There was a 6-12 month period of time in 1999, while Kansas’s Ultimate Fakebook was touring to support This Will Be Laughing Week, that the trio (vocals/guitar – Bill McShane, bassist – Nick Colby, drummer – Eric Melin) seemed to play Columbus, Ohio every other week. And, hey, I wasn’t complaining one bit! The band’s power-pop sound bore some similarities to bands I dug like Weezer, Superdrag, and Green Day and it helped them land a short-lived major label deal with Epic Records.
In 2003, after releasing the Before We Spark EP, Ultimate Fakebook quietly called it quits. Colby and Melin formed The Dead Girls while McShane moved to California and got a job unrelated to music. It was a sad and anti-climactic end to a band that, for a while in 1999, felt like family to me.
In June, an Ultimate Fakebook Facebook page appeared and the first status update promised “some very cool announcements coming soon”. Then, earlier this week, this update appeared as well as a link to download a new song: “Ultimate Fakebook broke up in 2003, but the power pop punk powerhouse has just put up a song at ufbrocks.com for a free download and announced a record called ‘Daydream Radio is Smiling Static’ out July 27!!!!!!”
A new song? A new album? What? How? I HAD to know what was going on so I got in touch with Eric Melin. Here’s what he had to say:
Why now? Did Michael Jackson’s death last year make you realize that you never want to have lingering regrets?
Yes and no. This album would never have come out if we hadn’t been able to approach these songs with a new sense of what the hell they sounded like.
How did you keep the recording of a new album a secret?
With the exception of one new song, it’s been done since 2003.
Are the new batch of songs truly new songs or are they ones that had been cooking in the crock pot at the time of UFB’s untimely demise?
They weren’t cooking; they were done. The first batch were supposed to be half of the major-label follow up to This Will Be Laughing Week that never happened. We saved some of our favorites and didn’t put them on Open Up. The 2nd – 4th batches were 3 sessions of new stuff recorded in 2003. They were supposed to come out on the record that followed the Before We Spark EP, which was finished over a year before it finally came out. After a little bit of space, we hear them now with new ears and think “Why the fuck didn’t we do this album,?” Now its kind of a lost record. It sounds really fresh now, like a radio broadcast from another, less cynical time and place. Hopeful, everyone will get that same wistful feeling when they listen to it.
There wasn’t a big and nasty split with Bill, as far as I can tell (never noticed any gossip in the Weekly World News about in-band fighting or sleeping with each other’s girlfriends or anything). Did Bill decide that he was done playing ‘rock star’ for a little while?
You’d have to ask him, but we have all remained friends throughout this time, even though touring took its toll and our own expectations were the hardest to meet.
Are you as excited about putting out something as we are in hearing it?
Abso-fucking-lutely. We stupidly kept no web presence at all and just disappeared when we broke up, so for us, its exciting to know people are still enjoying our music. For a band that prided itself on its connection with its fans, we really blew it and just dropped off the face of the Earth after we broke up. The challenge now is to find everyone who cares about UFB through the Internet and make sure they can get these tunes, cuz we’re pretty sure they’ll like ’em as much as we do.
I loved UFB’s music but what really endeared me to the band was your constant touring with many, many stops in Columbus over a relatively short period of time. Any chance you’ll do another coast to coast tour or is the reunion album a studio project that came together because the timing was right?
No coast to coast tour unless we get Green Day big out of nowhere. So, no. There is no infrastructure to support that. We have no van. We have no money. There is no pool to draw from.
Is this the long overdue final chapter to UFB’s career or is it the sequel?
That’s up to you all. As long as there is demand and we have good ideas that we’re excited about, you never know! The music industry is a pile of shit and we are 100% independent, so we’ll do whatever we want. But that also depends on what the fans want. Making $$$ is not really an option so anything we do will be for the love of the music. We’re just excited to see who we can find that remembers how much fun it was back in the day. You all deserve these songs–we owe them to you.
Jump into the wayback machine after the jump to read an interview I did with the band in 1999.
(THE FOLLOWING INTERVIEW TOOK PLACE AT LITTLE BROTHERS IN COLUMBUS, OHIO IN 1999)
Okay, okay, we’ll admit it, when we first heard Ultimate Fakebook’s This Will Be Laughing Week we thought it sounded a little bit . . . okay . . . a LOT like Weezer. But what do they say about first impressions? The more we had a chance to listen, the more we realized that while Weezer may be an influence, Ultimate Fakebook is anything but a Weezer cover band.
And then there is the matter of the cover art. The inside CD cover of the band’s second full length contains some vintage head shots and prom photos from an unidentified high school yearbook, circa 1989. And, if you lift the CD out, underneath are authentic yearbook signatures with classic quotes like “Megadeth Rocks” and “You’re a totally great guy!” The crown jewel, though, is from Stephanie who inscribed “You are the cutest guy I know with long hair. Usually if a guy has long hair I don’t even think twice about him. But you’re different. Good luck next year.”
