It was August 2011 when I met Scars on 45, a young British band which was coming to perform a free show in the Bay Area. To be honest, I’d never heard of them. The name alone didn’t inspire much personal curiosity. In fact, it reminded me of a truly awful novelty mix hit by a Dutch act called Stars on 45, which topped the UK charts in the early ‘80s. As it turned out, the proximity between the bands’ names was a total coincidence—the five members of Scars on 45 hadn’t even been born yet! The band was actually named after a term used by Emmylou Harris when describing how she treated her father’s record collection when she was an infant.
I saw the band play at a free concert hosted by the radio station where I present my own show every week, KRSH UK, and they were great. They had folks from 6 to 60 years old dancing throughout their set and they’re not even a dance band. They’re an alternative band, a fraction reminiscent of Coldplay or Elbow. But to make such comparisons would probably be unjust.
After issuing a couple of EPs, Scars’ self-titled debut was released in the U.S. on April 12th of this year to critical acclaim. It was declared the 7th best album of the year to date within Amazon’s “50 Best Albums of the Year” and produced an AAA hit, “Give Me Something”. Upon release, the album wasn’t initially a huge commercial hit, but it is a truly fine piece of work that still has huge potential if exposed to the right market.
Last month, I was fortunate enough to work with them on my radio show. My friend offered me the use of his recording studio and we invited Scars to come and record an exclusive session for the station. They arrived and immediately got down to business, playing three great songs and a cover by The Cure, all in about 2 or 3 hours.
They shocked me that day—not because of the fine music, but because of their unprecedented determination and work ethic. It turned out that Scars On 45 had been on the road in America since before we’d met the previous year. Out of a staggering 15 months of touring in a tiny van, they’d been home to see their wives, families and loved ones for only 9 weeks.
I’ve met hundreds of bands and have rarely heard of such amazing dedication. I asked them where they’d been based and the answer was “nowhere apart from the van and super-budget hotels.” From coast to coast, in a foreign country, for 15 months.
Even though music sales have stabilized over the past year, it’s unbelievably hard for a band, especially one from overseas, to get any sort of break—labels are rarely prepared to invest in supporting bands on the road, work visas for bands can be expensive and very hard to obtain, and there are a million fledging bands out there as competition, many with muscle behind them. But Scars has worked hard to cut through the clutter, through pure courage and conviction.
There’s not a hint of rock arrogance in this band’s ranks. These young Yorkshire-born musicians actively decided to promote themselves in the States, as opposed to their native land however long it takes. Unlike nearly every band I’ve known, they are a true David in Goliath’s homeland, and are slinging rocks at conventional music industry wisdom like no other. But how, and why?
First and foremost, they have a DIY plan. It’s not radical, and if anything, it’s old school—playing absolutely anywhere they can, visiting every radio station that will have them, being prepared to sleep rough, and live on micro budgets for food and drink. Not for 6 weeks at a time, but for over 60 weeks to date.
They also have no apparent ego. They know where they stand in music’s pecking order and have never wavered in their determination to be successful. Not only are they open to any opportunities, but unlike many other acts, they recognize that they don’t know it all and are open to learning from mistakes, professionals and most importantly, their fans.
In addition to touring, they have incorporated the use of social media. With no major label behind them, they have amassed a huge fan base through their own personal and constant efforts on Twitter and Facebook—mostly from the back of the van.
They also sell their own merchandise, standing behind a merchandise table after the shows as many bands do, but also by going out into the audience, engaging fans personally and selling their swag one-on-one.
From The Fray and Ingrid Michaelson to the Doobie Brothers, Scars on 45 will play with any other act. They just want to be out there doing what every band should be doing— playing live nearly every day, and cultivating a following through passion and self-belief.
Through this determination, they were recently rewarded with one of the most coveted TV spots for bands that are usually reserved for the big guns—a live performance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno”. It’s been a peak in their career to date, and has led to corporate shows, private events, and many music placements in high profile TV shows such as “One Tree Hill” and “Grey’s Anatomy”.
It’s paying off, but there’s no slouching. They’ve started to validate their dedicated approach to success and their conviction lives on, now more than ever. This is a special band with a near-unique work ethic, deep determination, and genuine courage from which we can all learn. You’ll be hearing from them soon, I’m sure.
Check out the session they recorded for the KRSH UK show here.