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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Strata Interview 

One of the great indie label stories out there right now is Wind-Up Records. Given the chart-topping success many of their acts have had, its hard to think of Wind-Up as one of the little guys. But, they are and that's a large part of their successful ability to launch act after act.

Strata is the latest Wind-Up artist poised for the big time. Coming out of Northern California, the foursome consists of vocalist Eric Victorino, guitarist Ryan Hernandez, drummer Adrian Robison and bassist Hrag Chanchanian. Strata's self-titled debut was released on July 27th and they are currently on tour with Finger Eleven, Thornley and Moments of Grace. I talked to the guys after their set at a recent show at the Recher Theatre in Towson, MD.

First, I must note that having been around lawyers for nearly 10 years as a law student and an attorney, I can confidently say I can spot a phony a mile away. No one in Strata fits that bill. These are a bunch of nice guys.

When I worked around a local music scene in PA, I saw local "rock stars" walk around like they owned the Earth. Not Strata. The guys are still loading their own gear and I was surprised to find that my contact for setting up the interview was guitarist Ryan Hernandez. No assistants and no pretense. Despite touring nationally, being signed to one of the best labels going, having one of their tunes featured on Madden 2005 and the video for their song "The Panic" breaking on MTV, these guys are grounded and focused on their music. Indeed, instead of jumping off stage and hitting the bar, the guys took the time to talk to fans, sign autographs and hang with yours truly.

We first talked about Strata's origins. The band met up in their native Northern California. Two of the guys, Ryan and Eric, met at a coffee shop and after talking about their musical interests starting playing together. Hrag joined up and Adrian was playing down the hall in their practice facility with another band and eventually replaced the original drummer, who ironically taught him a few things about the drums as they were in the same band class freshmen year.

The band completed a demo and passed it to Jason Jones of Drowning Pool (who they met through a friend), who passed it on to Wind-Up. Using just "Pro Tools" and a computer for much of it, the band put together a nice demo and Wind-Up was ready to put it out as it was. They recorded it in their practice studio and its 95+% self-produced. However, the guys took their recording advance to re-mix it and out it went.

Hrag pointed out that if you listen closely to the very intro of "Never There" you can hear a band in the background called Boxlunch who was playing in the next room. In another song, you can hear a door slam. Adrian says the takes were too good to give up so they left these extra sounds in. Ryan hopes these little extras become a tradition on each recording they put out.

Eric and all the guys made it clear they are be happy to part of the Wind-Up family. The guys think much of the music industry could take a lesson from Wind-Up because the people running it care about the company and the music more then their profits and paychecks. Part of what makes Wind-Up a special label is the large amount of creative control retained by the artists. For example, Eric came up with the cd cover concept at a bar one night, sketching it out on paper. Wind-Up's art director completely captured Eric's idea without forcing any packaging views from the label. Hrag added that the circle of birds idea incorporated into Eric's concept came from a fan.

Traveling the country in a cramped white van, complete with NorCal sticker, that Adrian dubbed "Avril Le-Van," the band is as tight off stage as they are on. That closeness plays out in their songwriting. Strata approaches songwriting as a group project. Hrag says the guys are so close and open that egos don't get stepped on during the collaborative process. Eric agrees saying most songs are literally equally attributable to each guy and songs are born in practice with everyone chipping in ideas and suggestions to where no one even remembers who came up with what parts. When they discuss changes in songs no one takes it personally and the finished product is what matters. That attitude will serve them well as they go forward in their careers.

Strata recently won a viewers pick vote on MTV and the video for "the Panic" is getting some play. When I talked with them, the guys hadn't themselves seen their video on MTV yet. But, friends and family have been text messaging them to tell them its on. The video was directed by Charles Jensen (who also directed for the Von Bondies and Drowning Pool) and the band participated in the concept. For example, Adrian added a key chase scene to Jensen's treatment. The video attempts to capture some of life's seemingly random moments that have much more meaning then we often realize.

Strata put on an inspired and impassioned show, with Eric employing a megaphone at one point and the band giving their all on each song. With their combo of talent, stage presence and strong work ethic, these guys are destined for big things. Billboard has a worthy review of their cd here. Pick it up if you can, rock and roll needs more bands like this to be successful (you can sample most of it on Strata's website).


Wind-Up Records was nice enough to send me a cd to giveaway to you guys and Strata took the time to sign it for you (I watched them myself so they're not "stamp" signatures). Be the first to email me at jeff@hotsaucelive.com and its yours.

UPDATE: Congratulations to Heather from DC for picking up the cd and thanks to all that e-mailed.

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