In the twilight of Musiquarium in the fall of 2002, I was bartending one of our Sunday all-ages shows. You had two types of folks that came to them: 95 percent were the under-18 music-lover crowd, hungry for live music, who drank dollar Coca-Colas and bought seven-inch singles to play on their parents' junked turntables. The other 5 percent were hardcore music fans of a (much) older vintage who knew that what the kids played was often better, faster, louder and more sincere than anything else going. A lot of that 5 percent were in bands themselves, and thank God they drank so we could at least pay the electric bill.
There had been this one gang of kids hanging around for a while at the shows. I say gang, because they all dressed the same—busted New York City cool with suits and skinny ties—and they sat clustered in booths in the back, smoking cigarettes, frowning intensely. I didn't like them because they were too damn pretty and too damn smart-mouthed.
After a few weeks of seeing them around, one of them came up to me at a show, and asked to play. They had earned it, having supported the other bands by coming to the shows, which meant they weren't poseurs.
So I'm bored behind the bar when they set up, talking to Marsh Nabors of the Overnight Lows and Matt Pleasant of Still Stanley (both members of that reliable 5 percent), and all of a sudden this kid goes, "We're The Symptoms," and this rolling guitar riff jags out of nowhere, and a bitter staccato voice makes my jaw drop. I look at Marsh, and his eyes are wide open. Matt gets this grin that just slowly spreads across his face, and he turns to me, and he holds his hand up in the air, and I slap my palm into his. Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Rock and Roll.
I ran up after the show, breathless like a GTO at a Zeppelin concert, and I didn't mean to say it, but it came out just the same: "If you guys aren't famous in five years, it's because you're dead." They were that good, and the whole bunch was still in high school.
The boys ain't dead, (but they have changed their name to King Elementary), and they're making a good damn effort at getting famous. They began recording with Matt shortly after that show, and on the strength of their EP "Ready to Burn"—taped in Matt's bedroom at his parents' house—they snagged a record deal with Capitol Records.
I sat down and talked with guitarist Jeremy Upton and drummer Andrew Fox recently at The Laboratory, the studio run by Matt and Living Better Electrically keyboardist Chris Michaels. They politely dodged questions about their name change to King Elementary, but it's a unique name that shows they've come into their own—their old one was a punk name kids use, a little bit too Hot Topic for a group that jitters all over the musical landscape.
They also downplayed their signing to Capitol, which happened after a whirlwind tour that saw them scuff the stage of legendary rock clubs all across America: the 40 Watt in Athens, L.A.'s Viper Room, the Mercury Lounge in New York City and the Echo Lounge in Atlanta. The contract requires the label to put out two records, with an option to pick up three more.
Right now they've got a lot of irons in the fire before they even start working for the new label. Article chief and JFP cover art ace Jimbo Harwell is working on the design for an album they recently completed at Sweet Tea in Oxford, and a summer tour is in the works.
And they've still got two years left to become famous on my prediction.