Surfin ’ Pluto
Surfin’ Pluto’s sound has been favorably compared to Blues Traveller and the Dave Matthews Band. There is a similarity in the exploration of looser rhythms and sophisticated instrumental flourishes. Yet the comparisons end there. This unique band has developed a fresh, powerful style that is strong without being overpowering, and light without being lightweight. Their press kit describes the band as being synonymous with fun, satire, and sincerity or the act of riding a wave on a surfboard, over the solar planet Pluto.
According to bass player and co-founder Gene Catallo, the band’s mission has three main directives, to be fun, upbeat, and melodic. They’re not interested in promoting morbid death culture pessimisms. “We’re interested in writing memorable melodies that won’t promote depression,” Gene Catallo told Contemporary Musicians writer Timothy Perry. This Michigan quintet grew up absorbing the current trends in music and culture, selecting what they liked and discarding what they didn’t. “The influences that made me want to play guitar and write music,” Catallo told Perry, “were The Beatles, Kiss, Springsteen, and The Who. The first professional band I started playing in was called Hatchek. Man, the stories I could tell you. Talk about paying your dues. I remember one time we were playing at this club in Detroit called The Falcon Lounge. The bartender would not turn down the radio that was blasting through the bar while we were playing! I got so frustrated that I decided to do my best Pete Townsend impersonation and smashed the head of my bass through a monitor that sat innocently in front of me busting every macine head off my guitar. I still don’t think he ever turned it down. But our band has a wide range of influences. One member’s preference doesn’t represent the whole band. We feel the diverse background of Surfin’ Pluto is the reason we meet in the middle and get the sound that we do. I sometimes like to say that the basic inspirations range from Van Morrison to Van Halen. Also, our present-day tastes have generally changed.”
The group of five originally formed in 1991 under the name Nobody’s Heroes. Gene Catallo used to be a “runner,” working as part of the production staff of the Pine Knob and the Palace Music Theaters in Clarkston, Michigan. “There were so many nights I sat by the side of the stage watching whoever was there that night,” Catallo told Perry, “knowing that our band could do it better. And even though it was a great feeling to see so many bands, I was frustrated that it wasn’t us on the stage,” explained Catallo to Perry. “It wasn’t long before we found Brian [Lancaster] to play drums. What’s really unusual is the first time Gene and Chris gottogether with Brian was the day the Gulf War broke out. Hopefully, that wasn’t an omen of things to come,” he chuckles. The group went on to develop their unique style. This first group incarnation was a hard driving metal sound with dark lyrics.
Eventually, the band landed opening act gigs for some of heavy metal’s most famous names. “As Nobody’s Heroes, we were writing glass shattering metal. But when we opened up for Vince Neil (lead singer from Motley Crue) the audience didn’t want anything to do with us. All they wanted to see was Vince. I can remember a guy in the front row viciously looking at us and giving us the finger in a fit of rage. We ended up cutting down our set just to get the hell off the stage. The real funny part was that Michael (our lead singer) was so flustered by the whole situation that after we ended what became the last song he made a mistake and said, ‘David Lee Roth will be out shortly.’ This while we were opening up for Vince Neil instead!”
After two years of playing together, Lancaster left the band and guitar player Chuck Hart was found to replace him. Chuck also began writing songs with Chris Gene. The band also held auditons for a lead singer and found Michae Soucie in 1994. Soucie is also a drummer and fills in on percussion if needed. Nobody’s Heroes didn’t last long, but it gave the musicians invaluable experience as well as establishing themselves as a presence in the Michigan music scene. They were recognized as WDZR FM’s “Best New Band” in 1994.
Members include Chris Catallo (born December 22, 1966), keyboards; Gene Catallo (born February 6, 1964), bass; Chuck Hart (born October 3, 1965), guitar; Brian Lancaster (born March 6 1967), drummer. Michael Soucie (born February 21, 1961), vocals.
Group first formed as Nobody’s Heroes; changed the name of their group to Surfin’ Pluto, 1997; played as opening act for Chicago, David Lee Roth, REO Speedwagon, 38 Special, Eddie Money, Paul Rodgers (Bad Company), Robin Trower, The Smithereens, and Marshall Crenshaw. Surfin’ Pluto’s song “Millionaire” was released on the Kool H.O.R.D.E. Band to Band combat of the East cd, 1998; released debut CD Surfin’ Pluto, Overture Records, 1998.
