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Photo By Laura Roberts
The October

THE OCTOBER AND THEIR STORY OF SADNESS, LOSS and SCALPEL-SHARP POP

By Tim Roberts

"So go and find the greatest love of your life, the one that burns and sizzles and chars everything around it and fling yourself into it like a child in a playground. Drain all you can from it and then get your back broken. Suffer and stumble around and weep and piss and moan. And then look out! Because here comes The Lone Ranger or Wonder Woman, ready to make it all good again. . .and this time probably for keeps."

-Harlan Ellison,

"Having an Affair With a Troll," the Introduction to Love is Nothing But Sex Misspelled

Getting dumped sucks.

It's always preceded by the tampered, but still vain, attempts to get the other's attention, those little controlled boasts that are made, hidden in anecdotes. The other asks polite questions, interested in the way you manage to sneak in so much information about yourself that you think is impressive, amazed that you're not puffing up your chest with each boast. Still, it's enough to get you a phone number, maybe even a date and time for your next meeting.

You get all a-tingle at thought of this other. Something warm courses under your skin. You tell your friends. They nod, offer a few smiles and hoist their lattes in a toast to your luck. But behind your back, they shake their heads and sigh. Not again, they think. Oh, they have your interest at heart, to be sure, but they've seen it happen to you so many times: the heartbreak, the moping, the questions. You remind them of Gatsby and the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, lunging harder with outstretched arms toward an unattainable goal, insisting that one day you'll get to it. And to hell with the waves beating you back.

And that one day comes. After hours on the phone, meetings, dates where you get to show off the things you boasted so subtly about, you're told that you're just. . .well, just not what the other is looking for. Oh, you're good and there's a lot to offer. But just not now. And not with them.

So your album gets rejected by yet another label.

In this you're not just another notch on some one-nighter's bedpost. You're one of the countless thousands who every year try to get the ear of some A&R person, one you hope will rush your demo recording (or full-out produced CD) up to the person who will make you The Next Big Star in their roster of talent. You'll get to shake hands with Springsteen as you pass each other in the hallway in the label's New York offices. Or maybe you'll get to see Beyonce, shed of her entourage, get a Milky Way out of a vending machine at the Los Angeles location.

(Yeah. Fat chance. Even if you do get signed. Besides, Beyonce's a Snickers girl.)

From left: Aaron Spraggs, Ryan Cain, Mike Lloyd, Dustin Burnett

So what do you do? You could wait around for the recording industry equivalent of The Lone Ranger or Wonder Woman to come along and make everything better. . .for keeps.

Or if you're a young band like The October, you make an album, one that snags you an audience and reams of critical attention and give it a sad name.

"It's overall a pretty sad record," said Dustin Burnett, lead singer for The October, describing Bye, Bye Beautiful, the band's second release. "There's so many things to be inspired about, to write about, in the world out there, whether it's about relationships or love or the way something appears to you or makes you feel. There's melancholy overtones to it all and a lot of nostalgic overtones as well."

Together with lead guitarist Ryan Cain, drummer Aaron Spraggs and bassist Mike Lloyd, Burnett and The October manage to bring off that melancholy without driving their listeners on the slow bus to Depressionville on the Life Sucks Highway (with stops along the way at Morose, Angston and Emotown, just in time for the Cut Yourself Festival). The music is lively, wall-of-sound pop that invokes the best of the BritPop bands (that's Brit as in British, not Britney). Their sound is somewhat like the month from which the band takes its name: the skies are sometimes overcast, the air a bit chilled, but there's always a chance the next day's going to be a little brighter, a touch warmer. Leaves are dying on the trees, but they're exploding into reds and oranges and yellows that quench your eyes in color. And the whole world smells like cinnamon and pumpkin.

So what was the specific rejection that sparked off Bye, Bye Beautiful? The rejection of their first recording, Push Me Off the Side of the Earth, by a number of record labels.

The October

"It was, ultimately, completely rejected by everybody we wanted to love it," Burnett said. "So that made us sad," he added with a chuckle.

That sadness reflective in the title has more in common with something from Raymond Chandler and the line "Bye, Bye Beautiful" slipping from Philip Marlowe's lips over rim of a glass of whiskey as he sits in his office amid the ghosts of his regrets. But for this band, the space around their sadness is filled with pop hooks sharp enough to catch swordfish, which may indicate the men of The October really aren't that sad at all.

"At the same time, being in a band and being rejected leads to so many other things, like the stereotype of the fall of a rock band. That sort of thing sort of involved itself in Bye, Bye Beautiful, as did basically recognizing all of that to some degree doesn't even matter."

Based officially in Calvert City, Kentucky, a small town in the western part of the state, just northwest of the Kentucky Dam Village State Resort and close to where the state gets pinched between the southern tip of Illinois and the anvil-flat border of Tennessee, The October consists of four young men from different parts of the state and region. "We started out being interconnected without realizing it," Burnett said.

We were standing on the roof garden of the Glassworks building on Main Street. Twilight was settling in. The city's six largest buildings loomed east of where we stood, each covered with tiny glowing squares of light. Some people were refusing to go home on a Friday evening in early autumn when the air has just a soft kiss of cool. The October was headlining a show that night at the Glassworks roof garden for the Creative Energy, a nonprofit group. They were the final act of a four-band show.

Burnett continued. "I had an idea for a music project that was later deemed The October and went to build a band around it. First I hooked up with Aaron, the drummer. What was strange was right as I was starting to put it together, Aaron was moving out to Los Angeles. I started working on the recordings by myself, trying to work out these ideas and went out to Los Angeles to shop around this project. I ended up crossing paths with Aaron out there. He came on board, so we drove back across the US together, trying to start this thing."

