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Let’s Make a Deal

Heavy airplay on local radio gives small-town punk act F-Timmi a shot at stardom—just months after a recording contract slipped through their fingers

By Peter Hanson
Photos by Mandy Crabtree

Things were going well for F-Timmi that day last fall. The four lads who comprise the band’s current lineup had been playing together for only a few months, but they already had a head-turning performance at a major music conference under their belts. So when they crammed into a small room to play a showcase for Atlantic Records executives including Craig Kalman—the label’s vice president in charge of signing new bands—they felt like they were on a roll.

“There’s 15 people in suits—it’s pretty stiff,” recalls drummer Chad Davis. “We played really great, and everybody was juiced.”

“Kalman came up to us and said two words,” says front man Mike Biggane. “He said, ‘Good job,’ and he walked out.”

The label execs and F-Timmi’s reps exited the room for a quick discussion, then returned to give the expectant musicians the verdict. “The guy was like, ‘Let’s give these guys a record deal and a development deal,’ ” says Biggane. “That night, we all go to sleep thinking our dreams have come true. And then the next day is Sept. 11.”

Guitarist Douglas Palmer picks up the story. “I’m laying in bed sleeping and I hear our friend Amanda pounding on the door and she’s yelling ‘They’re bombing the World Trade Center!’ ” he says. “She’s like, ‘Band meeting! Mike’s room! Now!’ ”

Davis, Biggane, Palmer and bassist Brian Springfield recall this sequence of events with a mixture of clarity and wonder. On the evening of Sept. 10, they drank themselves silly and looked forward to touring Atlantic’s offices in the morning. But on Sept. 11, they found themselves stranded in a locked-down Manhattan, unsure how to balance the fear and anxiety of that dark day with their euphoria at the impending Atlantic deal.

“We were walking through Times Square and everything was closed,” recalls Biggane. “The fucked-up thing was we were eating in the hotel restaurant and the bomb squad ran up to this van across the street. The police towed the van right by the window, and we were sitting there with our $20 hamburgers going, like, ‘What the fuck?’ ”

F-Timmi eventually made it out of Manhattan, but the eerie vibe of that morning lingered for the next two weeks. For while the world grappled with the enormity of the tragedies in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, four punk-rockers waited for contracts that never seemed to arrive. Finally, the band’s lawyer informed them that Atlantic had withdrawn its offer of a record deal, but still wanted to give F-Timmi a development deal—meaning that the quartet would have to settle for the vague promise that they might be offered a recording contract again somewhere down the road.

“They backed out because they didn’t want to commit to an unknown band in a falling economy,” Davis says.

“After that,” Biggane adds, “we got really depressed.”

F-Timmi aren’t depressed anymore. While they still don’t have a deal with a major label—they turned down Atlantic’s halfhearted offer in the hopes they could do better elsewhere—they do have a song in heavy rotation on local hard-rock station the Edge (WQBK/WQBJ, 103.5/103.9 FM). The song, “Speechless,” is a pop-tinged number that recalls the cheerful energy of Green Day’s early hits, and it’s been hotly requested since the Edge began playing it earlier this month. The radio play has garnered F-Timmi a new wave of major-label interest, and a brief profile of the band appears in the current issue of well-read industry mag Radio & Records. Whereas most bands spend their careers hoping in vain for a single shot at the big time, F-Timmi are poised for their second such shot in less than a year.

This is a heady time for Biggane and Davis, both 23, and Palmer and Springfield, both 22. The four all have day jobs—from carpentry to car detailing—and their collective financial resources are so humble that they shop at Salvation Army stores and trek to gigs in a caravan of used cars. It’s understandable why they’ve got so much invested in the idea of turning their local success into national notoriety.

Davis describes the band’s current sound as “melody-driven rock with punk influences,” which represents a substantial change from the F-Timmi style of yesteryear. When the band formed in 1996 under the auspices of lead singer Tom Brennan—a friend of the current lineup who’s still Biggane’s roommate—they played simplistic, hard-driving music that was heavily influenced by the neo-punk heroes of the last decade. (The band’s name, by the way, is a tongue-in-cheek reference to former member Tim Booth, and the “F” stands for just what you think it does.)

Biggane says that he played guitar as a child, then abandoned the instrument until Brennan taught him to play Green Day’s “When I Come Around.” And Davis says he became a punk fan because he digs the music of blink-182. In the band’s early days, however, these young players discovered that punk-rock purists don’t think highly of musicians steeped in the sounds of contemporary alternative-rock radio.

“We used to open for Trauma School Dropouts,” recalls Springfield, referring to the defunct area band known for their adherence to old-school values. “We thought we were punk, but we’d have kids with Mohawks spitting on us.”

In addition to playing music that’s not punk enough for some punks, F-Timmi don’t feel obliged to develop dangerous reputations. “I got arrested last year on the way to a Wait show for driving with a suspended license,” Biggane says. “I felt, like, all badass ’cause the Wait were like ‘Mike from F-Timmi just came straight from jail.’ When people asked me what I got arrested for, I was like ‘Shut the hell up.’ My license is clear now, by the way.”

F-Timmi place so little importance on appearing disreputable that they even clean their room for visitors. The group’s rehearsal space is a dark, plain room on North Pearl Street in Albany—in a crowded building employed for similar purposes by numerous other local bands—and the musicians explain that the night before this interview, they carted away what they describe as an ankle-deep mess of beer bottles.

