Hailing from Manhattan, Kansas, Ultimate Fakebook was known for performing a version of late 1990s music that marketing executives labeled punk, but more closely resembled the power-chord and hook-laden power pop of such contemporary bands as Eve 6 and Matchbox Twenty. They were also likened to 1970s' purveyors of tuneful pop such as Cheap Trick, whose music was adorned in electric guitars and Beatles' style craftsmanship. During the band's relatively short recording career, Ultimate Fakebook released only four albums, but these albums have been admired by critics for the musicianship and songwriting abilities of guitarist and vocalist Bill McShane, drummer Eric Melin, and bass guitarist Nick Colby. The band toured relentlessly, often performing nearly 150 shows per year.
Ultimate Fakebook formed in 1996, when third cousins McShane and Colby began playing music together in Beloit, Kansas. They formed their first band together when they were in their mid-teens. "Nick and I always knew we wanted to be in a band," McShane admitted on the Noisome Records website. "It was our first career choice—and there was no second choice. We had this rock and roll sickness all the way back then." Melin started his musical career as a trombonist, an instrument he abandoned as a freshman in high school when he decided to take up the drums. "I bought this cheesy drum set for $100, and started playing along with the metal albums I listened to in high school," he explained to Noisome Records. "I never took any lessons—just sat there with headphones on, playing along until I could play all these songs."
In 1994 McShane and Colby moved to Manhattan, Kansas, and formed an early four-piece version of Ultimate Fakebook that included Melin. The band developed quickly, taking on the name Ultimate Fakebook, presumably from the title of a series of music books featuring piano and guitar tabs rather than musical notations. Initially the trio emulated the sounds of such heavy metal bands as Metallica, KISS, and Slayer, but their later style resembled such classic Minneapolis-based musical acts as Prince, Husker Du, Soul Asylum, and the Replacements. McShane's vocals, however, are unmistakably influenced by Cheap Trick's singer Robin Zander. "I never intended to be a singer," McShane remarked on his group's website. "However, I did grow up loving early Prince and '80s pop like Olivia Newton John." He added that "singing evolved out of that I suppose. As for guitar, that's easy; I saw a Dokken video for 'In My Dreams' when I was a kid and that was it—I had to play the guitar in a rock band." McShane's Dokken phase was brief, however, as he explained on the Ultimate Fakebook website: "Of course, once I grew up I moved away from the hair metal thing. But I can't shed the desire to rock out and play huge guitar riffs and solos, even though I'm really only interested in trying to write memorable pop songs."
The band's original singer quit, and McShane took up vocal duties for the group's first recording, the 1998 album Electric Kissing Parties. The trio began to tour seemingly non-stop, breaking long enough to record and release their second album, This Will Be Laughing Week, in 1999. That same year the band earned an opening slot on a Cheap Trick tour. On the cleverly titled This Will Be Laughing Week the band prominently displayed its influences. "I'm All I Out of It Now" resembled the late 1960s' work of Ray Davies and the Kinks, and "Far, Far Away" hearkened back to the 1980s' sound of Paul Westerberg's Replacements. The album also included the song "Of Course We Will," which McShane described on the Noisome Records website as a song "about wondering if your dreams are gonna come true … You're working hard at something—like this band—and all of a sudden you think to yourself, 'Gee, I don't know if we're ever gonna get anywhere with this thing—or are we?' Out of that feeling, I was inspired to write a song that says: 'Who cares? Whatever happens, I'm still gonna do what I want to do.'"
The album also featured a tribute to the heavy metal bands that inspired them, titled "Brokyn Needle," which, in true head banger and hair band fashion, featured German umlauts over the "y" in Brokyn and first "e" in Needle. "I kept singing the phrase in my head and it made no sense," McShane explained to Noisome Records. "But that was what was so perfect: It's like one of those stupid names, with a stupid spelling, that you would pick up for your high school band. It's a song that takes you back to that time, about starting a band with your friends and aiming to take over the world." The release brought group comparisons to Weezer and vocal comparisons to Elvis Costello.
In 2002 Ultimate Fakebook toured as an opening act for Nerf Herder to support the Fakebook's album Open up and Say Awesome. For the tour, the group added guitarist and vocalist J.D. Warnock. "We love being a three-piece," McShane told Grand Rapids Press writer Curt Wosniak. "We recognized formulas in how we would do things, and any time you aren't having quite as much fun, you definitely want to do something to make it more interesting." The album also displayed a change in direction. "Most of the songs are coming from a pretty positive outlook," McShane told William Mills from Gamecock, the student newspaper of the University of South Carolina. "It's usually music that's kind of fun and more like a party vibe, rather than the deep, dark, personal kind of vibe.… We've always focused on the live show being exciting and raw."
In the winter of 2004, Ultimate Fakebook announced that the band would split up. Colby explained to Kansas State Collegian journalist Jessica Grant, "We've just been doing it for a long time. We wanted to do different things. We're all on the same page, but we want to move on." McShane announced plans to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a film editor, while Melin and Colby stated that they planned to stay in the music business. "There are other bands that I plan to hook up with and tour with," Colby told Grant. Melin and Colby performed rhythm section duties for Dead Girls Ruin Everything, the opening act on Ultimate Fakebook's final tour. Besides Melin and Colby, the Dead Girls' lineup featured former Podstar members Cameron Hawk and JoJo Longbottom. Prior to Ultimate Fakebook's last performance, Colby told Grant: "The last show will be a total blow-out. There are a lot of fans who will be emotional, but I know that I will be playing with Bill and Eric again, just not as Ultimate Fakebook."
For the Record …
Members include Nick Colby , bass guitar; Bill McShane , guitar, vocals; Eric Melin , drums; J.D. Warnock (joined 2002), guitar, vocals.
Released debut album, Electric Kissing Parties, 1998; added J.D. Warnock on guitar and vocals, 2002; released fourth and final album, Before We Spark, 2003; announced breakup, 2004.
Electric Kissing Parties, Noisome, 1998; reissued, Law of Inertia, 2003.
This Will Be Laughing Week, Sony, 2000.
Open up and Say Awesome, Initial, 2002.
Before We Spark, Initial, 2003.
Kansas State Collegian, January 30, 2004.
Gamecock, November 22, 2002.
Grand Rapids Press, October 16, 2002.
"Ultimate Fakebook," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 4, 2004).
"Ultimate Fakebook," Noisome Records, http://www.noisome.com/ufb/ (February 29, 2004).
Ultimate Fakebook Official Website, http://www.ultimatefakebook.com/bio.html (February 29, 2004).
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