Emerson Drive is not a boy band. Or so they say.
The evidence, however, is to the contrary. They're handsome and well coiffed -- not a gnarly one among them. They dress well -- a style best described as cowboy Abercrombie & Fitch. And all of their press photos portray the country sensations looking either pensive or playfully joshing around.
Most importantly, their cup o' teen fans runneth over.
Still, ED keyboardist Dale Wallace insists, the boy-band label simply doesn't fit.
"I think that's what the press likes to call us, but when people see us play live, it changes their minds," he says. "We're out to wreck the stereotype. We're all top-notch musicians. We play and sing every note on our albums -- unlike a lot of Nashville artists who use session musicians on their albums."
Emerson Drive formed nine years ago in the Canadian town of Grand Prairie in Alberta. Talent contests were entered, clubs were played, and the boys have been on the road ever since, touring approximately 300 days a year. In fact, Wallace spoke with the Independent from a tour bus bathroom (it was more quiet) en route to Cincinnati. Joining him in the group -- and not in the bathroom -- are Brad Mates (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Danick Dupelle (guitar, background vocals), Patrick Bourque (bass), Mike Melancon (drums and percussion) and David Pichette (fiddle).
Their latest album, What If?, is a marriage of their image and their music, a likeable country album in a neo-Garth Brooks sense, heavy in its pop marketability. On songs like the radio-friendly "What If?" and "If You Were My Girl" the guitars nearly rock, if not tempered by Pichette's fiddle. "Waitin' on Me" has a lively beat, getting as close to funky as any country band is liable to.
Produced with a keen ear toward a crossover audience, the album also features a cover of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's two-stepping classic, "Fishin' In the Dark," adding a stomp-and-clap beat la Queen's "We Will Rock You."
Part of ED's success is due to the production and co-written stylings of Richard Marx, the '80s pop icon who donned the spike-and-mullet combo that haunted the decade. The group recorded part of the album at Marx's house, jumping on the trampoline with his kids in their down time.
Having luckily toured with Shania Twain, ED's had one of the best crossover mentors in the business. What originally started out as a break -- playing a few shows on Twain's Canadian tour -- quickly became a long-term stint of 74 shows.
"She taught us how to play in front of 25,000 people every night. There's nothing bigger than her," says Wallace.
One of the lessons Emerson Drive gleaned from the tour is how to fight their ongoing battle with that damn boy-band stigma. Wallace admits the struggle is constant, though well worth the fight.
"We always go out with two fists up, ready to prove ourselves."
-- Kara Luger
Red River Saloon, 32 S. Tejon St.
Sunday, April 17, 8:30 p.m.
Tickets: $19.50, ages 18+ only; call 955-5664 for more info.