self-righteous cock rock mastered by bands like Nickelback and Default. [Front man Bryan] Fox and company would be better served to play music that inspires them, not music that they think will make them rich."

Not surprisingly, this less-than-glowing evaluation made the rounds at a recent band rehearsal. Not that the band was angry or upset - just disappointed, because they feel the reviewer perhaps didn't listen closely.

"I just wish he would have judged the songs," said End of Me drummer Ryan Murphy. "Tell me if I'm wrong, but when you read the review, he's bashing the style instead of the songs."

And Fox said inspiration has never been an issue.

"If we write our music to make a million dollars," Fox said, "then this has been a totally losing venture. But it inspires us and that's what making music is about."

Fox noted that, "it's nearly impossible to become a millionaire as a rock musician nowadays. You're almost better off playing the lottery. Talk to the guys from Tantric [a local band that has a national recording contract] and ask them how they're living."

But criticism in itself isn't unwelcome to End of Me, which does have a radio-ready sound of heavy but accessible rock, filled with hooks.

"It doesn't make me feel good, but then again, it's constructive in a way," said lead guitarist Danny De La Cruz of the review. "Not everyone is going to like our music. I really don't understand what they mean, though, to write music that inspires us. What do they think we're writing?"

"It was actually kind of refreshing," Fox added, noting that End of Me fully realizes it can't be all things to all people. In fact, it doesn't want that at all.

"Everyone likes to criticize a marketable band," Fox continued. "Our songs are formulaic for a reason. We don't see any reason to go into a Tool-like obscurity just to impress some reviewer."

Added drummer Ryan Murphy, "It's music for the regular Joe, who might be having a bad day and it speaks to him and brightens his day somehow."

(It also bears noting that Mr. Elvis Costello - and quite possibly someone before him - noted in a 1983 interview with Musician magazine that "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture - it's a really stupid thing to want to do." But please, keep reading.)

It's not that the End of Me guys wouldn't like to have a million-selling album; they just aren't wringing their hands like a group of evil scientists, waiting for their sinister plan for Billboard chart domination to finally fall into place -- no matter what you might hear on the street or read in the press.

WHAT'S THIS ALL ABOUT?

Fox is a dentist and has been practicing for two and a half years. While he would gladly go on hiatus to do a world tour with End of Me, his staff is still currently accepting appointments. But the music did come earlier than the dentistry.

"I was a trumpet player to begin with," he said. "I was on full scholarship undergrad for trumpet. I started playing guitar when I was 13, then switched to bass. I never was very good at vocals, but I always tried. I wasn't afraid to belt it out even though I didn't have a good voice. It was always `Bryan is a good guitar player,' then it was, `He writes good songs,' and now it's like people dig the vocals more. It wasn't natural talent as far as singing, it was something I had to try hard at."

Fox was inspired by the Seattle scene, noting that Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder "doesn't necessarily have a perfect singing voice."

He elaborated, "I always thought with guys like Bob Dylan and even Jimi Hendrix, it's not that they are such great singers, they can just make your heart wrench. So I tried to just let loose and sing from my heart. I guess tonality eventually came along with that. If you could sit down and sing, even if didn't have a perfect voice, if you could make someone feel what you are singing, you can make it as a singer."

And learning guitar came from his desire to write songs. It was never an option to play guitar and not create something and the first complete song he composed was done so within a year of picking up the guitar.

End of Me: from left, Shaun Kennedy, Ryan Murphy, Bryan Fox and Danny De La Cruz. Photo (C) by James Moses

Similarly, De La Cruz began by playing piano. It wasn't until he was around 10 that he started listening to rock music - Poison, Motley Crue, etc. - and became interested in the guitar. Along with main songwriter Fox, De La Cruz also provides creative inspiration for the band.

"With a lot of things we've done," he said, "I'll write something on piano or acoustic (guitar) or Bryan will write something on acoustic, then we bring it to the group. As far as lyrics, Bryan is one who does that."

So, what "inspires" a song? (This is for all the music critics out there.)