We were lucky enough to catch up with the Kansas trio — Bill McShane (vocals/guitars), Nick Colby (bass/vocals) and Eric Melin (drums) — as they started their world domination one small club at a time.
N: One of the guys out at the bar was like, “Your name is Ultimate Fakebook?” I was like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “That’s so cool. Can you actually play guitar?” I said, “Yeah, we can play guitar.” He said, “It would be so much cooler if you couldn’t!”
E: More people in Columbus, Ohio know what the fakebook is than have known on the entire tour.
Can you guys read music?
B: Not really. Me and Nick have had a little bit of music theory but it’s not like we’ve used it.
Have you had any of your songs transcribed?
So there is no ultimate fakebook for Ultimate Fakebook?
E: No, but we put some of the lyrics on the Website.
Is everybody from Manhattan, Kansas?
E: Yeah, we all went to school there at one time until we decided that the university had nothing more to offer us.
B: Then we enlisted in the University of Rock!
It seems like every band from Kansas is thanked on the new album.
E: Oh yeah.
N: We did leave out somebody, didn’t we?
B: We had a great year. We had an amazing year. We were like “We better thank our lucky stars here.”
You thanked Paw. I didn’t realize Paw was still together.
E: Oh yeah. Our first huge show in Lawrence was opening up for Paw’s big reunion show. They were getting back together because Paul McCartney mentioned that his son’s favorite band was Paw. Somebody was like, “Okay, we’ll give you a bunch of money to get back together.” But since then all the labels got bought out.
Are they the “success” story in Kansas?
E: They were, for a long time. I think Frogpond is probably the biggest band there now.
N: Everyone is crossing their fingers because there have been so many bands that have come from Kansas City. They are really, really good but never seem to be able to stay around for a while. Success is measured in different ways. The Get Up Kids aren’t even very popular in Kansas City but they are huge everywhere else.
Did I see somewhere that you are playing a show with Frogpond?
E: Yeah, in Lawrence. It’s their CD release party. They opened up for us in April when we did ours in Manhattan. That was a really big favor for us because they are obviously on Columbia and opening for the Goo Goo Dolls.
N: We played with them the first date of this tour last week.
E: They just got back from doing a bunch of shows with Fastball and the Goo Goo Dolls and they are going back for quite a long time.
Would you like to be in that position, opening for a big band like the Goo Goo Dolls?
E: Oh yeah! We’d like to play smaller clubs and get our name out there and try and get a small local following. But if somebody gave us a whole bunch of money and put us on this stupidly enormous tour that we don’t want, we’d totally go on it.
I noticed a few other recognizable names that you thanked on the CD – Frankie LaRocka and Dawn Debias, both Columbia Records people. Is there something you want to share with us?
B: No. They are just friends of ours. We met Dawn through Frogpond.
E: The whole record company situation is so ridiculous right now. There was a time when we went through a period where we were trying really hard to get signed. We had a lawyer and everything. This record was sitting around for awhile. We just wanted to put it out and go on tour. When we in New York last night, there were some people there. With all the industry shakeup, we feel like nobody is going to want to sign anybody who is doing rock and roll right now.
N: Take it to the streets. Signed, whatever, it would be nice to have a lot of cash and be able to afford to keep touring non-stop. But, heck, we’re living the dream. Getting out on tour, playing and doing it one investor at a time.
B: We’re one of the most low maintenance, easy to please rock bands you’ll find. If three people come out happy, we’re like “Yeah.”
N: We’re happy if we have enough money to go to Taco Bell and score some bean burritos.
B: We’re so like the anti-jaded, “been there, done that” rockers. We’re happy to get in there and play.
What do you do when you are not on the road? Do you have day jobs?
B: Yeah. We have to do the rocker day jobs.
E: I work at a record store. That’s the ultimate goal for us, to be able to quit those jobs. If we ever get that far, like the Get Up Kids, then we won’t have to worry about anything. Being on a major label would be nice but it could also be a total nightmare. There are so many good records out right now and I’ve had to discover them all by myself because I don’t see any ads for them.
N: The label that we are on, Noisome, is just a small little label out of Lawrence and they are awesome. They’ve worked their butts off. They’ve done a good job with publicity and getting radio promotion and getting it on the college charts. They’ve been doing everything in their power. They don’t have a lot of power or money, but what they have, they stretch everything to the max. That’s the greatest thing ever.
Are you a vinyl type band? Have you put out singles and albums on vinyl?
E: Where we are from, people don’t buy it so we just don’t have that opportunity.
