Pop Go the Punkers

Charleston City Paper | September 20, 2005
It took about a half-hour on the phone to finally get Ron Weber to say it. Eleven:54’s ambitious bandleader wrestles with the notion of describing and defining the Baltimore group’s sound before finally making an attempt.

“My description is always something like, ‘If you could take the Foo Fighters, Green Day, and The Used and kind of bleed them together — that’s somewhere where we sit,” he says.

Certainly, for young bands, it’s usually the hardest question to answer: “can you define your sound, please?” It’s usually funny hearing the combinations of comparisons in the responses.

Band manager Harris Nussbaum adds, “the best definition I’ve heard so far was ‘Top 40-based pop-punk.’ It’s a divergence from the pop-punk culture, but still based on traditional punk.”

Top 40 punk? Isn’t that paradoxical? These days, maybe not. Perhaps Eleven:54 truly understand the ins and outs of the “contemporary punk” phenomenon, both commercially and aesthetically.

This Saturday, lead singer and guitarist Weber, lead guitarist Drew Bowie, bassist Shawn Callender, and drummer Jason Booze celebrate the official release of their new EP, the six-song disc Now This is Happening, with an all-ages show at the Music Farm.

The songs are based on personal experiences with troubled relationships, family issues, and other matters. The sounds are familiar. The sleeve notes and photos are cool and cute.

This show is co-sponsored by local pop station 95SX and hip ’n’ active men’s apparel company Oakley — a significant sponsorship perhaps signaling that the guys in Eleven:54 believe image and marketability count for as much as what’s coming out of the amps and PA speakers.

Weber, 25, formed the band in the Baltimore suburbs nearly two years ago. “Our guitarist and I were the only ones who were really giving 150 percent,” he says. “Everyone else had day jobs and other distractions. I got really frustrated.”

Eventually, he dismissed everyone in the original group and reassembled with Callender and Bowie. Booze came on recently, after the band recorded a single with engineer Jerome Maffeo.

“We figured out how to use each other’s ideas — which sounds easier than it really is,” says Weber of the solidified lineup.

Last year, Eleven:54 developed a professional relationship with the Charleston-based Nussbaum, who eventually became the band manager. Last March, Nussbaum arranged for the band to head into Fusion 5 Studios in Mt. Pleasant, with audio engineers Jordan Herschaft and Jeff Leonard at the mixing boards.

“We needed some new material available, so we started doing just a couple of tunes,” says Weber. “The sounds were so good, we kept working. We ended up with a half dozen songs and that became Now This is Happening.

“We were very happy with what we were getting out of that studio,” he adds. “Jordan and Jeff understood what we were about. That’s the biggest thing when you’re working with people who understand what you’re trying to achieve with a sound or a song. They did that very well.”

While in town, Weber and the gang became acquainted with the local scene, booking a series of acoustic gigs and making their way through some Charleston watering holes.

“To make a little extra money and promote ourselves, we decided to do some acoustic gigs around Charleston,” says Weber. “We played at a few little sports bars and pizza places and it worked out pretty well.”

By late March, the final mixes made their way to disc, and the song “Something More” was officially added to 95SX’s playlist.

“Something More,” the EP’s leadoff tune, employs tag-team vocal approach with Weber in the lead. He and the guys get all rappy on the funkier “Positive Reaction,” a big rock anthem with fancy drum beats, ultra-distorted guitar sounds, and a chorus that “dreams of smashing your head in … na, na, na, na, na, na.” The slower “Drive Away” — produced by Jerome Maffeo, who also provides the drum tracks — takes back the aggression a notch or so and leans towards a more sad-sacky emo-rock vibe with such teenager lost-love lyrics as, “the sound of your voice burns in my mind.”

“Punk Rock Trend Kill (Searching Through the Remains of the …)” is a sort of minor-key, metalhead “I told you so” aimed at “fake” punk rockers of recent years.

“All that metal stuff is all Drew,” claims Weber. “I can’t play lead and I can’t write lead. Drew, on the other hand, picked up guitar and stayed in his room all day and practiced his metal riffs and technique. He was always the guy who wanted to do the metal stuff, Shawn wanted to experiment with the weird stuff, I was into the radio thing, and Jason held down the fort.”

The backing tracks to “My Own God” veer back toward Fugazi-land, with a clean guitar sound, a snareless snare drum, and the inevitable loud, four-chord chorus, although Ron’s breathy high-pitched vocals sound more like PBS’s “Romper Room” than Ian McKay’s “Repeater.” Emo-teeno? Punky alt-rock? Metallic guitar-pop? All of the above? Maybe.

According to the bandleader, it’s really all about commercial viability. “These days, we’re so much more collaborative and so much more productive,” he says. “We work hard to make every song we release sound like a single. That’s the mentality.”��

Charleston City Paper

Founded in 1997, the locally owned and operated City Paper is Charleston's only weekly alternative newspaper and the second-largest publication in the metro Charleston area. Reaching a strong mix of active, affluent locals and tourists, the City Paper has thrived...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 1316 Rutledge Ave, Charleston, SC 29403
  • Phone: (843) 577-5304