Awards: Winner of the Kool H.O.R.D.E. Band to Band Combat for the city of Detroit, 1998.
Addresses: Gene Catallo-51407 Morowske, Shelby Township, Michigan, 48316, (810)-739-0951;Website — http://www.surfinpluto.com; email: [email protected] , Emil —splash® surfinpluto.com.
In early 1997, the group made another serious career decision. All felt it was time to change the direction of the band. They first changeed the band’s sound. Before, they were very heavy on the metal overdrive with pessimistic lyrics. Each member grew tired of the depression-oriented flavor of what they were doing. Catallo explained to Gary Graff of the Oakland Press, “I think what we wanted to do was to go into an entirely different direction in writing, less big guitar, so to speak, and more songs that were melody driven with substance and a little more off-the-cuff storytelling. Times were changing. We had to make a mark in a certain era and we kinda wanted to head in a new direction for the times.” The next thing the band did was change their name to Surfin’ Pluto. They also changed their image and style of music as well. Nobody’s Heroes was more heavy guitar oriented and the lyrics were darker. They also changed to writing more upbeat and melody based songs for their live show. “We wanted to concentrate on moreupbeatmelodies,” Catallo explains further. “We’re a real fun band. And the music represents that kind of attitude. Althought the lyrics may be serious, most of the stuff that we play stays quite upbeat.”
Their onstage live shows continued to be successful. Their greatest success so far has been in winning the 1998 H.O.R.D.E./KOOL “Band to Band Combat” for the city of Detroit. At first they didn’t think they had won anything but were thinking the complete opposite. “When we performed at the first Kool/H.O.R.D.E. Band to Band Combat,” said Catallo to Perry, “we thought that our performance was so sub-standard that we had already started loading our equipment back into the van with the intention of leaving. My brother Chris and I were almost outside the side stage door when we heard them announce the winner. We stopped, dropped our equipment and looked at each other with huge eys and exclaimed: ‘Holy shit we won!’ The next thing I knewwe were jumping around onstage with this giant size $10, 000check!” Thisfeatwon them aspoton the H.O.R.D.E./Kool Band to Band Combat CD which was released in 1997. Their song “Millionaire” was featured on it. Being winnerof the Band to Band Combatalso gave the group the opportunity of playing on the road with Barenaked Ladies and Blues Traveller on The H.O.R.D.E. Festival at Pine Knob Music Theater, in Michigan, along with other selected tour dates.
In addition, they were also the H.O.R.D.E./Kool Midwest representatives for a concert at The House of Blues in Chicago. Important career establishing dates followed in quick succession. The next half of 1998 found Surfin’ Pluto as the opening act for Chicago, David Lee Roth, REO Speedwagon, 38 Special, Eddie Money, Paul Rodgers [Bad Company], Robin Trower, The Smithereens, and Marshall Crenshaw.
The next project was to release a debut CD of their own. After they landed a distribution deal with Overture Records, they released their debut album, Surfin’Pluto in 1998. Audience reaction has been positive. It has been getting repeated radio play on a number of rock radio stations in the Michigan area. Songs like “Apathy,” “Millionaire,” “Wanna Be One,” and “Deflowered,” have roots in a pop oriented sound with strong melodies that have humorous lyrics. “Our main long-term goal is to be able to make a living doing what we all love so passionately. I’m talking about writing, recording, and performing our music. Our short term goals at this point in time are to find the right record label that will support us and h elp us achieve our long term goal. We feel that if you believe 100% in what you’re doing and the music you make, (and for the first time we do), then that will be passed on to the audience or listener. If you don’t believe in yourself and your music then why would anyone else?”
H.O.R.D.E./Kool Band to Band Combat East,(contributor), H.O.R.D.E. Corporation, 1998.
Surfin’Pluto, Overture Records, 1998.
Oakland Press, May 1998.
Additional information was obtained from an interview with Gene Catallo and from the Surfin’ Pluto Press Kit.
—Timothy Kevin Perry
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