"It's hard to describe," De La Cruz said. "I'll just sit down and come up with something. It's kind of funny, because lot of the music I listen to is heavier than what I write. For instance, I like Flaw a lot, but the music that I write is more the Creed type stuff."

That's just what comes out, De La Cruz said, although he admits he still has a fondness for those metal ballads from the '80s. But hey, inspiration is inspiration.

And often it is Murphy, who fell for rock `n' roll at the tender age of 10 (thanks to KISS) and who started playing seriously just a few years later, who will oversee the final arrangement on the songs.

"You hear lot of original material out there," Murphy said. "A lot of bands forget that you can write a song, but the arrangement can make the difference in the song. The great thing about working with them is Bryan will walk in with a song, Danny will lay melody parts over it and they will let me do a lot of arranging, like, `Here's the intro and we'll put this before the chorus.'

"No matter how you slice it," he continued, "there is a formula to writing music. When we went into the studio with Malcolm (Springer), he would pick a song and give us four or five formulas for it and say, `Pick which one you like.' It's like writing a book; you have to make it interesting and make the story flow."

Brian Vincent, who played bass on the album, originally studied classical bass. His first love, however, is jazz. For that reason, he has officially stepped out of End of Me after two and a half years to pursue playing jazz full-time. He currently works with the Ocion Jewel Quartet, Scott Henderson and Brandon Bernstein and he plans to move to New York within the next year or two.

"Right now I'm studying solo playing with Craig Wagner," he said. "I'm going to study with him for about next year, year and half, then move to New York."

He found his way into End of Me in a roundabout way - through a gig touring with Days of the New.

"For some reason, Travis (Meeks, Days of the New's main man) wanted all jazz musicians in his band," Vincent said, "so me and a few other guys around town took the call. When I got out of Days of the New I was looking into another rock band, which I knew the Days of the New experience would help. Kimmet of Kimmet and Doug also toured with Days of the New with me and she recommended me to Bryan Fox, so I went and auditioned."

Now that Vincent is playing four or five nights a week with his jazz interests, he simply no longer has time for End of Me.

"He had a different focus," Murphy said, "and we were right behind him to support it."

Vincent's fill-in is Shaun Kennedy, who has played in Whatever Will and who is still a member of Outspoken, which is slated to do another album next year. Kennedy originally followed his brothers into music and is studying to become a nurse. His reason for stepping in during End of Me's time of need is mostly due to friendship.

"One, I think the world of Bryan, Ryan and Danny. I think they are all great guys, on top of the music part of it. They're a lot of fun just to hang around. I hung around with them all the time when I wasn't playing in the band with them."

Where were we? Oh yes, we were talking about this band that is selling its soul to make a million dollars playing watered-down, pandering arena rock.

Ahem.

So When's The Record Deal Coming?

End of Me actually started as the Bryan Fox Band roughly four years ago, based on some demos Fox did with Hugo Ferriera, lead vocalist of Tantric. One of those demos, a song called "Yes," so impressed former LRS program director Adam Fendrich that Fendrich put the song on regular rotation, spinning it as many as seven times a day at its height. That made what would become End of Me the first unsigned rock act on full rotation in Louisville in 10 years.

It wasn't long afterward that Murphy came into the fold. "He kept calling me," Murphy said. "I was like, `Yeah, whatever.' But I had a home studio and he wanted to record a song for his girlfriend. After five seconds of hearing the song and his voice, I said, `Are you still looking for a drummer?'"

De La Cruz joined after meeting Fox through a cover band called Orion; De La Cruz also played bass for Sunday Six for a while. End of Me would be his first original project.

Bass wasn't so easily filled. Frank Green, who later played in Outspoken (yet more connections to this band), was the original bassist for End of Me. He was followed by a female bassist, after which Vincent came aboard. It was noted during interviews for this story that End of Me seems to go through bass players like Spinal Tap went through drummers.

"We lost one in a bizarre gardening incident," Murphy deadpanned. (One wonders if Kennedy isn't beginning to feel a little nervous at this point.)

But in all seriousness, Vincent's arrival solidified the group.