In terms of their music as well, cleaning up their act has done wonders for F-Timmi. The band recall that after Biggane wrote the first version of “Speechless” last fall, they were noncommittal about including the track on the EP they were recording. But after tinkering with the tune in the studio—and cutting off a long acoustic intro that Biggane had written—the band turned the song into a polished pop tune.

“I said, ‘Dude, “Speechless” has “single” written all over it,’ ” Davis recalls. “What I love about it is the chorus: It’s hooky as hell.”

“It’s one of those songs that’s almost so cheesy it’s fun to play,” Springfield adds. “I smile all the way through it.”

“Whatever, man,” Biggane says with a contented shrug. “We’re on the radio.”

F-Timmi will celebrate the release of The Shocker, the EP featuring “Speechless,” with a show tomorrow (Friday) at Saratoga Winners. And while it may seem that the band are taking the no-brainer route to success—record a single, get it on the radio, then play live once it’s a hit—the band’s members explain that it didn’t quite work that way.

The current F-Timmi lineup took shape in January 2001, and not long after, band pal Dan Neet—front man of late, great Capital Region rock act the Clay People—helped F-Timmi land a showcase slot at the Philadelphia Music Conference, which is attended by scores of industry types thirsty for new talent. The band’s gig at the June 2001 event caught the ears of a lawyer named George Stein, who discovered Jeff Buckley, and Frank Chackler, whose father was instrumental in Fleetwood Mac’s career. Chackler wanted to ink a deal predicated upon F-Timmi working with onetime Guns N’ Roses producer Mike Clark, but the band signed with Stein instead.

“George was right up front with us,” Davis says. “First thing out of his mouth was ‘We’re gonna make some money.’ ”

“He said, ‘You better hope I can buy a house because then you can buy five,’ ” Palmer adds.

Stein helped set up the fateful Atlantic showcase in September, as well as a showcase for RCA Records in October that
didn’t go nearly as well—the band members say they were so jaded by that point that they didn’t play well. In fact, it was disappointment over the whole Atlantic situation that led F-Timmi to record The Shocker.

Prior to this year, the only recorded F-Timmi products were low-budget demos cut in local sound guy John Delehanty’s basement studio. But in January, F-Timmi traveled to Woodstock for six days of intensive work with Conehead Buddha member Chris Fisher serving as producer. The band say they told Stein to lay off the label showcases until the recording was done, because they wanted to refocus their energies on the music, not the music business. “It was basically ‘Play for us and the kids that are at shows, and not worry about which label is gonna be there,’ ” Davis says.

The come-what-may attitude remained after the last recording session was over. Before the band even got completed discs with artwork and liner notes, they sent a copy to Dave Hill, the Edge’s program director, so a radio ad for an F-Timmi concert could be cut together with snippets from the disc. Hill liked what he heard, then added “Speechless” to the station’s playlist—as Davis says, “It got on the radio by accident.” By mid-February, the track was featured in a top-of-the-hour montage describing which tunes are about to be played.

“It was, like, Creed, us, Godsmack,” Biggane says, the surprise of the moment still clear on his face.

“I almost pissed myself when I heard that,” Springfield says.

The radio play has given the band’s quest for a major-label deal considerable momentum, and has even won them new allies: Last week, they were signed to the roster of Los Angeles-based concern Rebel Management, whose clients have included Christina Aguilera.

A poster of Aguilera hangs in F-Timmi’s rehearsal space, and the musicians get pretty animated when discussing the slinky outfit that the comely pop star wore during her performance at the closing ceremony of the winter Olympics on Sunday. Despite their savvy attitude about the music business and their intense focus on hitting the big time, the members of F-Timmi are still skateboarders who like to hang out with each other, drink copious amounts of beer, smoke pack after pack of cigarettes, and talk about pop-music hotties. As they interact in their smoky little room—the decorations of which also include a giant Taxi Driver poster, a Spider-Man kite, and flyers for bands F-Timmi have played with—the band members give the impression that they’re happy just to have come as far as they already have.

They joke easily, for instance, about having emerged from the small town of Kinderhook, Biggane’s hometown and Davis’ home of many years. (Palmer is from Greenville, Springfield from Nassau.)
“ ‘We’re F-Timmi from Kinderhook, New York’—that’s how every show starts out,” Springfield says.

“We’re from the only town where the eighth president is from too,” Palmer chimes in. “Rock out!”

The way the members riff on how 19th-century commander in chief Martin Van Buren might be integrated into their stage patter seems typical of their loose vibe, and the musicians insist that they’re friends first, a band second. To back up this claim, Palmer describes how F-Timmi took a fishing trip last year to get away from the distractions of the rock lifestyle: “We went to a lake with no fish and spent two days throwing lines in to catch rocks.”

They add that their camaraderie extends to their devoted fan base, which includes folks such as “Crazy Eddie,” the guy who drives all the way from Buffalo to catch the band in Albany, and the two kids from Cairo who invented a handshake inspired by the band’s logo. The group even balk at describing their listeners as “fans,” preferring to characterize their supporters as members of an extended musical family. Palmer says that he and his bandmates know most of their listeners by name, and he describes gigging in the Capital Region as “like playing a big house party with all your friends.”

Yet the band admit that they’re itching to welcome people in other parts of the country into the F-Timmi fold. “Everybody wants to get out of their hometown,” Springfield says. “We just want to get in a van and play wherever we can play.”

F-Timmi will celebrate the release of The Shocker with a show tomorrow (Friday, March 1) at Saratoga Winners (Route 9, Latham). The Stryder, Coheed and Cambria, and Prevents Falls also are on the bill of the all-ages show. Doors open at 7 PM, and tickets are $10 advance, $12 door. For more information, call 783-1010.




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