Seven Mary Three Dislocates

Charleston City Paper | September 20, 2005
"When we started out, we took ourselves very seriously,” says Jason Ross, lead singer, guitarist, and main songwriter for rock quartet Seven Mary Three. “We were making songs about serious things and we weren’t making dick-joke songs or party and get-laid songs, which all have their place. But we were trying to sing and play about things that had a little more depth. That seriousness is what led us to make decisions like, ‘Let’s treat this like we want to do it for a while and not go overboard.”

For Seven Mary Three, making smart professional decisions while trying to stay afloat in the choppy waters of the tumultuous contemporary rock biz has not been an easy task. The quartet burst onto the alternative rock scene 10 years ago with a surprise hit and platinum major label debut album — certainly a dream come true for almost any serious rock band — but struggled afterward to regain control of their professional and musical direction.

“Our story is very cliché in terms of rock ’n’ roll with the whole ‘get signed, have a big hit, and then go away’ thing,” chuckles Ross, speaking by telephone from his home in N.C. “I’ve been in this band for 13 years and it’s the only band I’ve ever been in. When we started out, right out of the gate we had a top ten hit — before we even know what we were doing!”

The core of the band first got together in late 1992 while attending the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. The band name came from a radio call featured in the ’70s television show CHiPs.

After establishing themselves a melodic, jangly/heavy guitar-rock band in the local scene, they relocated to Orlando and independently released a debut album titled Churn, which featured the catchy, anthemic “Cumbersome.” The tune enjoyed heavy airplay on the local rock station.

That success led to the band signing with the Mammoth/Atlantic label, who directed the band to re-record much of Churn. The result was the 1995 major label debut titled American Standard. By midsummer, “Cumbersome” (remember that big chorus? “Too heavy too light, too black or too white, too wrong or too right, today or tonight … cumbersome!”) had climbed the charts to number one. The album became a platinum release within months.

“In the summers of ’95 and ’96, we played with the same bands at radio festivals: Foo Fighters, Beck, No Doubt, Everclear, Fiona Apple … and were like the redneck Southern rock band on the bill,” remembers Ross. “That’s what people thought we were. At first, we took affront to it because we certainly weren’t a bunch of rednecks. We never thought we were a ‘Southern’ band in a million years … until someone told us we were.”

By the late ’90s, Seven Mary Three were tagged as one of many so-called “post-grunge” acts working in the shadows of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. Critics had all but thrown them on the pile of homogenized alt-rock pretenders.

“To me, the term ‘post grunge’ is kind of funny,” says Ross. “When Seven Mary Three came out, all of the bands who created grunge had kinda turned on the establishment. When we came out, there was a really big backlash of bands that sounded too similar.”

Spread out across the East Coast, the current members of 7M3 — Ross on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, bassist Casey Daniel, drummer Giti Khalsa, and lead guitarist Thomas Juliano (who recently replaced Jason Moore) — recently released their fifth album, Dis/Location (DRT Entertainment).

7M3 conducted sessions for the album last year at the cozy Chase Park Transduction studio in Athens, Ga. with N.C. producer Brian Paulson (Slint, Jayhawks, Superchunk) and Athens-based engineers David Barbe, Andy Baker, and Andy LeMaster.

“Being in Athens was the closest I came to being in a teenager’s rock dream,” Ross laughs. “When I was in high school in the mid-’80s, the biggest band around was R.E.M. They were the only band that would come to Florida and tour! That was a band that was so special to me.”

While Dis/Location barely resembles anything released by Skynyrd, Blackfoot, or ZZ Top — or even R.E.M.’s early catalog — it works well as a dark, sturdy, dynamic “classic rock” album full of massive kick ’n’ snare sounds, Marshall amp distortion, passionate vocal work, and plenty of lumbering, syncopated stops ’n’ starts. “Settle Up” kicks things off with a juicy guitar riff and a revved-up, punchy drum beat — all of which would make Kiss proud. The album’s first official single, a dynamic anthem about heartbreak titled “Without You Feels,” bounces with a little more “classic alternative” pop energy. The hard-hitting funk beat and nasty guitar riffs of “By Your Side” have the makings of a great follow-up hit. The sludgy bass lines of “Bark No Bite” could give the Melvins a run for their money.

Despite the heavy rock shenanigans heard on the master tapes, Ross thinks the band owes more to R.E.M. than the typical, long-haired gods of rock.

“We predicated so many decisions on little snippets of things we read about bands like R.E.M.,” he says. “I read somewhere that R.E.M. split up all their money equally — publishing and everything. So we did it. To our credit, that’s the only reason we’re still a band. If one of us made a lot of money and the others didn’t make anything, things would have become so weird we never would have survived it. None of us lives like rock stars; we all have bills and mortgages to pay … we live like anyone who has a 9 to 5 job lives, except we don’t have 9 to 5 jobs.” ��

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