"After Brian Vincent joined," Murphy said, "it was a matter of building the right team." Dan Colucci was the band's first manager, but he saw Fox as more of a solo act.

"And I agreed," Fox said. (It was another deadpan. That happens a lot with these guys.)

That led them to Scott Frazier, who didn't try to pigeonhole or exercise control over the band. It was shortly after this that End of Me came to record with producer/engineer Springer, whose resume lists Collective Soul, Matchbox 20 and others, not to mention production work he did for a song that made the "Spider-Man" soundtrack. Springer, at the time, was doing A & R work for Island Records and he worked with End of Me on four tracks at Distillery Commons. That session occurred a little over a year ago.

So ... it seems all these connections and accomplishments should be plenty to score these guys a recording contract, right? Right? Wrong.

"Economically," Murphy explained, "it comes down to `How many units have you moved in your hometown?' We still had 15 or 20 songs recorded from the past. We pulled the ones we wanted to represent us and put them out there to move some units."

"He said, `units,'" Fox interjected, drawing laughs around the room. There's that deadpan again, "Beavis and Butt-head" style this time.

Fox agreed with Murphy, however, saying that any label wants a band to move 30,000-plus, uh, units, to "prove you're a good investment."

"Nowadays, the record company puts out one single," said Kennedy, who learned the ropes from his dealing with Outspoken, "and if it doesn't hit the Top 10, they move on to the next thing."

Basically, this was a roundabout way of saying that the band's debut, self-titled album is a collection of recordings made over the last four years, including the four made with Springer last fall.

"It's a `best of,'" Murphy said. (Deadpan.)

But in fact, even without an album and the sale of 30,000, um, units, this band of twenty-somethings has gained the attention of labels. A lot of them. OK, pretty much all of them, if you want to know the truth. And with their connections, now End of Me can let their friends and managers do their job while at the same time putting the CD on the street and making some sales.

In fact, way back when, as soon as "Yes" hit the airwaves, the interest has been steady. Fox said no more than two months has gone by at any point without some kind of lead. Even now there are a couple of nibbles that may or may not pan out. And it's been that way for going on FIVE YEARS.

"Can you imagine basically four-and-half years of being a phone call away from a deal?" Fox said. "Having VPs of big labels come down and not lead you on, but being right there. It's been cool to have those people fly down to see us play, or to go play for them. So who knows? The next year could be just like the last four and a half years. I hope not, but at least it's continuing. The interest is there and people know about us and that's the hard part."

When Fox spoke to Louisville Music News for this story in mid-December, right around the time of the band's official CD release party, some 200 CDs (OK, units) had already been sold "off the back of the truck" (the CD is now available at ear X-tacy as well). So how much will it take before this album is considered a success? 10,000? 20,000? Major label deal?

"In my mind what we've already sold is a success," Fox said. "We've just had an overwhelmingly positive response from it. It's just nice. If we're in that two-month slump period where we don't have something on the line, we'll get an e-mail from somebody in Arkansas or something saying, `Don't give up, you guys are amazing.' We've had so many flattering compliments from it. We have lot of people who get what we're doing and that's success in my mind."

Again, not that the End of Me guys wouldn't like to have a million-selling album. But the goal is not as much superstardom as it is any other musician's dream - to be able to make music full-time.

"To do something you love and make a living at it?" Kennedy said, sounding intentionally incredulous. "F**k those people who say you sold out. That's the dream. F**k them as they clock in and clock out."

"Would you like fries with that?" added Fox. (Yes, deadpan.)

Besides, pointed out Kennedy in full deadpan mode, "Every generation needs a 38 Special and an REO Speedwagon. Hence, Collective Soul."

"Hey," interjected Murphy, "I love Collective Soul."

Unfortunately, that one didn't come across as deadpan. Apparently, Murphy not only loves Collective Soul and KISS, but he also argued that Van Halen was the greatest band ever to be assembled.

If rock `n' roll is the dream, then, is there any better inspiration possible? And that much is true no matter what the critics might say.

(Um, deadpan.)