The Names’ idea man Charlie Evans stops mixing sound just long enough to beg a glass of ice. It’s a warm and breezy Friday night, but inside Tsunami, it feels close to 90 degrees.
The dining room has long since emptied, but at the bar, the night is beginning. Beneath dim lights, 100 people are crammed into a tiny space, sweaty bodies close enough to spill each other’s drinks with one wrong step. No one minds, though. They’re too interested in what’s moving them: the songs of The Names.
“When I close my eyes and listen to them, I feel like I’m in That Thing You Do,” shouts Shannon Ross, over the song “Poodlehead,” written for a friend whose long curly hair is poodle-like.
Their sound is from another era. Loud, light-hearted and upbeat, it’s enough to move even non-dancers to tapping feet and bobbing their heads to the beat.
This band of five young men aspires to rising way beyond Tsunami, where three of the five work as waiters.
“In the next 10 years, if some kid gets his first guitar and starts playing in a band, if we have some sort of influence in how he ends up playing, that’s huge,” says guitarist and lead singer Harrison Cofer. “It has to be bigger than our band.”
“We want to be the greatest rock and roll band in the world,” says guitarist Kit Whitacre.
A Plan for Stardom
You can dance to The Names, but it takes a lot more for a band to make it big.
The Names have a plan.
First, they’re returning to the roots that gave rise to the 20th century’s rock and roll greats: on the blues sides, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Sam Cooke; on the rock side, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis; from the British synthesis, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and The Kinks.
Imitation of those greats, however, is not part of the plan.
“We listen to those bands, but when we write the songs, we try to think about what those bands were listening to in order to get their sound,” says The Names’ drummer Matt Rose, who with Cofer writes the band’s songs. “We’re trying to go back to the beginning, to the merger of different kinds of American music that melted together into rock and roll.”
The retro, rhythmic-based rock-and-soul merger of The Names appeals to a wide range of ages, from kids to the seniors who grew up with first generation rock and roll.
With a Little Help
Second, The Names have Evans and his partner Gary Hirstius as mentors with experience to guide their raw talent.
“They have youth, which I don’t,” says Evans. “So Gary and I gave them an environment to play in.”
When Evans met Cofer at 49 West, the as yet unnamed Names began.
“When I saw Cofer,” Evans says, “a light went off in my head.” He claims he saw stardom in the making. “I asked him, do you want to be in a rock band?”
Cofer chose his own hero to join him in making The Names.
Only music had made Cofer’s long-distance move to The Key School endurable.
“I was heartbroken about leaving my old band Pumpkin Meat, because I was convinced that it was going to take over the world,” Cofer recounts. “So I see these guys playing, and I’m like, one day I will play with them.”
One of those guys was Matt Rose, who became the second member of the unnamed Names.
Rose, Whitacre and Sam Wetterau, the bassist, are all Annapolitans. Keyboard player John Countryman, the band’s newest member and “missing puzzle piece” moved to Annapolis from North Carolina.
Evans’ backyard garage houses the band’s self-made sound studio. He and his wife have all but adopted the musicians.
“Charlie basically whooped us into shape,” says Rose of Evans’ management. “If something didn’t sound good, he was there to push us, to say, that was good but you can do better.”
Willing to Sing
The third element of the plan is dedication.
Most of The Names started playing instruments — viola, piano, cello — very young. Each has added more instruments, often by teaching themselves. As their musical talents matured, all came to share a common interest: rock and roll.
The band practices 20 to 60 hours each week, dividing their time between Evans’ studio and the garage of the home in West Annapolis where Cofer, Rose, Wetterau and Whitacre live together, with an assortment of pets including a rabbit, cat, fish and the occasional dog.
“The neighbors love us,” says Rose. “They’ll actually come over and watch us practice, have a beer. Their kids call us The Band.”
Fourth is versatility.
Every member sings — even the drummer.
“You don’t have to be able to sing when you join the band, but you have to be willing to do it,” says Cofer, who started his stage career at the age of six at the Grand Opera in his hometown Houston, Texas. For his work as a powder monkey or gunner’s assistant, he eared $10 a performance. Today that’s about the price for cover into one of The Names’ shows.
In addition, they’ve got experience playing all about from warehouses to graduation parties to high school gyms. Wherever the call, The Names are willing to give it their best shot.
Their music is spread up and down the East Coast. They’ve played as far south as Raleigh, North Carolina; as far north as Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In May, the band recorded and released its first 12-song record.
Sweating out the Spotlight
Tsunami’s sauna-like temperatures send everyone outside when the band takes a break. The players themselves are soaked in sweat, not only from the enthusiasm they’re putting in to every chord and word, but also because they are clad in full suits.
“We always look sharp, dress nice,” says Rose. “It’s work for us so we show up dressed appropriately, shaved, clean.”
It’s work they love.
“When you go up there, it’s a rush. There’s no substitute. You’ve got all eyes on you,” says Wetterau. “The reason you get into it is because you’ve got music you want to play for people.”
The Names next perform at Federal House Sunday, August 29. Learn more at www.myspace.com/thenamesplayloud