What It Takes To Get A Cover Feature In The “Phoenix New Times”: Little Talent, Big Ads?

Dan Gibson | January 9, 2009 12:15 pm

Say a band lacks a record deal, an actual fanbase, or product to purchase, yet possesses a lifespan that’s as long as the cash in the drummer’s pocket holds up. Would that be the sort of band you’d like your local alt-weekly to dedicate 4500+ words to? If you live in the greater Phoenix area, you’re in luck, because Hollywood Heartthrob, an act that can’t even get its official site on the first page of the Google search for its name, is on the cover of the Phoenix New Times this week!

While the music coverage in the Phoenix New Times has been significantly better under the reign of current editor (and seemingly nice guy) Martin Cizmar, the spectre of former editor Niki D’Andrea still haunts the publication’s pages. (Yes, I’m aware she made this year’s Da Capo Best Music Writing anthology this year for one of the articles in her extended series “Phoenix Novelty Acts Who Can Barely Play Music.” You’ll have to take that up with Nelson George and/or Daphne Carr.) It seems so unjust that while the Loveblisters (who actually have an album available now, have won national contests and play around town every weekend) are relegated to the back pages, these clowns make the cover.

Ted Myers doesn’t laugh at that one, because he’s a drummer — and he’s not the stereotypical, dumb, party-drummer. In fact, when he won the Health & Wealth Raffle, Myers wasn’t just an ad salesman. The fair-skinned 23-year-old was also a talented musician and aspiring rock star, and months before he won the money, he’d already devised a plan to transform his band into superstars. He’d even found a few potential investors, because the plan was somewhat intricate — and very expensive.

The day he won the raffle, Myers called all his would-be investors and told them to never mind. Then he called his bandmates and told them not to worry about money anymore. He had an investor who would pay for everything.

Myers’ first step was to fix Faucet. That was the admittedly drippy name of his band. He decided that Hollywood Heartthrob sounded much more glamorous, and he hired a graphic designer to create a neon logo around a hot-pink heart with white, feathery wings.

This band was going to be about flamboyance and glamour, just like a young Mötley Crüe or Poison — but cooler and stuff.

Being young and hot is an important part of the plan. None of the guys in Hollywood Heartthrob is older than 25. The bass player, Nate Beilmann, isn’t even 21 yet.

Every member of the band fills a role. Ted Myers is the undisputed leader, the steady-handed drummer with the game plan. Tall and wiry, Beilmann’s the subtle wisecracker of the band.

There are two lead guitarists — Frank Littlefield, a big guy with long blond hair, and Brent Sutton, a pretty, dark-haired boy with a lip piercing, both arms covered in colorful tattoos. Littlefield’s the quiet one, the skillful, bowed-head ax man who focuses on his guitar while his face hides behind his hair. He gives the band its metal edge. Sutton’s the showman/partier, the bad boy who can take a shot and a punch back-to-back. The pair’s dueling guitar solos and layered harmonies are the most impressive parts of Hollywood Heartthrob’s songs.

Like Sutton, singer Grady Melton’s got tons of tattoos and a chiseled, cover-boy face. He’s outspoken and snarky (favorite comeback: “Whatever”), and his vocals contain both the impassioned wails of emo and the nasally ring of punk. He’s shorter than the other guys in the band but makes up for it in rock star attitude.

Melton helped Myers come up with a trendy new image for Hollywood Heartthrob, and everyone in the band pulls off the rock star look better than many bona fide rock stars (they may even do the satellite-dish-size sunglasses thing better than Bono).

For awhile, I thought maybe Niki was going to examine the idea of manufactured music in the digital age, ruminate on the concept of pop music itself, look at how money can’t buy fame…nope, let’s just read about the band a bit more.

In fact, Myers hired Tom Garrett to not only manage Hollywood Heartthrob but to be chief operating officer of his new label, Juiced Records. Coincidentally, Garrett had recently moved to Phoenix from California when he met Myers through Mike Fix, a Phoenix drummer who’d done session work with the likes of Peter Murphy and Liz Phair.

Garrett’s musical background is mostly in the jazz and New Age genres. The 60-something Oklahoma native did programming for jazz radio throughout the ’80s, and he says he did some independent record promotion for people like Luther Vandross, David Sanborn, Yanni, Dr. John, and Cocteau Twins. He’s an energetic, super-talkative guy with a master’s degree in psychology. He refers to his business and marketing plan as “The Takeover” and likens Hollywood Heartthrob to The Beatles, himself to Brian Epstein. The Beatles are always a lofty comparison, considering they had 34 singles and nine albums in a row hit number one on the Billboard charts. But, hey, Garrett thinks big.

“Hollywood Heartthrob owns this town,” Garrett says, during one of those managerial hype talks. “These guys are going to be huge.”

Myers says they talked to a few record labels about potential distribution for the record, but that he never really wanted to be signed. “I don’t want people to think this is some sort of vanity indie label,” Myers says of Juiced. “We decided to put this record out ourselves because we wanted to, not because nobody else was interested in putting it out . . . We’ve got everything a major label has, as far as promotions. We just need to arrange distribution.”

Distribution is vital if the band wants to sell records. Myers says he’s currently in talks with local Epic imprint Modern Art Records and Sony Music Canada about getting The Takeover in stores, but nothing’s been nailed down yet. Worse, Hollywood Heartthrob have no digital distribution whatsoever. The band’s music isn’t available to download on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, or any other Internet site, which is a basic first step for most bands.

As for touring, Garrett says he’s talking to Live Nation about some possible spring opening spots for national acts, and to Vans Warped Tour about a summer festival slot, but everything’s still up in the air. The band doesn’t plan to play at the annual South by Southwest music festival in Austin, either.

Maybe there’s something between the lines criticizing the act and their approach, but I missed it. Even if the article is an elaborate left-handed attack on the band’s relentlessly phony aesthetic, isn’t a cover shoot and 4500+ words of coverage playing into Hollywood Heartthrob’s hands? I’m not here to condemn pop, but it seems to be just a bit too highly coincidental that Hollywood Heartthrob and its label, Juiced Music, have purchased multiple full-page color advertisements with the paper in recent months (to the extent that someone asked me recently if I had any idea who they were, since they seemed to have an ad in the paper every week). Now they’re getting more coverage than any Phoenix-area act has received in recent memory? One reader wondered aloud in the comments if the story was a prank (the New Times has a tradition of running one phony cover story a year), which seems like a bad sign on the journalistic front as far as the subject matter goes. D’Andrea might be just trying to cover a band on the rise, but the New Times seems to have a bit too much invested in the band’s success.

Hollywood Heartthrob: How a Lucky Break and a Lot of Cash Made the Band [Phoenix New Times]