Just before unleashing 30-plus minutes of bouncy rhythms and angsty screams on a packed Grand Emporium, the seven members of the Josephine Collective huddle, backs to the audience, for a group picture. Flash! And then the chaos blasts, somewhat distorted by the club's PA. Guitars chug, synths sizzle, drums crash. Almost immediately, upside-down bodies float to the top of the crowd and roll toward the stage. Stiff teenage legs nearly swipe the lead singers' heads.
Over it all, the dual frontmen's voices rise — shouting, singing, screaming — sometimes together, sometimes alone. It's hard to pick out specific lyrics, but their faces reflect intense emotion. Alexander Henry Sandate's features scrunch into anger as he cups his hands around the mic. Dillon Teague Devoe mimes brushing a tear from his cheek.
The kids who aren't crowd surfing or dodging stray elevated feet stand transfixed. They'll walk out saying, "That was fucking amazing!" And it's no wonder. The aggressive riffs are laced with hooks; the vocalists squall pseudointellectual verses. It's bittersweet music that's exciting in the same way as being pissed off. It's Sour Patch Kids candy for the ears. The melodramatic rock and roll of this band from Johnson County, as with that of countless American emo-pop acts, is a sonic approximation of the moody extremes of youth.
Unfortunately, much of the rawness is rubbed out of the four songs on the EP, the release of which the band is celebrating on this second Tuesday night in July. The hardcore screams survive on "We Killed the American Dream," but overall, the slickly produced Living is more sweet than bitter, more All-American Rejects than Taking Back Sunday — and maybe, somehow, more marketable for Warner Bros. You read that right: Josephine Collective, seven dudes from the KC suburbs, ages 19 to 22, is on a very major label.
It's kind of a Panic at the Disco story in which the big break comes before the band has much to show besides aspirations.
Devoe, whose fingers never stop fiddling with whatever's in front of him — bottle caps, a cigarette lighter — explains: "We were signed on MySpace."
That's where producer John Feldman, who has also worked with the Used, discovered Josephine. A couple of years of trading demos eventually led to the band signing with Warner Bros. last October. A full-length album is due out early next year.
Unsurprisingly, the big news has led to some typical scene gossip concerning the band's financial status and attitude. "People think we're raking it in," Devoe says with the laugh of someone who saw an "insufficient funds" message flash on an ATM screen when he tried to deduct beer money before this interview.
The band is also rumored to be a bunch of assholes. The Josephine guys were gracious to me, but their confidence and idealism could easily be misconstrued. They believe they're on a mission to be the biggest band in the world — and as Devoe says, you have to be a little insane to make a claim like that.
One bit of gossip about Devoe's insanity involves him puking all over a stage in Omaha; upon being ordered to mop it up, he cited his label deal, as if it would exempt him from the task. At the club owner's insistence, the story goes, he wiped up the puke and chucked the soiled towel at the guy.
Devoe, seemingly embarrassed, says the actual incident, which occurred after he and Sandate filled in on vocals for a friend's band, was dramatic for a different reason: He cleaned up the vomit by pushing the towel around with his head and then set the rag in front of the club owner, who called the cops.
Either way, it's the kind of story you'd expect from a guy who says he has wanted to be a rock star since he was 8. He's not there yet, but the whole band is just crazy, cocksure and connected enough to make it happen.
Catch Josephine Collective Friday at the Bottleneck and Sunday at El Torreon. JoCo Superstars Josephine Collective banks on big breaks and bad rumors.