When is a Triangle band not really a Triangle band? Answer: When three of its five members live in Virginia.
That's the situation facing Dragstrip Syndicate, a band whose three-guitar assault mixes Wilson Pickett-style Southern soul with the psychedelia of The Seeds, the early '70s punk of the MC5 and a dose of Humble Pie. Though the fact that guitarist Erik Sugg lives in Raleigh, bassist John Flude lives in Chapel Hill and the rest of the band lives 150 miles away in Richmond, is a hurdle, the guys in Dragstrip Syndicate are not only making it work, they're contributing to the growth of the Triangle music scene in the process. It may seem counter-intuitive, but Dragstrip's dual residency is actually yielding surprising benefits for many local bands.
Just ask the Dynamite Brothers. The bluesy, hard-rocking Chapel Hill trio played with Dragstrip Syndicate last weekend in both Virginia Beach and Richmond, on a bill that also included Raleigh's The Weather. Their three-band mini-tour continues this Friday night at Go! Studios in Carrboro. In a few weeks Dragstrip and the Dynamite Brothers will head to Charlotte and Atlanta, adding Chapel Hill band The Spinns for a show at Kings before playing another gig in Richmond. This combined strategy allows each band to share its hometown audience with out-of-town pals, resulting in increased exposure and a better chance at a sizable audience.
The driving force behind these collaborations is Dragstrip Syndicate's Erik Sugg.
"No one really knows about it, but Erik has probably done more to help bands get out-of-town gigs than anyone else around," says Charles Story, bassist for The Weather, on a recent night at Kings.
"Erik's been a really big help lining up shows," agrees Mitchell Rothrock, guitarist and singer for The Dynamite Brothers. "They've had more experience touring than us and they've been really good about sharing contacts."
Rothrock first met Sugg when their bands played at last year's Sleazefest.
"Our band liked Dragstrip's music and we were both booking, so we decided to work together," he says. "Erik's given me a lot of names. We played Knoxville together a month and a half ago, and we may be doing a show in D.C. It's worked out great."
Sugg, who moved to Raleigh in part to be closer to his girlfriend Robin, the bookkeeper and webmaster for local T-shirt company Kung Fu Inc. (www.kungfunation.com), reacts modestly when asked about the cross-pollination he's set up between the Triangle and Virginia.
"I'm happy to do it," he says. "We believe in a lot of the bands in this area. The places we're playing are towns we've played before and done well in, so the clubs basically trust our opinion. We've brought a lot of area bands up--All Night, Buzzsawyer, The Greatest Hits, Cherry Valence. We've tried to do everything we can to get those bands shows in Virginia, that they probably wouldn't stumble onto on their own."
Not bad for a band that rarely gets noticed as part of the local music scene.
Dragstrip Syndicate formed in 1997 in Richmond when guitarist/singer Jon Brown and drummer Matt Forrest decided to record a few Elvis songs as a Christmas gift to Brown's parents. A second guitarist, Kevin Inge, and a bassist soon followed. Sugg became the band's third guitarist in 1999 and stayed in the band after moving to Raleigh last May. The current lineup was completed when Chapel Hill resident John Flude took over on bass in the fall of 2001, after seeing the band perform at that year's Sleazefest.
"We released a full-length CD called Volume on a label in Chicago," Sugg explains, "but the label went bust a month after the record came out. We finally got the rights back and a Virginia label, Amendment Records, will release it in early to mid-February. We're just finalizing the artwork."
Meanwhile, Dragstrip is promoting its new, five-song release, The Action EP, while touring regionally and gearing up for a major summer trek to the West Coast. The band is also talking with Estrus Records, the Bellingham, Wash.-based label that released both of Cherry Valence's full-length CDs.
"We're pretty hardened road warriors at this point, but it's really difficult to do extended touring because our singer has a family and we live in different cities," says Sugg. "I do all the booking, and I try to book us into as many new places on a weekend as I can. Basically, anything within an eight- or nine-hour drive is worth our time."
Sugg knows firsthand how difficult it can be to get a band into a club in another town.
"Booking is definitely not just a couple of phone calls and e-mails," he says. "It's longer hours and harder work than people think. It's timing, feeling the situation out, knowing how to read people. You basically have to keep five other people's schedules in mind."
However difficult booking may be, Sugg appears to have a talent for it.
And an increasing number of Triangle bands are very happy he's the kind of guy who likes sharing his talents.