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Open Air Stereo: We’re More Than a Band, We’re a Family

Los Angeles is one of the best cities in the world to start a music career. But no matter how many open-mic nights or how many cities you visit on tour as an opener, most bands still never see a record deal. On the contrary, there are some bands that get noticed rather quickly and make it look easy. Open Air Stereo is one of these bands, though I’m sure being featured on MTV’s Laguna Beach helped them land their first record deal. (All photos of Open Air Stereo were taken at The New Parish in Oakland, California by Brianne Nemiroff)

Due to issues at the label and overall pressure from the business, they took a three-year hiatus. But, finally, after 11 years together as a band, they released their first album, Primates, last May. They just finished a spring tour with The Miggs, but they took the time to talk to Viva Glam about their history and their new single, “Damned.”

WRITER’S NOTE: I first booked an interview with Chase Johnson over the phone, but then I was lucky enough to interview the rest of the band in-person two weeks after the initial interview at their live show in Oakland, California. This article will feature both interviews.

Q&A with Chase Johnson (Lead Singer)

The band was formed when you were 13. What made you want to form a band at such a young age?
I guess we always wanted to be ahead of the game since we were younger. We loved music so much. When Nick and I first met at [the age of] 13, it was love at first sight. (He says jokingly.)
We really vibed together well. It was just the first time that we met another person with the same kind of drive and from that young of an age. We wanted to be successful in music. That was it for us. Ever since then, we never really turned back.

You were on the third season of Laguna Beach. How were you scouted and what did you learn about show business from that show and after it ended?
They asked me to be a main character at first [and I agreed to do it] as long as they showcased Open Air Stereo. We didn’t want to have high school drama, but we wanted to bring a new spin to the show. We were a band and there’s more to the great city of Laguna Beach.
It was such a great platform and we were so excited to do it. I think everyone had [already] seen the drama [on the first two seasons] and it became a big part of that season. It showcased us well and I got great advice from my mom. They can only use what you give them. We decided not to give them the average drama and we decided to showcase who we really are which are musicians who love to do what we do.

You were signed to Sony’s Epic Records in 2005, but after a year or so of writing together, you split for three years. What caused the split and what did you all learn from the split that made you get back together?

It’s not like some 70s rock and roll story. We were all young and there’s a lot of pressure when you’re signed with such a major deal and major label at a young age. We were 17, 18 and it was a lot. There were so many label changes and it was skewed. The hiatus came because we all needed to grow as individuals and we grew further as artists [because of it]. It was just a really positive thing when we came back together. Now we’re stronger than ever because of it. We [already] got [the break-up] out of that way!

Chase Johnson

How has your writing changed since you got back together?
We became stronger as writers and we’re more open to each other’s opinions. Before, we were younger and we were just so excited about everything. We’re [more] about blending our ideas together. We all write great together and we all just love writing. It’s a really good family and community and we really built that. We’re more than a band, we’re a family.

Why did you pick Primates as the title for your first album?
Other than a fact that we’re a bunch of crazy monkeys, we’ve been through a bunch of ups and down. Getting signed at such a young age, playing TRL, being featured on MTV, and finally finding the members that are sticking forever, Evan and Scott. It is an evolution. It took us a long time to make the first record. We’re constantly writing on the bus. We really love this life and we really love each other.

How would you describe Open Air Stereo’s style of music and who are your influences?
Thirty Seconds to Mars has been a big influence on the whole album, as well as The Beatles. We also love U2. That’s big on Primates, [as well as we like] Imagine Dragons, Coldplay, and The 1975.


You just dropped your next single, Damned, off of Primates. What was the inspiration for the song?
The inspiration is no matter your handicap in life, it’s about doing what you want to do. I think we can get lost in our rudimentary lives but it’s up to you how you want to create it. I think people forget that. It’s up to you and you got to live out there. No matter what prison you’re in. It’s really self-explanatory. I think it’s great because everyone can perceive it in the way that they want.

The members of Open Air Stereo are obviously found of tattoos. Have any of them been inspired by a song you love or one of your songs?

Absolutely. I have a few that were inspired by the songs. I have “Let It Be” by The Beatles and it has been a big inspiration in my life lyrically. On my forearm, I have the alchemist sign for air. It’s mistaken for the 30 Seconds to Mars sign. It’s for remembering to breathe on stage every once in a while.

(They are both equilateral triangles with a lie through it. But the alchemist sign for air has a line that meets its sides whereas the 30 Seconds to Mars logo is longer than its sides.)

Q&A with Nick Gross (Drums), Scott Pounds (Guitar), and Evan Smith (Bass)

Who is most likely to be approached by the ladies and who is most likely to have a girlfriend while touring?

SP: I’m married. I’ve been married for three years now.

Brianne: So you’re, obviously, most likely to be tied down.

ES: Chase is the lead singer so a lot of the girls go for him, some of the boys as well. Nick doesn’t do too bad though. He gets quite a few mares (older women).

Evan Smith

Who’s the craziest eater on tour?

SP: It’s been our sound guy this time! He wants to get three dollar hot dogs and fries.

Nick: We’re the healthiest band ever. [Evan] is vegan and vegetarian.

ES: I guess I would [want] the weirdest stuff but it’s not junk food. It’s the weird ethnic foods.

SP: If we can, we try to get fresh juice and ginger shots every day to keep our energy up. They’re tough but they’re good for you and you’re [naturally] high for [nearly] six hours.

On stage, who’s most likely to improvise and who’s most likely to keep to the track?

ES: Scott improvises a lot.

SP: I just get in my own little world.

NG: I would say Scott and myself.

ES: Nick does, too.

Chase Johnson and Evan Smith

“Damned” LIVE: When you guys played it live, you guys emoted a little more than while performing other tracks. Is it just because it’s your single? Why do you guys connect with the track so much?

SP: I’ve always liked that song. There’s a video of me somewhere of me saying that’s my favorite song to play live.

ES: I don’t think it has to do with the fact that it’s the single, but [instead] because the beat of the song is driving. It’s good for performing on stage. It gets you pumped to perform harder.

And finally, are you guys excited to perform in L.A.? (They were about to perform in L.A. two days after the interview.)

SP: We’ll have our moms there, most likely.

ES: Chase will!

SP: It’s too late [at night] for my folks. Chase’s mom will be there. She’ll be up front like “Woooooh!!!” It’ll be amazing.

ES: Chase’s mom is our biggest fan. She’s awesome. She’ll bring all of her friends.

From left to right: Nick Gross, Chase Johnson, Brianne Nemiroff, Benjamin Hagerty (Brianne’s +1), Evan Smith, Scott Pounds

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