B: It’s funny because that girl that we talked to at the Back Door the other night from K.C., she’s like, “Well all my friends only buy vinyl so that’s where I hear everything.” She’s into the Get Up Kids and all those bands.
E: If we were from a bigger town . . . nobody’s ever really asked us for it. We thought of doing a split 7″ with the other band on Noisome, the Creature Comforts from Lawrence. We thought about it and were like, “Who’s going to buy it?” Everybody I know is going to ask for it on CD. So, yeah, I’d like to do it. If anybody ever asked us to, I’m sure we would.
B: We’re not really about putting out a bunch of product. We like the quality factor instead of the quantity.
E: We’re really anal about our stuff too. It doesn’t make it to the record unless we’ve done it over and over.
Are the pictures from the CD cover from your yearbooks?
E: Let’s just say they are all genuine and authentic. There is nothing in there that is fake. We don’t want to say where they are from because we don’t want to be sued.
Can you answer this: are the people in those pictures in your age range?
E: Oh yeah!
There are a lot of Iron Maiden t-shirts. Did you grow up on bands like that?
E: We’re familiar with those bands, yeah (laughs). We’ve got Def Leppard and the Scorpions in the van right now.
You are going to the Rock and Roll prom. Who do you take? You can expand your answer to someone outside of the rock world if you’d like.
E: I’m going to bitch slap Marilyn Manson and take his girlfriend, because he doesn’t deserve her. Rose (McGowan), baby, that’s where it is at.
B: If I don’t say my girlfriend then I’ll get in trouble.
E: Either Rose or Denise Richards.
B: I’d have to come up with some hair rocker guy . . . Warren DeMartini from Ratt.
N: I’m going dutch because I’m going to score on everyone else’s rock and roll babe there.
Bill, you don’t have to answer this one since you picked Warren DeMartini, but Eric and Nick, do you guys end up scoring on prom night?
E: Ohhhh, I never score. I set myself up too high and will ultimately be disappointed.
In the last issue, we asked our staff members to name the band they’d like to have play at their prom. What band would you choose?
All: Tenacious D!
B: That would be unanimous.
Who’s Tenacious D?
N: The greatest band on earth. They are on HBO.
E: We saw them in Chicago the other night, they are incredible.
N: They never play any shows outside of L.A. or San Francisco or whatever. Jack Black is filming a movie out in Chicago, so they had a show at the House of Blues, which was totally sold out. They are two large dudes . . . Chris the guitarist singing funny lyrics, Smothers Brothers-esque. But the thing is is that they play catchy songs, they have great voices, awesome guitars and they get up there and have a whole act. It’s the best. It’s tremendous.
B: We have a videotape of every episode. We take it out on tour and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t get played every single night.
E: Wherever we stay, we have to watch the D.
N: We’re D promoters.
B: It’s the perfect thing to pop in, everybody loves it.
N: It’s the best thing since Spinal Tap.
E: Their songs are really catchy and get stuck in your head.
What’s the strangest request you’ve had for a cover song when you play live?
B: We’ve had some people ask for some weird shit that we didn’t even know.
E: I think the weirdest song that we play is “Xanadu” (Olivia Newton-John).
Have you had anybody bring a yearbook for you to sign?
N: Not yet.
B: We signed some CDs like a yearbook.
E: It’s a good gimmick to have the inside look like a yearbook. If I have like 10 people that want me to sign it, I feel like I have to put something individual for each one—like, “Science class was real great.”
I don’t think you necessarily sing about high school but the themes are kind of related to the feelings you have when you are a teenager.
B: Our songs . . . they are not all about high school. It’s just some themes. The way we came up with the high school thing is that there are some lyrical references to high school and to school in general. It’s not like we wrote “high school songs.” We just wrote pop songs and used memories, but it’s not always about high school.
There is a reference to Motley Crue in two of the songs. Are you a Crue fan?
B: Yeah, totally.
Are you upset that Tommy Lee is not going to tour with them anymore?
B: I heard this was his last tour. He’s spending more time with his wife and kid.
Actually, revealing my heavy metal geekdom here, Randy Castillo from Ozzy’s band is going to be filling in.
E: Nobody is going to go see Motley Crue without Tommy Lee.
N: I thought Tommy Lee was divorced.
B: They are back together.
N: That ends that. When I heard the Crue was coming, I was like “YEAH!”
The last question. Did you guys have any senior quote in your high school yearbook?
E: We didn’t have senior quotes but I was quoted. I’m trying to remember what it was. It was a caption for a picture. I almost have this memorized, because it was so awful, it was something that I would never ever say. It was like, I was talking about this dance that the school put on, and they quoted me as saying something like, “The event went really well. I’m very excited to see the large amount of turnout.” Somebody completely made it up and put my name on it. But we didn’t have any senior quotes. Bill and Nick’s yearbooks were really small.