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Rock, inc.: (l-r) Chad Balzer, Debbie Gabrione, Scott Card, Pete Vroman, Mark Rose.

A Piece of the Action

The members of Ten Year Vamp take their music—and the music business—very seriously

By Bill Ketzer

Photos By Joe Putrock

 

Two days after THAnksGiving, Ten Year Vamp are standing in the frigid sundown looking up at the Black Brimmer, an immense nightclub housed in a Victorian-era public works building in downtown Manchester, N.H. “Last night we played Worcester [Mass.], which was pretty good,” says guitarist Mark Rose as the band members prepare for load-in. “But this place . . . we’re building a following here. Should be a good crowd tonight.”

Uh-huh. Four hours later, the three entire floors are filled with soul-patched punters and boob-flashing 20-somethings hitting the drink specials harder than Amy Winehouse at Carnaval. Lead singer Debbie Gabrione whips her black mane in perpetuity as she roars from the stage above the din, encouraging birthday spankings, group toasts and general misconduct. Rose ducks a plastic cup then catches my eye with a smile, and we both know his earlier assessment was the understatement of the year.

Formed in 2003, Ten Year Vamp don’t win crowds over; they own them. The next time I catch them is at Sandy’s Clam Bar in Glens Falls, where the atmosphere is like a European rock festival. Then, down by Poughkeepsie’s waterfront at Mahoney’s, the place is so over-capacity that bouncers help with load-out. Ten Year Vamp bumper stickers are smeared across the asses and pint glasses of the masses, and it seems right.

Since these shows are largely cover gigs, however, it would be easy to charge such explosive regional popularity to pop groupthink. And it doesn’t hurt that Gabrione and her compatriots didn’t exactly fall out of the ugly bastard tree as newborns. Yet, 10YV’s original material, cannonballed between your Green Days and Red Jumpsuit Apparatuses, goes over just as well. Crowds sing along to their “Rockstar” and the chugging “Get Up,” and for some reason there’s also lot of hugging involved. What gives?

“I think it’s the respect and attention we give everyone,” Gabrione says in a later interview. “I basically have about five minutes to earn the friendship of a potential fan, so we get right in there—laugh, have a few drinks, talk about our week. It’s our time to socialize too.”

“Our plan from the very beginning was to be a successful original band, but we didn’t have the money to support [one],” Rose explains. “The solution was simple: Play covers. We make more money and play for more people . . . and we still play original songs, provided they hold up.”

Apparently they do. After an original showcase at the Knitting Factory in New York City last month, even infamously unimpressed Village Voice columnist Michael Musto praised Ten Year Vamp in his weekly rant as “tighter than my pussy,” and to be sure, the quintet’s rank-and-file—rounded out by guitarist Pete Vroman, bassist Chad Balzer and drummer Scott Card—form a seasoned, well-schooled chop shop. “We have the talent to be a national band, [so] we market ourselves that way,” says Gabrione. “Labels aren’t signing, so we can’t expect a company to invest a million dollars in us. All they have that we don’t is millions of dollars!”

The decision to eschew industry support also made Rose and Gabrione—who incorporated as an LLC in 2006—better business professionals. “Everything a record label would provide, we provide for ourselves,” the singer explains. “Bookings, marketing, recording, gas, hotels, competitions, production, Web site hosting, online merch—and of course we pay our musicians. Then we have to find time to write songs!”

Despite full-time day jobs (Rose is a partner at Colonie’s Camelot Copy Center and Gabrione counsels high-school students with disabilities as they transition into workforce settings), the band play most major Northeastern markets within four hours of the Capital Region every weekend, reinvesting all revenue back into the music. “We had to hire a CPA to keep track of our accounts—PayPal, credit, payroll and sales,” says Rose. “And if we’ve got any money left over, we rent buses so fans can come to our New York City shows.”

These trips are immensely popular. The next is on Saturday (Feb. 2), when 10YV will compete in the Bodog Battle of the Bands regional finals at the Blender Theatre at Gramercy in Manhattan. The winner bags a million-dollar recording contract, so 10YV gladly eat the entire cost of the sold-out bus. “It’s costing us $1,250 and over $800 in tickets,” Rose estimates. “But we’ve got the best fans a band can have and we’re happy to pay for it all.”

As 10YV begin songwriting for their first full-length album, however, fans now have an opportunity to return the favor, and perhaps even pay themselves in the process. When major labels began to tighten purse-strings a few years back, Rose sought ways (million-dollar contests notwithstanding) to make an industry-quality record without going to the poorhouse. The result is the aptly-named Album Project 2008, which lets fans invest in the band—and share the profits.

“I was reading a New York Times article about [successful independent] bands, and it really highlighted the obvious,” Rose says. “There’s no reason to chase a collapsing industry. With the right people, hard work and financial backing, we can [easily] be successful without a label.”

The premise is simple: Interested parties purchase “shares” in the album’s creation through the band’s Web site. Investors choose from various levels of support, and when the album is released on 10YV’s label, they’ll receive dividend checks based on their investment percentage. “We wanted a system that would make money for investors, but also be fair to us,” Rose explains. “So instead of paying ourselves up front, we’ll only get paid back if investors make money at the same time.”

The band realize that investor commitment will require more than the promise of future returns on sales of an independent effort. Accordingly, the Album Project offers a slew of other perks that grow in proportion to the investment levels. These can include free CDs, access to unreleased material, free merchandise and concert tickets, personalized business cards, private band meetings, studio access, advertising time on 10YV media outlets, and voting rights on band decisions.

Wait. What was that last one?

“Mark and I are only two votes,” Gabrione confirms. “Right now we have 20 other owners whose decisions need to be considered, so until their votes are cast we make no decisions. Fans will also pick the songs—we plan on putting at least 20 songs up for vote.”

The two admit they’re heading into uncharted waters, in essence ridding themselves of record-company liability in exchange for a growing list of investors who will quite literally dictate the nature of the final product. (To date, $5,000 has been invested by more than two dozen sponsors, some of them complete strangers.) Isn’t this a little nerve-wracking?

Sure, but even though we believe everyone will make more than their money back, these people aren’t in it for the money like a record label,” the guitarist points out. “Labels [make] decisions based on profit. Our owners will be making decisions based on what they love about us. No one knows us better. And if we can sell as many Album Project CDs as we have our previous releases, every owner will profit.”

Gabrione agrees. “As long as the bills are paid and I can still make my rent, I don’t care if I ever see a penny. If we can sell 10,000 CDs, then I got what I wanted.”

“A lot of things will all need to fall together,” admits Rose, “but we’ll make it work. We always do.”

Understatement of the year?

Another smile.

Ten Year Vamp will appear tomorrow (Friday) at the Bayou Café (79 N. Pearl Street, Albany, 462-9033), then compete in the Bodog Battle of the Bands in New York City on Saturday. For more tour dates or to learn more about Album Project 2008, visit www.tenyearvamp.com or www.myspace.com/10yearvamp.


ROUGH MIX

- no rough mix this week :-(



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