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The Click Five

The Click Five, winners of the Knockout Award at last month’s 2008 MTV Asia Awards, on change

Kristiano Ang Sep 14, 2008
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Arjuna/AFP Photo

Ben Romans, the Elton John look-alike keyboardist of Boston-based The Click Five is not dressed for Singapore’s scorching midsummer heat. The lazy Sunday afternoon we met at the Gallery Hotel by the Robertson Quay, saw temperatures soar into the thirties. But rock stars will do what they have to. His face is mostly obscured by a pair of Rocketman-esque sunglasses and the grey woollen hat he has on.

His quintet performed two nights ago to six thousand mostly pre-pubescent fans in Manila, while yesterday saw a wild night out at The Butter Factory nightclub shortly after having arrived in Singapore where they would play that evening. It would be no stretch to argue that in this part of the world at least, the five lads from Massachusetts are now bigger than the Backstreet Boys, for whom they were the opening act, less than half a decade ago.

Although critics would bill the fivesome everything from “power pop” to “alternative rock,” The Click Five are essentially a band created to bridge the gap between Britney Spears and discovering your first real rock band. The term “created” is not used jarringly here: the band is the brainchild of Wayne Sharp, their tour manager, who struck upon the formula of putting five good-looking guys with the ability to create infectious PG-rated pop music in sharp suits. The blueprint for success was a winning one that spawned the 2005 tweenage anthem ”˜Just The Girl,’ written by Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger and propelled their mainstream debut Greetings From Imrie House up the charts.

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But along the way, something changed. Or as bassist Ethan Mentzer would put it, things were “constantly in flux and in motion.” The Five briefly became a quadruplet when their lead singer, Eric Dill, whose falsetto had the Justin Timberlake-like ability to conjure screams from a thousand teenage girls, decided to try out for Hollywood. His replacement was Kyle Patrick, of the decidedly deeper voice that shaped the darker tones of their weaker-performing second album, Modest Minds and Pastimes.

The musical change spurred at least partially by the change of a frontman is obvious but Romans believes that it’s one for the better. “Kyle is one of us,” he insists, “He’s a music guy at the end of the day and is in it for this [to be creative and to perform] too. When Kyle came in, we got things done the way it should be.”

Mentzer, at this point slightly late for our noontime appointment appears. Unlike Romans, he has a more quintessential rock star look; his bedraggled brown hair and light blue collared shirt would not be out of place on, say, Dave Grohl. Like his keyboardist however, he punctuates his sentences with a “y’know” in a New England-accented baritone. What the two also agree on, is that the change in the mood of their music is not one that was intentional but in the bassist’s words, “a natural shape that the band has taken on.”

They are aware though, that despite their latest metamorphosis, they are still susceptible to charges of being “manufactured.” Although Mentzer openly admits that their opportunities have come from what he calls “the bubblegum pop world” and claims that they are happy just to “make music,” the charges surely hurt. After all, the five – who also count lead guitarist Joe Guese and drummer Joey Zehr as members – are not the talentless lip-synching dance machines that were the epitome of the pop music fad that marked the end of the Nineties, but trained musicians who mostly hailed from the highly prestigious and selective Berklee College of Music, which counts John Petrucci, John Myung and Mick Portnoy of acclaimed progressive rock band Dream Theater, as well as John Mayer as alumni.

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For one, they are careful not to be perceived as superficial or overtly carried away by their success. When probed for his views on the future direction of the band, Romans proclaims a desire to be more “organic.” He then pauses before continuing on sarcastically, “Well, organic is such a dirty word. I want to be more organic.” He grimaces, “What I mean is more natural because that sounds like such a hippie word.”

Similarly, when asked if there was one moment where they realised that they had made it, the answer is one that is unanimous both in content and speed of delivery. It’s an indignant “no.” Mentzer shares a story of how whilst playing in the Philippines two nights ago, he was staring out and the crowd in the arena and “still had a feeling that they’re not all here for us.” He shakes his head, as if still in slight disbelief, “it’s all very surreal.”

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