Simon Says is... Matt Franks - Vocals
Zac Diebels - Guitar
Michael Arrieta - Bass
Mike Johnston - Drums
Okay kids, here is today's lesson: A typically blazing,
energized, thrash-'n-puree live show by Simon Says is about a million light
years (and decibels) removed from Romper Room.
Granted, the four group members are astonishingly young, but those cute little faces take on a downright steely expression as they plunge head-first into the maelstrom of punishing guitars and crushing rhythms. Even more mischievous, the Sacramento, CA natives inject pop melodies into their brisk salvos and invite audiences to join in the adrenaline-packed game.
"You can lay your feelings on the table," says vocalist Matt Franks, "as long as you also leave some room for the listener to find things for themselves. It draws them closer to the music and allows them to make it their own." "We have strong feelings about music and life in general," adds guitarist Zac Diebels, "When we're asked, we'll give an honest answer, but we're not going around spouting off as if it were our sacred duty."
Jump Start, the group's Hollywood Records debut, captures Simon Says' knack for writing memorable, hard-hitting songs full of bright melodies and stormy lyrical themes.
Grammy award winning producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day) and Mark Needham (Cake) encouraged the group to strike a fine balance between aggression and introspection throughout the 12 songs on Jump Start. Whether going for the psyche-out ("Nucleus," "Trip Wire") or the full body slam ("Sever," "Slider," "Ship Jumper,"), Simon Says relies on both mind and muscle to express themselves.
"Life Jacket" opens with Diebels' laser-like guitar riff as Michael Arrieta and Mike Johnston rev up the rhythmic engine. Franks completes the picture with his searching, soaring vocals. "The song is about being spontaneous," he explains; "picking yourself up and going somewhere, anywhere. No need to have a battle plan mapped out; you don't always have to worry about the unknown."
"The theme for the record," says Franks, "is 'deal with your problems and move on.' Even when things are a bit intense -- and we get pretty pissed off at times -- we try to keep looking ahead." Perhaps more than any other song, the standout "On My Way" reflects that stance: "It's specifically about going back to an old neighborhood," says Franks, "and making amends to old friends, dealing with old regrets, and moving on with life."
Underscoring a sense of adventurism, much of Jump Start was written immediately prior to recording sessions. "There were six weeks from the time we stopped playing live until we went into the studio," says Franks, "and during that time we wrote the majority of the songs." "We could have easily stuck to older material on the album," adds Diebels, "but we took advantage of that opportunity to focus on writing."
A telling incident occurred on the first day of recording. "We walked into the studio," laughs Franks; "all the lights were off, and candles are lit everywhere. We thought, 'what the hell is this?' So just for a joke we put all the candles together in the shape of a pentagram." "The people at the studio," adds Diebels, "were expecting some artistes. They're used to these vibey, aura, patchouli-oil-and-latte-drinking bands. That's not what we're about. We're energetic kids. We want bubble gum and soda and porno."
That feisty, no-bullshit attitude fuels the group's live show. "We don't really need lots of lights and stuff," Franks says matter-of-factly. "We just jump around and feel the music and the audience's energy." "Hey, we'll be jumping around even if we're just playing for a bartender and nobody else," laughs Diebels. "But when a crowd is there jumping and sweating, it really kicks up our energy level."
Although they don't like to make a big deal out of it, the band members admit that their energy is partly due to an unpolluted sense of focus. "None of us smoke or do any drugs," says Diebels, "although Matt and I will occasionally have a beer. We also have a band rule that on the day of a show, none of us do any drinking at all. We've seen it affect too many other musicians in a negative way."
"But sex is okay," Franks adds with a laugh. "Seriously though, we live our lives the way we feel is best for us, but we're not making judgments or preaching to other people about how they should live their lives."
That approach has distinguished Franks, Diebels, and Johnston since they first began making music together as Simon Says in 1993. "We were juniors in high school," says Franks. "We were barely 16. When Mike Arrieta joined us on bass a couple of years later, our sound really took shape." The group's two previous D.I.Y. albums helped build a solid regional fan base. 1995's Little Boy sold over 5,000 copies, and 1997's Perfect Example immediately sold out its limited-edition run. Now Jump Start will introduce audiences nationwide to Simon Says -- a band that's heavy on guitars, but easy on the attitude.
"We're not so self-serious that we need to force ourselves down people's throats," says Diebels. "We're fucking lucky is what we are. Lucky to have some talent and to have people who want to hear our music."