Sold-out gigs, screaming autograph seekers, groupies it comes with the territory of being a rock star. Although such amenities are usually reserved for bands who reach stardom on the heels of a platinum album or two, Dallas' Flickerstick are enjoying the perks while still selling the bulk of their CDs from the trunk of a car.
Flickerstick, winners of VH1's reality series "Bands on the Run," became bona fide rock stars without the benefit of a label deal (though an industry bidding war will soon change that situation). For eight weeks, the alt-rock quintet competed against three other unsigned bands by performing in cities across the U.S. and selling merchandise along the way. Merch sales and ticket revenue determined who would be eliminated, and a battle of the bands with a $5,000 purse ultimately decided the outcome.
Though the contest ended with them receiving a grand prize of $50,000 cash, $100,000 worth of equipment from Guitar Center, an A&R showcase and a music video budget, Flickerstick would've felt victorious even without all that.
"We were the winners of the show, regardless of the outcome, about five or six weeks into [VH1's broadcast]," guitarist Corey Kreig explained. "We started touring and saw that people were really loving us, individually, personally and musically as a band. We considered ourselves winners then. If we had been kicked off we still would've felt like we were winners because we walked out of it with a fanbase and with people interested in our music."
Though Flickerstick may forever be known as the band VH1 broke, they don't seem to mind the stigma. Getting their music to the masses is what matters most, they said, and the masses have responded. Sold-out shows have become the norm for the band, and the company manufacturing the group's independently released Welcoming Home the Astronauts is having trouble keeping up with demand.
The band sells 80 to 100 copies at any given show, averaging 500-700 copies a week, their manager said. They've sold more than 10,000 copies so far, though they had barely moved 2,000 before the first episode of "Bands on the Run" aired.
In those days, Flickerstick worked the Dallas/Austin music circuit vigorously, performing locally and touring briefly whenever their day jobs would permit.
"We were just playing regionally in Texas," singer Brandin Lea said. "We were a hardworking band doing it independently and trying to make something happen. And then this came along and changed everything."
After hearing a demo of "Talk Show Host" on a Billboard-produced unsigned band compilation, VH1 producers approached Brandin and his brother, bassist Fletcher Lea, for a program about fraternal bandmembers. Although that show never got off the ground, the group was offered an audition for "Bands on the Run," and six levels of tryouts later they landed a slot on the series.
Ever since they were revealed as the winners on July 8, the music industry has been abuzz about Flickerstick.
While in New York last week for three area shows, the group met with several major labels, and a contract is expected to be announced shortly. Whichever label they sign with, Flickerstick plan to revamp a few tracks on Welcoming Home the Astronauts and give it the proper nationwide release they feel it deserves.
Unlike most bands negotiating their first label deal, the ball was definitely in Flickerstick's court. What other unsigned artist brings to the table thousands of fans already familiar with the bandmembers and their music, some even knowing by heart all the words to the hooky "Beautiful," the moody psychedelic epic "Direct Line to the Telepathic" and other songs depicted in the series?
Although having every aspect of their lives documented by a camera crew 24 hours a day did wonders for Flickerstick's visibility, the warts-and-all approach took its toll on the members' personal lives.
Going into the series, before their drunken frolicking with female fans became public information, Fletcher and guitarist Rex "El Dangeroso" Ewing were married and Kreig had a steady girlfriend. Now Ewing and Kreig are no longer with their significant others and Fletcher is in the process of repairing his fractured relationship. On top of that, drummer Dominic Weir, the band's resident playboy, has seen his seemingly hypnotic power over the opposite sex dwindle since the show began airing.
"I'm a whore," the drummer said, quoting the usual reaction he now receives from ladies. "I heard that about 25 times in a 30 minute period in Alabama. 'Hey, you're the whore!' "
"Yeah, Dominic has gotten a little flack," Brandin said. "But we're really surprised that we don't get a lot more. We really expected there to be some people who are really down on our behavior, and there really hasn't been much of that. I know with Beastie (co-frontman of competing band Soulcracker), the guy is getting death threats and people try to kick his ass everywhere he goes."
Once their current tour, their longest ever, winds down, Flickerstick will finally be able to play with their new toys from Guitar Center, which are waiting for them at home. The video for "Smile" premiered on Sunday's final episode of "Bands on the Run," and their songs are already receiving airplay nationwide.
"Although the show has ended, we're just starting," Brandin said. "You know us, you know our names now we're going to play the real game."
MTVi's parent company, Viacom, also owns VH1.