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Grasshopper Takeover:
There and Back Again

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: March 24, 2004

Grasshopper Takeover
w/Lucky Boys Confusion, Swizzle Tree, more
March 27
Sokol Auditorium
13th & Martha
5 p.m.

This is the fourth part in an ongoing series that traces the ups and downs of Grasshopper Takeover, a power-pop rock band formed in Omaha.

Part 1, published July 9, 1998, documents the band from its origins to its flight from Omaha to Los Angeles.

Part 2, published Dec. 23, 1998, recaps the band's first months in L.A. and their struggle to play on the Sunset Strip rock scene.

Part 3, published July 27, 2000, catches up with the band during a brief break on their 18-month national tour.

If this was an episode of VH-1's Behind the Music, Omaha rock band Grasshopper Takeover's life story would be somewhere past the third commercial, after the inevitable downfall and Phoenix-like return from the ashes. Literally.

But we're picking it up after the second commercial, back in July 2000 when our heroes -- guitarist/vocalist Curt Grubb, drummer Bob Boyce and bassist James McMann (guitarist Michael Cioffero had yet to join the band) -- were just beginning a nationwide tour expected to last nine months. The world was their rock 'n' roll oyster with a home base in sunny Los Angeles where they'd moved two years earlier to be closer to the rock industry.

"We were still living there in '99, but we're getting ready to go on tour," said Grubb over coffee at Caffeine Dreams. "You mentioned a 9-month tour. It was more like two years. It lasted from the end of 1999 until about 2002. After 18 months on the road, we decided to give up the L.A. apartment and rehearsal space."

It wasn't the classic tail-between-the-legs "retreat" that has scarred so many other bands that followed the yellow brick road to that famous beckoning Hollywood sign only to be told that they couldn't get a meeting with the man behind the curtain. Grubb said the move had more to do with following the target than leaving it behind.

"The same philosophy applied then as now: I go where the music takes me," he said. "The reasons we didn't go back to L.A. were financial and creative. You get off the road after 18 months and there's not a lot of money in the bank.

"We figured if we go back there it's going to cost $8,000 just to get reestablished, and $2,000 a month to live in our place in Echo Park. Or we come back to Omaha and put together a studio. If we're artists, we can create anywhere. We don't need the California sun as a catalyst."




The band already had gotten almost everything they wanted out of L.A. anyway, from meetings with high-level A&R people including the CFO of Universal Records, to gigs at Sunset Strip clubs and a booking agent. But the big-time record label deal remained elusive.

"We had interest, but our guiding philosophy has been to stay on our own path, sometimes to our detriment," Grubb said. "Even the CFO wanted us to stick around L.A. and do showcases, but we wanted to tour."

Their willingness to live on the road eventually got them the arena-sized gigs that they always dreamed about -- opening for old friends 311 and the insanely hot Incubus as part of a Levi's-sponsored tour in early 2001.

Once the tour was announced, GTO's exposure went to a whole 'nother level. "We started getting hundreds of e-mails a day. It was an explosion that lasted before, during and after we stepped on stage," Grubb said.

Halfway through the 311/Incubus tour, Atlantic Records offered GTO a "demo" deal that would put their song, the bouncy pop tune "Esta Vida," on a compilation CD next to songs by some of the country's hottest acts. But GTO turned it down. "If it didn't work out, we were still contractually tied to Universal for two years. It would have been like hitting a bull's-eye in a blackout in a snowstorm with a b-b-gun from 200 yards away."

Atlantic would be the last major to come knocking, which came as a surprise to GTO and their fans. In retrospect, Grubb says the band's music isn't easy to categorize, which makes for tough marketing. "The songs we play that should be on the radio don't fit the format," he said, adding that even their heavy songs, like the fan favorite "Bone Crusher," aren't raucous enough to be heard on stations that play Korn and Limp Bizkit in heavy rotation.

Grubb said six years of recording and touring have yet to net GTO the big payday that they used to think was just around the corner. These days, the band that dreamed of being as big as U2 has set its sights a bit lower.

