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The Industry Is Taking Notice
Downstage
We have no gimmick, we're just four very average guys who get up on stage and rock our hardest. - Todd Raupp
by Josh Davidson
 [Chorus and Verse] September 2003 Feature: Downstage
Charlie and Todd of Downstage

Downstage embodies the ideal progression for a local band. They’ve taken time to develop and now are becoming a threat to the mainstream.

The industry is taking notice of the band’s direct, explosive sound. Labels that have seen the band play live include Atlantic Records, Capitol Records and Elektra Records. An opportunity may occur for Downstage to record for the label Scrap 60, a subsidiary of Roadrunner Records.

The band has played all over the state and now is simply driving itself to the top statewide, with hopes of national success. The band has also done damage to the west coast, where it's played places like the Troubadour in Los Angeles, California, opening for the Ataris. About 500 people showed up to that show; and afterwards, the headliner asked them to play some east coast dates with them.

Consciously, the band is taking its forward path utilizing sacrifice of its time and energy, not its values. Band members dress how they want to and play what they want. That motivation has produced river-flowing melodies and an original guitar sound of smooth, clean-toned arpeggios and dirty, head-thrusting power chords. The combination of Charlie Berezansky (lead vocals/guitar), James Regan (guitar/vocals), Todd Raupp (bass) and Justin Hetrick (drums) continues to be a potent formula producing sensible songs, with a take-no-prisoners heaviness.

The band’s dedication has given them a tight sound that has already caught the attention of people like James Brogan, the former ex-Sam I Am guitarist and owner of Primed Entertainment/AngryMan Records. Brogan continues to pass the band’s demo around to industry reps. If everything falls into place, word will continue to spread and the proper people will take notice; then, the sky will be the limit for this New Jersey band.

Jim Regan

Can you give us a little insight into the creation of Downstage? What were some of the bands you guys listened to and the circumstances behind your band forming?

Regan: Well, I always listened to the mainstream shit like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Soundgarden and the rest of the bands along the same vein. I was a huge fan of the Seattle scene. Actually, the Seattle scene was really what got me into playing the guitar in the first place.

As far as how the band formed, Charlie and myself were playing together in Downstage for years writing and recording. In 1999, I ran into Todd after not seeing him for a few years and I remembered him being a great bassist, so I asked him to come over and lay down some bass tracks for Charlie and I.

Not long after that, we formed a garage band called Razor Shines. We fooled around with that project on and off for about six months when we decided to start something on a more serious level. We reformed Downstage with our old drummer at the time by the name of Steve Olcott. Steve decided that playing in Downstage was taking up too much of his time. So, he hooked us up with Justin and that’s pretty much how we came about.

Raupp: For me, I had known of Downstage years before joining, back in high school. They always stuck out as something more than a high school garage band.

About five years ago, Jim called me up and asked me to do some tracks with him and Charlie, so I jumped at the opportunity and Razor Shines was formed.

A few years later, Downstage was reformed and I was asked to be in it. Our original drummer, Steve, left the band and hooked us up with Justin shortly after. I've always been open to all sorts of music, and try to incorporate that into my parts. The Beatles, STP, Led Zeppelin, the Chili Peppers. They all have a huge influence on my playing.

Berezansky: My mother tells me when I was two I could sing the entire first Police album. I think she’s lying. I went through a huge metal phase when I was in high school that I still haven’t gotten over yet. But, I’ve always been into a little bit of everything. From Metallica to the Lemonheads.

Who do you listen to now and how do you incorporate it into your music?

Raupp: The last set of songs we recorded followed the same pattern of writing we've always used. We take an idea, and pretty much try to perfect it and mold it to be the best song it can be.

I think every musician is inspired by two things: music made by those you admire and life. Life inspires you to write and music is the vehicle to convey your thoughts to others.

The process of writing, I guess, isn’t that difficult since the four of us are really on the same page at this point and vocally Charlie has always been great at conveying his message.

Berezansky: I’m very much into Cave In, Queens of the Stone Age and Thrice. I think these bands all have a great knack for doing a lot of different things musically all at once and I try to do the same. Just good fuckin' rock.

Regan: I know that everyone in the band listens to something different. Like I said earlier, I'm really into the old-school Seattle bands, but I'm really liking Incubus and Audioslave these days. You can't go wrong with Chris Cornell.