Their friend Ryan Cain was living in Maui, getting the project's CDs in the mail and listening to sample tracks on the phone. He had clearly wanted to be part of the band, but there was a problem: he was living on the other side of the globe and couldn't just make an overnight drive back to Calvert City for a recording session or two.

Burnett and Spraggs moved ahead with The October project with other guitarists and bassists (there was a "revolving door" of them, Burnett added). Meanwhile, Cain had moved back to the Kentucky.

"I was in Lexington," he said. "I answered an ad for a band to go make some friends. I didn't know anybody. Turned out it was Mike, our bass player. We ended up forming a little group to see what would happen. It didn't go anywhere. The two of us were really frustrated because we wanted to find something, be part of something. Then the guys that Dustin and Aaron had quit and Aaron called me and asked if I wanted to be part of it."

Cain also just happened to know a bass player, too. "We pulled Mike in," Cain said. "And that's what gave us what we have now."

Burnett, Cain and Spraggs had already begun writing the set of songs that would become Bye, Bye Beautiful, inspired by the rejection of Push Me Off the Side of the Earth, which Burnett and Spraggs had recorded with the bassist and guitarist who didn't stay with the band.

"That's the one that got a lot of label attention immediately," Burnett said. "We did about 10 or 11 record label showcases in the course of about two-and-a-half months. Ended up everybody passed on it. After that the guys, besides Aaron, a few months later just bailed. And that's when Aaron and I started working on some new songs."

After Cain and Lloyd joined the band and more songs began taking their eventual shape. "Suddenly," Burnett said, "we had a real band."

If Push Me was indeed the impetus for Bye, Bye Beautiful, the sadness and melancholy its rejection spawned helped create a recording full of longing, romance, sensuality, with the added mystery of uncertainty and frustrations of indecision. It is hypnotically sonic, with songs about losing someone you've had your eye on in a nightclub full of narcissists on the dance floor, losing another lover to addictions while getting pulled down along with her, dealing with the identity masquerade of another and missing the guidance and security of someone whom you see in surreal dreams, who took all the warmth and sense you once felt and you said nothing as she left. Like what Ray Bradbury wrote in his story "Banshee:" "But you do not speak. And the summer walks away in her flesh, never to return."

It has a potency. If you could drink it, it would have the leathery and spicy undertones of a rich wine. If you could smell it, it would be like a vial of amber perfume distilled from the cinnamon air of autumn.

Plus you can dance to a lot of the songs, too.

Within a couple months of Bye, Bye Beautiful's debut, The October released a six-song EP, Lost Since Graduation. While the songs on it have a the band's trademarked ambient-electric guitar sound, the lyrics are not as sad, dealing instead with the choices young adults face as they begin their lives, wanting to hang onto the soft flannel of their youthful past while having to make hard decisions that will form their destinies. Along the way, addictions and perspectives on the world are challenged (as in "Don't Color the Sky Blue") as are past insecurities making life hell for people who care about you ("Runaway").

"We write everything in pretty much a future-versus-the past scenario," Burnett said. "It's like one or two things have happened that encourage you to make a choice on what you're future's going to be about. That's a lot of the premise of Lost Since Graduation."

The common practice is for a band or performer to hold back a handful of songs before a recording is released, then later turning them loose into the marketplace with a couple other new works and call it an EP. Lost, however, is a brand new collection of songs and the title track is actually older than the material on Bye, Bye Beautiful.

"I always wanted to write that song," Burnett said of it. "It just took a long time for it to happen. I try to write at least one idea for a song every day. That just keeps me pressing forward. And one of our stronger points as a band is that we can kick out so many songs."

Along with keeping their song catalog fresh, The October is also part of what is arguably the burgeoning rebirth of the music video as a way to sell records and give the fans a chance to check out the band's appearance. Thanks to YouTube and other Internet video streaming sites, bands like The October no longer have to rely on sheer obscene luck to get on one of the cable and satellite music video channels (one of which, even though Music is in its name, no longer plays any). The two pieces from The October that are currently running are "Gravity" from Bye, Bye Beautiful and "Runaway" from Lost Since Graduation. The former was directed by John Gibson, a friend of theirs from Murray State University. The other was made by Jordan Wyatt, with some scenes shot at the Kentucky Theater in Lexington.

Their self-booked touring schedule has them playing on average about 50 to 60 gigs a year, mostly in Kentucky and an occasional a hop across the Mississippi to St. Louis. A fairly modest number of shows, definitely, but to talk with the men of The October, there's the feeling that their work is paying off. Unexpectedly, perhaps.

"If you had told me a year ago," Cain said, "that I would be doing certain things like this, I'd had said you were lying. But you always want more."

"You're always looking at that next level," drummer Spraggs said, "like you're not doing enough where you are. It's always a continuous battle."

"And we're grateful," Cain proclaimed.

Apparently The October has taken Harlan Ellison's advice, but applying it, instead, to their music career. They've cannonballed themselves into the soupy miasma of the business, flailed around, got hurt. But instead of waiting for someone to come along and kiss away the tears, they rescued themselves. The hurt they felt has been poured out into their work. Without a doubt, there will be more to come. But the result will continue to be some sensuous, atmospheric power-pop.

And this time, it's for keeps.

Find out how grateful The October is by visiting www.theoctober.com, or www.myspace.com/theoctober.