In the last year alone, Charlotte rock quartet Simplified has opened for O.A.R., the Wailers and Blues Traveler, played the NASCAR Revved Up event, received two Charlotte Music awards and filmed two videos with NASCAR And the band will play the Daytona 500 in February.
The group - whose beachy blend of laid-back acoustic-rock, reggae, pop and blues is converting fans daily - celebrates New Year's Eve at the Visulite on Thursday.
"We never write anything negative, really," says drummer Tim Lail. He's sitting at the end of a booth at Mac's Speed Shop on South Boulevard, surrounded by band mates and managers. Only vocalist Clee Laster, who stands almost a foot above the rest of the group, is missing today. Laster, a Myrtle Beach native, is home with his young son.
"A lot of the songs have a major key tonality representative of happiness and good times. Some songs lyrically are the opposite of what the music is, a little bit," says guitarist Chris Sheridan. He cites the song "20 Years From Today."
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"It's all in how it's interpreted. Clee has played that song solo at funerals, but I'm also convinced that's why people book us for weddings. On the advances you see that all time - 'Bride and groom request the first song be "20 Years From Today."'"
Although Simplified plays around 10 weddings each year, they want to clarify that this isn't a wedding band. "We've only done it for fans and friends. We play our show, we don't do covers," adds bassist Chris Lynch.
It may not be a wedding band, but it's a working band. Laster and Sheridan have standing acoustic-duo gigs at restaurants like Ballantyne's Village Bistro and Mac's Speed Shop, and all four members have quit day jobs to play full-time. In 2009 Simplified hit New Orleans, Wisconsin (which Southerner Lail hated: "15 degrees! I thought I was going to die"), Chicago, the Biloxi, Miss., Hard Rock (where the members lounged by the pool daily), and Florida, where they'll spend three weeks over spring break - including a seven-night residence at Key West's famed Hog's Breath Saloon.
Starting at home
For now the group remains a fixture at home. While some might argue that a band can play too often, "I think you have to saturate a market. That's how you gain popularity," says Lail.
Adds Lynch: "It helps to become a household name. If you look at some other big bands out there.... I remember hearing tales of people in Virginia hating to go see Dave Matthews again because he was playing at the same bar."
Simplified doesn't stick to the heart of Charlotte, though. It has followings in each pocket of the city and its surrounding areas. Rick Booth Jr., who books and manages the band, has tried to slow its schedule at home by raising its asking price, but clubs and bars are willing to pay.
"The band's in demand enough too that we can play Matthews, Lake Norman, the university area, and try to keep them from over-saturating specific areas," says Booth.
With two albums, 2006's "Smile" and 2008's "Elephant Sky," under its belt, Simplified is hoping that demand spreads nationally with its third. They're sending demos to established pop producers in hopes that one will be able to capture their live essence on record and in turn help shop the new album to labels. "So we can do something a bit bigger with the marketing and promotions end on more of a national level," adds Michigan native Sheridan, who began playing with Laster nine years ago.
Booth says he's already getting responses, with one producer comparing them to that '90s Carolina phenomenon Hootie and the Blowfish.
After resisting a persistent friend's request to check them out live for over a year, Booth was so impressed with Simplified that he created a new company, RockMan Management, separate from his 15-year-old blues booking agency, Intrepid Artists, to manage the band.
"They were playing originals and covers. The way they had arranged the covers...you could tell they weren't your typical local musicians. There was something special about them from the very start," he gushes.
Fans feel the same way. While most local bands (aside from the Avett Brothers) struggle to sell out large venues, turnout at Simplified's Visulite shows rivals that of national acts. Simplified's first sell-out there was for the release of "Elephant Sky."
"Seventy people waiting outside in line had to be turned away," recalls Sheridan.