Ryan Stahr - vocals, guitar, piano
It was a fateful day in 1993 when four teenage friends gathered in a Long Island basement to rehearse some Screaming Trees and Soundgarden tunes for a high school talent show, little knowing that this informal jam session would drastically alter the course of their young lives. "It was supposed to be that we were going to get together and just play one show of cover songs," recalls one of those friends, singer/guitarist RYAN STAHR. "But the first day down in the basement, right away we started writing. So it went from being just a fun thing to all of a sudden being our life, and it took over everything." Thus began the first stage of the band that came to be known as STAGE.
Realizing that they'd stumbled onto something rare and special, RYAN, bassist PETR ANSELMO, and guitarist GREG MEYER wasted no time in dedicating themselves 100 percent to their budding band, and by the time they were 15 years old, they were already landing gigs at CBGB's. "Our parents would drive us home as soon as we were done playing, because we weren't even old enough to be in the bar," laughs GREG. A year later, they were blowing off studying for their SATs in order to record their self-released independent effort, Historical Underdosing, and opening for Bon Jovi at New York's 15,000-seat Jones Beach Amphitheater, the result of winning a contest sponsored by the Tri-State radio station Z-100. Shortly after JUSTIN PARKER, a friend of RYAN's since nursery school and a longtime STAGE fan, signed on as their new drummer, they landed an opportunity to fill an even more unexpected opening slot, playing with none other than Kiss at a 20,000-capacity stadium in Prague.
"What it did mostly looking back," RYAN reflects. "Was really show all of us that this was what we were going to do with our lives. It put something in our bodies, in our blood, saying, 'We've got to do this.' There was no turning back. This was the real thing."
There's no doubt that STAGE are the real deal, as their music conveys a certain unwavering passion that simply cannot be faked. Songs like "Country Bleeding," "Live Happy, Live With Anorexia" and "An Angel Screams From Outer Space" bristle with all the drama and angst that their titles imply, but despite STAGE's emotional bloodletting and early Seattle influences, their music is hardly a return to the self-hatred of the grunge era. Rather, this is the kind of sweeping triumphant rock 'n' roll destined to be heard pouring out of surround-sound speakers or from stadiums illuminated by thousands of flickering lighters, combining the heart-sleeved catharsis of Smashing Pumpkins, the stately grandeur of vintage U2 and the lovely melodicism of a more aggressive incarnation of Coldplay.
However, STAGE spent seven long years perfecting their music before they got the chance to unleash it on the masses. And while this wait was sometimes frustrating--especially after various record labels had courted them at a young and impressionable age, after their brief, Bon Jovi-assisted brush with fame--they realize in hindsight that the timing was right. "About a year before we got signed, we kind of went into high gear and said, "This is it. Let's really get this going," says PETR. "Then within an eight-month period, we went from having 30 people at our shows to having a sold-out residency at New York's Mercury Lounge. It all kicked in. Now, looking at our debut album, it's the record that we really wanted to make." STAGE finally got to make that record when they signed with Maverick, after the program director of another supportive radio station recommended the band to the label, but they still had a long haul ahead of them. Following an abortive recording attempt in Los Angeles--"It just didn't feel right," RYAN comments--they decided to return to New York and reunite with the only producer with whom they truly felt comfortable, Gregg Wattenberg (Five For Fighting), who'd worked with them on some demos a year earlier. With renewed enthusiasm, STAGE and Wattenberg regrouped at Manhattan's Avatar Studios in September 2001 to resume recording in earnest; unfortunately, a more unforeseen setback came only a week later on September 11 throwing the entire city--and STAGE's recording sessions--into chaos.
Yet STAGE soldiered on, electing to remain in New York rather than switch studios a second time. "We wanted to stay there and stick by the city. As soon as we were able to get back into Manhattan, we started working again right away," remembers RYAN. "It definitely put things in perspective as far as recording, not to worry about the little things. I don't know if it's because we're optimists or if it's just because that's how life goes for us, but we always find the good in all situations, and then keep on moving," Adds Justin. "It constantly kept us in check with reality," continues RYAN, discussing how the location affected the making of the album. "There's bands that go to places like Hawaii to record, but we were commuting into Manhattan every day from Long Island like businessmen, getting home at 2 in the morning and getting up again at 7 in the morning. It felt like work, and it didn't feel easy, but now we listen to the album and we're glad we put in the effort." "We've never really taken anything for granted," JUSTIN elaborates. "We've been doing this for so long and we've put so much determination into this along the way. It's never really been easy, so why now would the recording be?"
Two more crises hit the band when, sadly, both PETR and GREG's mothers died within a few weeks of each other while STAGE was still recording. But once again, STAGE worked through it. "That definitely focused us again," RYAN reflects. "PETR was back the next Monday, working harder than ever, because this was our mission: to make this record as great as it can be, and to keep going."
STAGE has certainly progressed to an even higher level, as evidenced by the excellent self-titled debut they struggled so hard to complete. Impeccably produced by Wattenberg and engineer Brian Scheuble (Fiona Apple, U2, Aimee Mann) and mixed by Tim Palmer (chosen because his legendary work with Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam appealed to the raised-on-grunge members of STAGE), it's a powerful piece of work, brimming with an overriding sense of hope despite the troubled, sometimes tragic circumstances that surrounded its creation. "When I listen to the whole record, it's kind of searching for something," muses RYAN, whose lyrics reveal a profound, mystical fascination, thus perfectly complementing STAGE's sprawling soundscapes. "It's traveling to different places, from the first song, 'The World Has Come Between Us,' to the last, 'Jesus Was A Test Tube Baby.' It's trying to show that there's worth in progress in general. Perfection isn't always the key--it's just creating something, and putting something out there. Whether it's something good or bad, it's something new, and that's progress."
Only time will tell where STAGE will progress from here; their journey is far from over, yet they've already come farther and experienced more than most bands could ever imagine. One thing is certain, wherever their music takes them next, fans of affecting, authentic rock 'n' roll will be inspired to follow.
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