“Since making the top 12, we’ve been hustling nonstop,” laughed Them Terribles guitarist Jonny Black, 22, about the band’s ongoing fight to stay afloat in MTV2’s annual Dew Circuit Breakout contest. Since signing the band up for the online battle over the summer, Black and his buddies have gone from one in 4,000 to one in six now vying for the prize, which includes a professionally shot video, a televised live concert, and a good deal of free, MTV-approved PR. “Mainly, it’s about the exposure,” said 22-year-old lead singer Matt Green.
Since forming Them Terribles in 2005, the foursome moved to Los Angeles, completed studies at varying institutions (Black is a Loyola Marymount grad, Green put his time in at USC), and moved back to Santa Barbara, the place three of the four had once called home. Green, Black, and drummer Joey Benenati have all known each other since grade school, attending Santa Barbara High and Laguna Blanca, respectively. In 2003, the threesome formed Standard Issue-a punk band that enabled them to collectively fine-tune their musical chops. Soon after, the trio headed to Los Angeles, hooked up with bassist Geoff Franklin, and Them Terribles was born. The sound-which resembled contemporary garage rock “the” bands like The Strokes and The Hives-was more cohesive and mature than Standard Issue’s, but still maintained that pop punk lightheartedness, which kept its musicians from taking themselves too seriously. The band took to playing shows in and around L.A., and scored some free studio time when they won a Los Angeles-based battle of the bands. Songs in hand, Green and his fellow bandmates began the recording process.
Two years, three producers, and a couple of bachelor’s degrees later, the band emerged with Rock, Paper, Terribles; a self-released gem filled to the brim with catchy, rollicking guitar riffs and Green’s distinctly gravelly vocals. The songs range from punk-tinged anthems like “Tangerine,” to the pseudo love ballad, “Bullets and Guns,” which sounds like a cross between Iggy and the Stooges and We Are Scientists. Since returning to S.B., the guys have maintained a steady stream of gigs, most recently hitting the stage at Wildcat, Jensen’s Guitar, and a little Italian-eatery-turned-showspace in Bakersfield, in an attempt to win over new fans and get people to tune in and vote.
But despite their obvious drive, when I met with Black and Green over lunch, they appear simultaneously stoked and nonchalant about their recent rise to small-screen fame. When asked how they even got involved with the Dew Circuit Breakout, Black laughed, “I saw a commercial on TV, and I was like, ‘Eff it. What else are we doing?’ All you had to do was give them a song, a bio, and a picture. That was it.” Lo and behold, a few months later the band received a phone call saying that they had been selected as one of 12 finalists. “[MTV] called and said we had to send them over some footage of us and that they were going to edit it the next day. It was ridiculous,” Black said. The low-quality footage they sent-filmed by a buddy at a show the band had played a while back-was quickly morphed into a TV spot and thrown into the rotation on MTV2. Since making the top six contenders, the channel has sent the pros out to capture Them Terribles as only true music television employees can. The newer version-which features an interview with the band at State Street staple Velvet Jones, as well as an acoustic jam session in the club’s back alleyway-is now being broadcast by the channel around the clock, encouraging viewers to cast their votes online. “I think everyone thought we were film students or Brooks kids,” said Green about the paparazzi-like experience of being followed around downtown by a camera crew.
The annual contest, which is plugged on the channel and sponsored by Mountain Dew, has been taking place since 2001, and past winners have included such Warped Tour headliners as Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, and Yellowcard, to name a few. In discussion, Black and Green said that MTV seems to truly take care of their winners, noting that recent recipients like Halifax and Hellogoodbye received a massive amount of on-air support since taking home the honor. But Them Terribles aren’t worrying about the winner’s circle quite yet. Since signing the band up for the competition earlier this year, Black and his band mates have maintained a fairly realistic outlook on the events that have transpired. “Some of the bands that are left are more established. They’ve sold thousands of records. I mean, these bands have like 40,000 MySpace friends, where we have like 2,000,” Green said. “And all it takes is sending out one message to all those people :”
Meanwhile, Black explained the crafty little numbers game he’s been playing since Them Terribles made the top six. Because MTV2’s Web site only allows visitors to view the bands’ daily rankings, Black has created a running list of who’s in which place each day. His enthusiasm is contagious, and while I laughed at his excitement over tallying averages, it becomes apparent just how much Black and Green want to win. And with a slew of press, a recent audio appearance on KJEE, and an upcoming “big Thanksgiving show” at Velvet Jones on Friday, November 23, it seems likely that, if nothing else, the boys will have all of Santa Barbara cheering them on through the battle’s final round.
Vote for Them Terribles at dewcircuitbreakout.mtv.com.