As far as incorporating what we listen to into our music, I don't think we try to incorporate anything. If a riff is cool, it's cool because the riff is good, not because it sounds like something we listen to. I personally love the fact the we all listen to different styles of music and like different bands. I like to think it makes us a lot of different styles.

Do you have an approach for developing your own sound?

Regan: It typically works like this: Charlie comes into practice with a kick ass and riff and we work with it from there. Sometimes, Todd will throw around the idea of changing the strum pattern or whatnot. There’s been times when we started with a riff and by the time we were done with the song the riff we started with was almost not even there anymore.

It just evolves; it's [a] great feeling when you know you've written a great song without the intention [of] writing a great song.

Todd Raupp

Raupp: Charlie has an amazing ability for writing and usually brings an idea to the table. We'll kick it around as a band and see if we can make it work or if there's anything we can change.

I think one of our strong points is that everyone has a lot of ideas, which pushes every song to be the best it can be.

What makes you different from some of the mainstream bands out there?

Berezansky: I think it’s important to be who you really are. There’s just too many bands that look and sound the same. I think we stay clear of all the fads and trends that are going through the music business right now.

Regan: I think what makes us different from other mainstream acts is that, in my opinion, we're a band based on so many different styles of music. We honestly don't try to sound like anything or anyone other then what we write.

Raupp: I'd say we're different because we're completely motivated by the pure side of music. By this I mean we write songs to make them the best they can possibly be, not to sell records or fit inside some musical clique.

We have no gimmick, we're just four very average guys who get up on stage and rock our hardest.

Do you see the mainstream heading into a new trend or staying the same in the next couple of years? What would you contribute the current state of music to?

Berezansky: Music always changes. I can only hope that people will start to realize just how bad and unoriginal it really is. I don’t care if you suck bricks, if you do what makes you happy and you do it for the right reasons you're good in my book. The easiest thing to do is grab on to whatever other bands are doing and do the same. Ensure yourself success. That’s where music is at right now.

Raupp: The music industry is on life support right now it seems; just getting by waiting for the next big thing. Mainstream does expect a certain sound from bands, and it's bands like Queens of the Stone Age or System of a Down who really impress me by popularizing a different sounding music than you hear on the radio.

In all honesty, I don’t give a fuck about the trend of music, because the trend for the last few years bores me. If we get a chance to make some noise on a larger scale, I know we would contribute a different sound and give lovers of hard rock something to listen to.

James Regan

Regan: Music is constantly evolving and heading into different directions. It’s really hard to say where the state of music will be in the next few years. Look at the '80s for example. Did they think Nirvana was in the future? I just have no idea and that’s the exciting part if you think about it. The current state of music can be contributed to what has been going on for the last 10 years wrapped in a box with a pretty little bow on top.

How have you developed a following locally and where have you played out? Have there been any places where you've been constantly successful playing out?

Raupp: Well, local for us is still over 30 miles away, but I think playing out is always the best way to cause a buzz in the area. At a point, we were playing two shows a week for quite some time in the north Jersey/NY area, which really helped get the ball rolling. We always have great turnouts in Seaside [Seaside Heights, NJ] and people always enjoy the show.

Regan: (Laughs.) Well, getting a following in NJ can be a tough thing to do. But, I think we've come a long way over the last few years. A lot of people have come up to me wanting whatever info they could get about the band.

It helps to keep a tight network of bands together that’s willing to play and grow together. There’s a few core bands that we like to do shows with and we usually can pack a house. I can't really pinpoint any place in particular that we've been consistently doing well because we've played a lot of places over the course of two years.

Who are some of the managers and producers you've worked with and potentially may work with in the future? How important is professional help in today's music market? What advice would you give to a band looking to get in your shoes?

Justin Hetrick

Regan: Currently, our manager is James Brogan, ex-Sam I Am guitarist. James has helped us out in ways that I don't think we'll ever be able to thank him for. He's definitely been the backbone of this band at times and his hard work has been so fuckin' appreciated that I truly can't express it.

The first two EPs we did were produced and engineered by Chris "GIBBY" Gibson of the north Jersey band High Speed Chase. Chris Gibson worked with a lot of great bands like Quicksand, for example.

