Pepperdine alum George Gordon and his fellow Los Angelinos have taken their once fledgling rock band on tour in hopes of obtaining the zenith of a musician’s career — a prestigious record deal.
They have a sound style that has been compared by rock journalists and fans alike to U2, Pearl Jam and Radiohead.
They work day jobs and morph into their rock ‘n’ roll alter egos at night.
They are Ultrabend.
For this quartet, a day in the life for the last several months has become a calendar marked by tour dates. Their home, more often than not, has been a tour bus. But for lead singer Aaron Saffa, guitarist Gordon, bassist Matthew Schoenfeld and drummer Stuart Gantt, their new-found glory has been well worth the long, strange trip.
What began as an idea with Saffa in 1996 soon became a blueprint for a band, and the blueprint lead to the construction of Ultrabend in March 2000.
“About two months after I first picked up a guitar, I can remember asking a friend of mine if he wanted to start a band,” Saffa said. “For me, it was never a question … writing and playing music is always what I wanted to do. I never thought of it in terms of a career, but I knew from the start that I wanted to put as much of myself into music as possible.”
The group began fine-tuning their style, a hybrid of classic and modern rock. Their sound, a combination of experimental sensibility and strong melodic roots, became highly popular with Los Angelinos and then pervaded the music scene in other cities, such as Baltimore and Philadelphia.
“Ultrabend is always looking to evolve its sound from a core rock framework,” said Gordon. “If a band can’t challenge itself to progress into different directions creatively, then the audience or listener will get the same shows and CDs over and over again.”
Their music has been featured on both MTV and ABC’s “Making of the Band” as well as on college radio, and continues to receive rave reviews.
Although touring can be on the tiring side, Ultrabend members say that performing live not only makes all their work pay off, it helps them gain a better perspective on how their songs are faring.
“The best thing about performing live is experiencing an audience response to your material, like which songs get the loudest applause in your set,” Gordon said. “It’s also great to improvise certain parts in a song that gives a slightly different sound compared to what was recorded in the studio.”
In October, Ultrabend embarked on its second annual “Vegas Gets Bent” tour. With about 50 of their loyal friends, fans and newcomers in tow, the band members drove through the desert in a tour bus toward Sin City to perform at The Junkyard.
Bedecked in Halloween costumes, the band and the fans arrived at the venue, where they played their own songs such as “The Willows” and covers such as “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails. The entire set was such a hit that the locals who stopped in to see them ended up jumping back on the tour bus at the end of the set to accompany the group for a night on the town.
“I think the club owner was (angry) because we took all his customers,” Saffa said.
Although the group’s dream is to be able to make their musical hobby a full-time profession, and hopefully beat the difficult odds of becoming a household name, the thought of fame is still a bit harrowing to the members of Ultrabend.
“For me, however, it is not so much the fame I am after, it is the joy of creating something that so many people can enjoy and hopefully relate to,” Gantt said. “It is an incredible feeling when you reach people musically because it comes right back at you and excites your senses, creating a win-win situation for me and the audience.”
Schoenfeld responds to fame by remembering the words of “Star Wars’ ” Yoda: “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”
“I live my life by this principle,” he said.
Maggie McAleer, Ultrabend’s manager for two years, was sold on their music the minute she heard them play.
“I love their lyrics, their music … they are just a great rock band,” she said. “Besides, I don’t think I could manage a band that I didn’t love.”
For the time being, all four members continue to hold down day jobs as they strive to get their record deal.
“The only expectations for the coming year are to continue to build a West Coast following, hopefully travel to Austin, Texas, in March for the South-By-Southwest music showcase, and get that label deal so we can put out our first full-length record by 2003,” Gordon said.
As they prepare for upcoming shows in Los Angeles and in Las Vegas, the group remains optmistically steadfast that its hard work will pay off.
Ultrabend is performing at Sacred Grounds Saturday and at The Gig in Hollywood on Saturday, March 23.
March 14, 2002