Eleven years is a long time for any band to stay together, let alone for one band to finally see the release of their debut album, but for Open Air Stereo, they wouldn’t have wanted it to happen any other way. The band’s story is one of evolution, that gradual development from a simple to a more complex form; that gradual development from their humble days as 13-year olds in Laguna Beach to self-assured rock band bursting forth and ready to share their music with the world. Darwin championed his scientific Theory of Evolution, from which we get such trite adages as “survival of the fittest,” something that applies as much to the animal world as it does to the music industry.
Many bands never make it eleven years; The Beatles couldn’t even manage to stay together for that long. For the two founding members of Open Air Stereo, lead-singer Chase Johnson and drummer Nick Gross, eleven years has been just what the band needed to grow as individuals, to develop as a band, and to perfect their songwriting craft alongside bassist Evan Smith and guitarist Scott Pounds, who were brought on board by Johnson and Gross in order to complete the classic 4-member rock-band lineup.
It’s obvious from the first time you hear a song off Open Air Stereo’s 10-song debut album Primates that the band know exactly what they are doing; that much is clear from the rush of guitars and explosive percussion that punctuate all three minutes of “Love Is Blind,” which gives the impression not of a band just putting out their first record but one that has multiple albums and world-tours under their belt, like perennial festival headliners Foo Fighters. “Living Proof” continues in this same vein, sounding like the best song that Audioslave never wrote, with a guitar lick straight out of the Tom Morello Guide To Awesome Guitar Licks.
Open Air Stereo show they are ready to headline music festivals and sell out stadiums with the slow-burning “Damned,” which begins as a simple piano progression with pulsating bass and an insistent kick drum, before the band slowly adds more and more layers to the song, building to a triumphant sing-along chorus. Open Air Stereo change things up and can show their sentimental side on the beautiful, tender “Stuck On You.” With so many sure-footed, confident songs on their debut album, one can’t help but wonder how the band came to be so fully formed.
The truth is, the band on Primates is the latest form in a long evolutionary chain leading up to this point. Meeting in 2002 in their catechism class at the age of 13, Chase and Nick bonded over a common love of music (Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine, Led Zeppelin, and The Doors, to name a few), which resulted in Nick joining Chase’s band at the time, known as Stulpigeon. While the name Stulpigeon didn’t last, the band name eventually evolved to reflect the thunderous, big, wide-open spaces of their music: Open Air Stereo.
In 2004 and 2005, Open Air Stereo spent their time playing multiple shows in the Orange County and Southern California scene, including shows at The Galaxy and KROQ’s Weenie Roast, eventually culminating with nominations in multiple categories at the OC Music Awards as well as the limited release of a self-titled EP.
The next year, MTV’s series Laguna Beach came into town. Chase became a main character in the series, which featured Open Air Stereo prominently. The series closed with the band’s sold-out performance at The Roxy Theatre. Scott Pounds (guitar) joined the band around this time, and the band marvels to this day over being able to find such a talented guitarist through a Craigslist ad. Things were looking up for the band.
At the same time, Open Air Stereo signed to Sony Epic Records, and were diligently working on recording their debut album. Over a year-and-a-half of writing and recording eventually hit a creative blockade, and the sessions stalled. The band split for about three years, unsure of the future and uncertain that the music they had worked so hard to create would ever see the light of day.
But Chase and Nick knew that they had unfinished business, and this nagging sense of urgency brought them back together with Scott Pounds and new band member Evan Smith (bassist).
The band had grown up and changed over those years, and upon their return to the studio, completed their 10-song debut album Primates. With a mix of songs written by the band and some co-written collaborations, Primates is an exercise in the tight, economical execution of rock-and-roll. The album was produced by an array of producers including Gavin Brown, Mike Plotnikoff, and Peter Stengaard; a large part of the writing on the album is with Marti Fredrikson (Daughtry, Aerosmith, Def Leppard). With Primates, the band has filtered their various influences through their own personal experiences to arrive with a fully realized and confident debut album.
The album’s title was inspired by mankind’s own evolutionary cousins, giving the band a moment to reflect on their own personal evolution through time, perfecting their craft and going through the growing pains to emerge on the other side as a stronger, leaner, fitter band.