As of right now, we have some really good options opening up for us and we might be working with Scrap 60 productions if all goes well.

Advice from me: Get people who firmly believe in you and your band to back you up. Being in a band is just as hard as working a regular job. A lot of time goes into it. A lot more time then I ever thought when we started this band. Don't be stubborn when it comes to taking a hand out and always be open to work with people.

Raupp: We've worked with Chris Gibson, James Brogan and Kim Guggenheim [Downstage’s lawyer] to name some of the people we have strong ties with now. In the future, we're hoping to record with Scrap 60, which would be amazing. I think it would be great to record with any well-known producer like Rick Rubin, Terry Date, or Dr. Dre.

These are the guys that are responsible for making a kick ass record. The production is very important in today's music market. My advice to any band trying to get in our shoes would be practice hard and play harder. You don't get anywhere by schlepping around.

Berezansky: It's only as important as your own professionalism. We can’t rely on anyone but ourselves. Having someone support you and understanding what you're trying to [do] is always a good thing. Just read the dotted lines and do what you think is right.

We would never be where we are without some real good heartfelt friends. We’re all poor.

Can you take us behind the writing and creating of the new CD? What inspires you to write and is it a challenge to convey those ideas musically?

Regan: I’ll let Charlie explain this one. I’ve been running my mouth for too long now.

Charlie Berezansky

Berezansky: I just have a ton of ideas in my head at all times. The hardest part is putting them on paper. “Set on the Sun” was the first song we wrote for the new demo. And, originally, I wanted it to be pretty hard, but the verse just had the eerie quietness to it, so we worked the dynamics and it made it what it is today.

“Truly” was a song that we had for a long time, [and] we just fine tuned it. Lyrically, a lot of ideas came when I was in the studio. I tend to write late at night. A lot of time I’ll write songs before lyrics. That’s what I did before “Lucky Grip” and “Penniless.” The band ultimately decides overall structure. Ideally, just has to jive. I think the overall album gave everyone a great taste of all the different thing we can do while still sounding like one band. We’re still sounding like Downstage.

The people I’m with and see everyday, the shitheads at work, my friends, my beautiful girlfriend, the nightly news, and all the crap on TV inspire me to write. I think my subconscious tunes into my playing more often then I think. Sometimes, it's as simple as singing a melody with fake words and finding the parts that fit.

What artists do you think have a knack for conveying their ideas musically and how have you learned from them?

Raupp: I think Chris Cornell, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, any band that can take a simple everyday occurrence of life and put a spin on it so that it touches everyone who listens to it has a knack for writing.

You learn to be observant and honest by listening to great artists; mostly lyrically. People respond to honesty in songs, which is tough for the actual artist to put themselves out there like that. But, it's good to write from the heart.

Regan: Wow, that’s a tough question. I really think Dave Grohl (of the Foo Fighters) has a great knack for conveying himself in his music. As of right now, I think he’s probably my favorite guy in the industry. The guy is fuckin’ touring with Zeppelin for Christ’s sake.

Josh Davidson
Josh Davidson has written music feature articles for Jersey Style and served as the Jersey Shore rock columnist for Steppin' Out Magazine. Other music writing credits include Aquarian Weekly, Jersey Beat, Backstreets and njcoast.com. He has written free-lance for the Asbury Park Press' Community Sports section and has written featured articles for its news section, as well as covering campus news and sports weekly for the Signal, the College of New Jersey's (formerly Trenton State College) student newspaper. He has worked as a staff writer for The Independent, and his work for Greater Media Newspapers has also been published in the News Transcript. He is a former beat reporter for the Ocean County Observer who presently is a news writer for Symbolic Systems Inc. supporting the US Army's Knowledge Center. His music writing covers a vast range of topics, from the current cover band craze, highs and lows of the original scene, to the early days of the Jersey Shore rock scene in Asbury Park. He is also a musician, having written hundreds of songs as a singer/songwriter, and playing them out as a solo/acoustic artist. He has also played with cover bands, including It Doesn't Matter, and several original bands, including as the guitarist for the solo project of singer/songwriter Dave Eric. He continues to work on solo material and is presently the guitar player for Jersey Breeze.
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