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Story of the Year

Local band really becomes Story of the Year

St. Louis band Story of the Year moved to the Los Angeles area in June 2002 hoping that being based in the city that is home to dozens of record companies would give the group the opportunity to land a record deal.

What the band members didn't know was by the time they arrived in Los Angeles, they already had made a connection that would accomplish that goal by fall of that same year.

"We were planning on moving out there and having to struggle and just kind of start over in the Orange County area, but we got lucky," singer Dan Marsala said.

Actually, Story of the Year made its own luck. Earlier that year, the group had entered and won a contest sponsored by KPNT — the Point — radio. The prize was a chance to perform as part of "Pointfest,'' the station's annual daylong music festival that features upwards of 10 national alternative rock acts. But Story of the Year wanted to do more than just play in front of an amphitheater-sized crowd that day in May 2002.

Marsala recalled that he and his bandmates — guitarist Ryan Phillips, bassist Adam Russell and drummer Josh Wills — handed out copies of sampler CDs and videos to virtually anyone backstage who was connected with the other bands performing that day or the music industry.

One of the videos ended up with John Feldmann, a good connection considering that Feldmann is the singer for Goldfinger, one of the featured bands on that day's Pointfest bill, and also a talent scout for Maverick Records.

Ironically, Marsala said, Feldmann was not drawn to the band's music as much as he was to its live performance skills.

"He likes entertaining and energetic live shows, and I guess we got that across in the video, that we had fun and we had a good show," Marsala said. "That's mainly all that he liked. He hated our band name. He thought our music was just OK. But he knew we had a good show and he wanted to work with us."

It soon became clear how much Feldmann liked Story of the Year. That summer he invited the group to open for Goldfinger, and after that fall, he arranged a showcase for Story of the Year with Maverick Records — an audition that quickly earned the group its record deal. The group, which added a second guitarist, Phillip Sneed, shortly after landing its record deal, then got serious about honing its music.

"We got signed in October and we only really had one of the songs that is on the album written at that point," Marsala said. "I mean, we had songs, but we knew we wanted new stuff and we wanted to like really get serious. Because before we were worried more about playing shows and getting our band out there than we were about writing music. And so when that came around, we were like: 'All right, we need some time to write some (better) music ... We just wrote for two or three months straight."

The band already had been through some significant musical changes by the time that decision was made. Formed in 1999 under the band name Big Blue Monkey, the band had originally pursued a heavy modern- rock sound along the lines of the Deftones.

At that time, Marsala was playing drums, while the group had another singer.

Not long after that, Story of the Year shifted gears. Marsala moved out front as singer and Wills joined to play drums, and the band decided to pursue more of a punky pop-oriented sound. During the course of these changes, Story of the Year managed to release five independent EPs and became a frequent presence on the St. Louis club scene — all before band members decided they needed to move to the Los Angeles area in hopes of taking the band to a national level.

The songs on Story of the Year's debut CD, "Page Avenue" — yes, it's named after the street that runs through west and north counties — fall between heavy rock and pop and could be compared to such emo rock groups as Thursday and Saves the Day. But if Story of the Year has yet to arrive at a fully distinctive sound, many of the songs — such as "Until the Day I Die," "Anthem of Our Dying Day" and "Razorblades" — do boast memorable riffs and vocal melodies.

Maverick Records, according to Marsala, offered little input into how the music on "Page Avenue" developed — a hands-off approach that many bands don't experience when they first work with a major label.

"I think they kind of had trust in Feldmann because he actually took the Used (which eventually signed to Reprise Records) to Maverick and they passed on the Used," Marsala said, noting that the first Used CD has become a significant hit. "They were really angry with themselves because the Used did pretty good. So this time around they were like: 'Wow, it's another band coming through Feldmann, and we know he knows what he's doing ...' So they kind of just put their trust in him."

Story of the Year plays Friday, Jan. 9, at the Pageant, 6161 Delmar Blvd. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show cost $10 in advance and $12 the day of the show.

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