Travel with Skinnie Magazine To The Great White North
Alaska is a rough-and-tumble state. It’s home to one of the roughest terrains and harshest environments in the world; it cuts those who choose to reside there deeper, tougher, and more resilient than any other state in the union. Alaska is a national treasure beyond the billions of barrels of black gold we pull from its soil each year but you won’t find or read about it in any books-because whatever’s going on up there, it can’t be explained in words.
What might be common knowledge for most non-Alaskans is knowing that Alaska’s main export is oil, oil, and well, more OIL. Perhaps lesser known however, is its other fine and most valuable underground export: pure, unrefined, raw musical talent.
It shouldn’t come as a shock really, not when you look at the facts.
Alaska is twice the size of Texas; it’s both the largest and least densely populated state in the nation. In many ways Alaska is an ideal location for the recluse, or lonesome wanderer, or headstrong adventurer, but for anyone looking to ride the crest of the pop culture wave or tap into the vein of the next hottest thing, it’s quite the contrary. And when there’s over 500 miles of Canadian land separating you from Washington state, the closest of the other 48 contingent states, you know you aren’t going to be seeing any big LA or New York record label A&R reps at your show no matter how good you are. In fact you can probably count on that.
With so much space and so much isolation, so much natural beauty, and this constant and steady current of inspiration that flows out of every view your eyes can catch, it’s not hard to see how Alaska could produce bands a cut above the rest.
In order for most Alaskan bands who’ve tasted fame to some degree, they were forced to venture far outside their isolated home, their options always one of two: either pick up and move to LA or Seattle, or save up enough money and go do a tour through the West Coast and hope for the best. But neither option is a viable one for a whole hell of a lot of young Alaskan kids who are huge on talent but a little short on change.
Enter Chris Cardenas and Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman-two men who understood this dynamic better than anyone.
Chris Cardenas is the owner of Alaskan record label Frozen Records and has been a promoter in Alaska for years. He knows the scene and the fresh talent of Alaska better than anyone in the state. Kevin Lyman of course runs the biggest music tour for youth culture to date. And when these two got together 3 years ago, they put the idea of holding an annual statewide battle of the bands where the winner of which would get the opportunity to play a few stops on that summer’s Vans Warped Tour, to reality and history was made, changed, and defined.
This would give everyone in the giant talent pool in the entire state of Alaska the opportunity to perform their best songs for a shot at earning an all-expense paid chance to play on the Vans Warped Tour where exposure is at its ultimate highest. The rules are simple: each year bands from anywhere in Alaska are invited to come and demonstrate the best of what they’ve got before a panel of judges. Each round narrows down the bands one by one until we’re left with the cream of the crop. Usually about 3-4 bands make the finals. The finals are hosted and held in Anchorage and are judged “American Idol style” by 3 guest/celebrity judges flown in from various locales and are of varying “industry” professions.
It was a great honor to be hand picked by the editor of this magazine to fly out to Anchorage as Skinnie’s representative and judge for this year’s Battle for Warped Tour. The two other judges joining me for the task at hand were famed rock photographer Lisa Johnson, and the wonderful Ms. Keri Lee, a badass Tour Marketing Manager for Kevin Lyman’s tour company 4Fini Productions. Needless to say, I felt a little under qualified bein there only as a writer but in the words of Johnny Depp in Blow, fuck it. Sometimes in life those two words are the only two you need to know.
When the night of the finals we were there to judge finally came, Chris took us all over to what’s perhaps the raddest bar in all of America. A little 12-room theme bar called Chilkoot Charlie’s. I have no idea what a Chilkoot is but from the looks of the marquee outside the place, Charlie was a little white grizzled Alaskan man with a drinking problem (hence the red nose-see photo). The place was fucking rad. Each room was decorated in a different theme and each room had its own bar and bartender.
Inside Chilkoots was a house band flown in for the month from Florida (god knows why) playing each night called the Suck Fucks, and they fucking sucked. Actually that wasn’t their name but they sucked so bad they don’t even deserve an honorable mention here. Finally Judgment Day had arrived and I couldn’t be more excited to hear what Alaska had to offer (cause God knew Florida had shit to offer so far as I could tell).
There were four bands playing for us that night. First up, Thrown Away Thoughts-a nifty little alt-prog rock band comprised of teens with a median age of 14. Part Circa Survive, part Coheed and Cambria, these little kids ROCKED the fucking house. Although they had to be escorted out the bar as soon as their set was over, all three of us had to run out to shake their hands and tell them what a good job they did. I was personally blown away by the band’s talent but it was still a little raw and undeveloped for the Warped stage. In another year or two however, I’m confident they’ll make a fabulous addition to it.
Next up was funky party boys Alaska Thunder Funk. Named after a strain of Alaska’s most coveted weed, these guys walked out in 70’s getups complete with fake (and real) afros. Although they filled the dance floor with drunken patrons, I just didn’t picture them having a whole lot of success on Warped.
Third was Spitshine, last year’s winners of the contest, and I just couldn’t see why. Yes they sounded like a bad version of NOFX and Pennywise, but even that’s not saying a whole hell of a lot for their music. I voted these guys down despite my two comrades beside me giving them both eager thumbs up.
But then the surprise of the night came on. Kallahan. Hol-yyy Shitballs. This band was fucking awesome! The singer reminded me of a young Phil Anselmo and sounded just as good. His intensity was contagious and spread through the crowd like wildfire. These boys could incite a riot. I was also amazed at how tight this band was musically, vocally, all of it, was presented in one powerful, cohesive perfect little package that made us all think we were watching a show we paid to see in LA somewhere. Their blend of metal and hardcore was none of us girls’ particular taste of music and yet, we were all absolutely enthralled from start to finish. The singer’s energy was undeniable and contagious. Without a doubt this band was going to be huge and they had to get the win.
It only took a minute for us to deliberate about who the winner should be: unanimously it was Kallahan. Although the three of us weren’t fans of that genre of music, we were all made into fans of Kallahan, converted by their enthralling performance and obvious musical talent. Hands down the win had to go to them. Once the announcement was made and Kallahan were crowned the winners, we all grabbed a table in the back of the bar (the main bar) and got a chance to talk a little about the accomplishment.
“I actually didn’t even want to do the battle initially,” confessed the somewhat reserved and mysterious frontman, lead singer John Evans, “I just have no interest in having anyone judge our music. Music is music you know?” Well it was a good thing that the rest of the band, which is comprised of funny guy/drummer Mike Stewart, bassist Gabe Fletcher, and guitarist Aaron Wills, all decided to throw their names into the hat last minute just to see what happens. And because they did, what happens next for Kallahan is going to be a lot.
First they’ll be whisked away to play at least 3 dates on the Washington and Idaho stops of this summer’s Warped Tour for an entire new audience. Then probably sometime after that they’ll head into the studio to record a debut album, possibly with Paige Hamilton (of Helmet) as their producer. Hamilton had caught wind of the Kallahan boys while on a recent trip out to Alaska and heard had them play and was so impressed with what he heard, he expressed an immediate interest in producing their first album. Be on the look out for more great things from Kallahan soon and be sure to check them out on the Warped Tour dates in Washington and Idaho.
By Lacy Ottenson