These stories always start with the stuff from which dreams are woven. In those shimmering dream-fueled moments, even in wakeful state, a tenuous vision can hold promise and shape of real solid things to come. Within this dreaming, as primal and mystical as Aboriginal tribal rites, the yearning is forged as concept from which the artist can build a whole universe for others to fall into. Such is the act of creating. Such is the currency of art. But it wouldn’t be if kept obscure because, after all, all currency begs for exchange. So know this simple truth: If you dream it, you can build it and if you build it, they may just come.
And so they came, by several hundreds, to San Diego’s Soma for the Battle of the Bands, to vie for that coveted spot in the 20th anniversary year of the national Vans Warped Tour. Among them were Dave Shapiro, notable L.A. agent who served as judge for the competition where half the points would be decided by him, and the other half by ticket sales. There were hordes of excitable fans–some of which had come to partake of their very first concert, ever–a veritable rite of passage–and least, but not last, the 6 hopeful San Diego bands that came to bet on this dream, that only one band would champion into reality. That fateful night of June 26, Leave the Universe reached for the brass ring and won it as a fulfillment of their childhood dream.
Upon revisiting them in the wake of their victory, and with time precipitously advancing them to fulfill their destiny of playing this year’s San Diego’s Warped Tour show on August 5 in Qualcomm’s Stadium, we talked about where life was taking them now, on a given Tuesday, as opposed to where they came from.
There were moments where the band, collectively and individually, waxed reflective of their trajectory, over changes both subtle and head-shakingly life-defining now, on their trip down the yellow brick road of music, where cautionary tales of randomly scattered and questionably-intended wizards popped up with empty offers of signing them to labels and/or of shooting for the moon, the stars and what amounted to Brooklyn bridges along the way. All these, clearly in the past. When they were seventeen or such, and still in Durango.
But now things are teetering on the verge where veritable, huge life changes can be built from dreaming as Leave The Universe has amassed a solid fan base over the past year and has been generating strong buzz up and down the West Coast. And as the time ticked away, pleasantly, as lead vocalist, Crystal Douesnard, drummer, Cameron Phillips and guitarist, Kalin Pugh, remain an affable and articulate trio, there also emerged the cautionary tale that music dreams are comprised of hard work. Oh–and don’t sweat the mistakes, downfalls, heartbreak, devastating blows and pratfalls along the way as one should never give up.
A.C: “How does it feel to win?”
Douesnard: “It’s a really big step for us. We’ve been talking about playing Warped Tour since we lived in Colorado. I feel like Warped Tour is the very first pivotal step to break out into a bigger audience. A lot of bands that we care about started out on this tour and have gone on to become household names. Even some huge pop acts like Katy Perry got their start there.”
A.C: “Is this your launch party, officially?”
Phillips: “I hope so. A lot of it is up to us. We still have to work at it really hard. Before the Warped Tour Battle of the Bands, every weekend, or sometimes, twice or three times a week, we went to malls and talked to people about the show, passing out fliers and selling tickets.”
A.C: “You did the business side of show business, which, actually, if you’re not on stage at the moment, is all there is that leads to being onstage in the moment. So you did a lot of footwork and were your own evangelists, so to speak?”
Pugh: “We worked just as hard as ever, if not even harder. You can’t sit back and expect it to happen. You have to keep pushing as hard as you can.”
A.C: “The night of the competition–how did it feel to have that chance?”
Pugh: “It was strange, because after two months of building up to the event–getting the stage up, which was an ordeal all its own, making the banners, logos, spray painting, building up to it literally and figuratively– when the night finally came and we were the second band on, it paradoxically moved by so quickly. It felt awkward.”
Douesnard: “But it also felt comfortable because all the bands were so supportive of each other. It didn’t feel like a competition to me at all. It just kind of felt like playing in a big collaborative with them and the audience, combined.”
A.C: “Was that your biggest audience yet?”
Douesnard: “Yeah. There were about 1000 people. It was pretty awesome. It felt like the bigger the audience, the more comfortable and energizing it is.”
Phillips: “I actually thought about this on stage, in the moment. I kind of just reflected as I was playing, looked out and as everything was working, I realized that it felt great and it was very right. It didn’t feel stressed. There’s a bigger energy with a bigger audience and it all flows a lot smoother.”
A.C: “Crystal, your voice was hitting it out of the ballpark. It’s a big voice. Do you get any comparisons to other female vocalists that can belt it?”
Douesnard: “Honestly, this can be all over the place. I get a lot of comparisons. Joan Jett comes to mind and it’s strange, because I know it’s not similar vocally, but maybe because there are not that many women in rock–not like there are in pop music.”
A.C: “That night, did you think it was in the bag, pretty much?”
Pugh: “We were all in the same bag, really. I didn’t have any expectations because no matter what happened, I either wanted to be supportive of the other bands, or I wanted to be humble about the fact that we were all sharing in the same incredible experience.”
A.C: “Did you feel the unusual pressure from all the momentum and the expectations of the competition where so much was at stake?”
Phillips: “As good as it was, it was an unusual show with two months of build-up preceding it. We also had a good part of the audience that had not been to any show before. We were their first concert, ever. They were new fans recruited from our forays to the malls. They came, along with our fan base that we’ve built in San Diego. And ultimately, there was Dave Shapiro who was judging the competition. He is from the Agency group in L.A.–a big name in the industry. It was a great opportunity to also put on a showcase for him and to put on a showcase for our audience, ’cause we’d been working so hard for this show.”
A.C: “What did you think of the other bands?”
Douesnard: “Oh, my gosh! It was probably my favorite show that we’ve ever played in San Diego. Everybody was so supportive. Even the other bands were so cool. When they found out that we had won, everybody congratulated us. They were very generous. Ultimately, everyone had worked so very hard and we’d all put in our best into it.”
A.C: “Finally, as things stand poised where huge breakthroughs in your career can happen, as it once happened for so many artists that were launched by Warped Tour, in your wildest dreams, you dreamt it?”
Phillips: “I think if we hadn’t dreamt it, it wouldn’t be happening.”