"It would be nice to put something in the bank for myself," Grubb said. "We've never paid ourselves over the years. Every penny has gone to the Grasshopper Takeover bank account. There were times when we had so much money but still didn't pay ourselves. Like any small business, you need to treat your income as one step further into your next venture. If you have $10,000 in the bank, that's enough to buy more T-shirts and 3,000 CDs."

Regardless, making money has never been the band's No. 1 goal. "As cliché as it sounds, if you're not doing it for the music, get out now," Grubb said. "It's pretty hard to find three guys willing to stay together for seven years without seeing a dime. It let's you know that you have something special.

"It would just be nice to get paid someday, but if I don't, I can't not write songs. Maybe I won't be famous until after I die, and when I'm gone, I'll leave a legacy of music."










"It's pretty hard to find three guys willing to stay together for seven years without seeing a dime. It let's you know that you have something special."

















"If we're artists, we can create anywhere. We don't need the California sun as a catalyst."




Music like the band's recently released album, Elephant Dreams, the product of a new $15,000 home studio that provided unlimited time and resources for recording the CD's 19 tracks.

"We've always gone into the studio and recorded songs exactly as we played them live. We had no money for production ditties," Grubb said. "This time we could spend a month on a song. Instead of nailing the drum part in 30 minutes, we could spend two weeks on it. It would have cost us over $100,000 in studio time. Having the freedom to put an album like this together is the best thing to happen to us on a creative level."

But sometimes having no limits isn't necessarily a good thing. "You have to set an absolute deadline with that kind of freedom," Grubb said. "We set the date for the CD release party and started promoting it so we couldn't go back on it. We still had three songs to record, so we cranked shit out the final three or four months. In classic fashion, we got the CD the day before the show."

The Nov. 26 concert at Sokol Auditorium sold out, just like the band's farewell show at Sokol almost six years earlier. In addition, that evening GTO sold more than 1,000 copies of Elephant Dreams -- a concept CD that in part recounts the band's all-time low -- when their tour van was stolen loaded with $25,000 of equipment -- an incident that couldn't have happened at a worse time.

"We were at a point where the crowds were dipping at our shows, kind of like an old girlfriend that you still love but don't want to sleep with every night," Grubb said. "It had been two years since we put out a CD and the fans were wondering if we were still in the game. The reality was that we had our noses to the grindstone trying to get the next album out."

When their van was stolen literally before their eyes it was "a total loss and total violation," Grubb said. "People thought the whole thing was a publicity stunt. I'm thinking, 'Thanks for the compliment.' If I had the power and expertise to pull a stunt like that, it would be pretty amazing."

The aftermath -- the van being burned up, the return of their gear, and the donation of a new van by local newsman Dave Webber -- was covered closely in the local media. So much, in fact, that sound bites from TV and radio reports were woven between some of the songs on Elephant Dreams.

"We couldn't not do it," Grubb said. "Every band is supposed to have a story. This documents ours."

Clocking in at over 70 minutes, Elephant Dreams easily is GTO's most ambitious and musically varied recording. The music sounds like the feel-good stadium rock that you used to hear on the FM in the '70s and '80s. Big guitars playing big riffs on songs with big hooks sung by Grubb in his slippery midrange voice that has just enough polish to remind you that he's not indie and doesn't want to be. There are certain elements that are oddly modern amidst the usual guitar bombast. But the rhythms and melodies are pure heavy pop rock -- not pop-punk, not trip-hop -- just plain rock, born from the minds of four Midwestern guys who grew up loving the bands they heard on the radio. Pure fun, with no regrets.

A self-released CD, GTO recently signed a distribution deal with Harvest Media Group. Needless to say, a tour will follow.

So will their story have a traditional fame-and-fortune Behind the Music ending? Only time will tell, though Grubb would just be happy if the story never ended at all.

"I don't want to think small, but it would be nice to sell 10,000 copies of the new CD and create five or 10 markets for us," Grubb said. "It would be nice to be able to put some money in the bank and be able to tour for a long time.

"It would also be nice to sell 10 million copies. But we know where we are as a band. The idea of getting picked up by a major label is fantastic, but it never guides anything we do anymore. As a result, the music becomes more pure in that it is just a piece of art we hope to survive on. Beyond that, everything is a bonus."

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Published in The Omaha Reader March 24, 2004. Copyright 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.