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NICE GUY. NICE MUSIC.

By: Emmy Boyce

It's not often that a person meets someone as nice as Alan Schaefer. A lot of people are nice, but this guy is the kind that makes you walk away saying, "Man, he is so nice!" His niceness is real, and that carries through into the music of his band Five Star Iris. The music and the lyrics are real, and nothing about it can bring you down.

Schaefer seems to want to lift people up as well as engage them to look inside, something that is evident on the track "Anyway". He says, "Personal accountability is such a rare commodity these days because it's easier to blame Hollywood or the government for your problems instead of looking in the mirror." The track was co-written by longtime friend Ed Roland, (Collective Soul) as well as the track "All I Am".

The album, self-titled "Five Star Iris", is host to 12 tracks in all, and goes down like a smooth coffee and cream. Even before its release on October 3rd, 2006, tracks from the album were getting international acclaim. A lot is happening for Five Star Iris, and lead singer Alan Schaefer has a lot to say about it.
 

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Alternative Addiction: You've got a lot going on with this band with all of the awards, international recognition, playing across the world, etc. Has this all happened fast for you, and are you overwhelmed?

Alan Schaefer: It has not happened fast. I haven't been overwhelmed. It's weird. Everything is happening so organically, and so naturally. It just feels really good. It's just like any other band, or business, or anything, where there's plenty of breaks that we don't get, but there seems to be so many that we are getting that it just seems like, okay, this is what's supposed to be happening. The weird thing is one of the most significant breaks we've gotten is Best Buy is just massively behind our new record. This was a result of us playing - we played this thing called the NARM conference, which is the National Association of Recording Merchandisers - and it's the entire retail and distribution side of the music business. Through Sonicbids - have you heard of that?

AA: I've heard of Sonicbids.

AS: Sonicbids is this website where they list all of these opportunities for bands and you submit and they get forwarded to the people that have requested bands for certain events, or whatever. There was a thing to play NARM and we submitted and they picked one band and it was us. We went down to Orlando, and actually, the night we played, we played with Jurassic 5 and Powerman 5000, which was really cool. We hooked up with someone from Best Buy down there who, funny enough, didn't really see the show, but I just gave a copy of the record to, and they just flipped out. Next thing I know we are now, our record, October 3rd, will be in stores from Cincinnati to south Florida. It's more of a regional thing, but they're really, really getting behind the record. It is profound. But the thing is, it's like something so huge as that happens and we're not really the kind of folks that sit around and say, hey, let's pat ourselves on the back. It's like, okay, on to the next thing, what's next, what else can we make happen. But it's really cool. It blew me away. This guy from Best Buy calls me and says, "Do you know what you're sitting on here?" I'm like, "What are you talking about, man?" He feels like this is one of the 10 best records made this year. That just cheers me up to hear someone like that say something like that about our music. I know it's just very subjective and everyone has an opinion, but we seem to be getting sort of a new level. Like, we've always had a lot of supporters and champions of the band, but now, sort of, the level of champions in terms of how much they can help move it forward seems to be growing pretty quickly.

AA: What's your own opinion when you're writing? Do you sit there and think, "Oh, god. I hope that people like this." Or do you sit there and think, "Of course they're going to like it."?

AS: You know, I don't really think at all about whether anybody's going to like it. Although, I can tell you as a songwriter when I write something I write it because it has to be written. If that makes sense. It has to come out in one shape or form. I will say this - I usually can recognize if there's something really - and I don't want to say that I don't feel all my songs are special in some way, shape, or form - but sometimes you write something and you just go, "Wow. Damn, I think this is pretty cool." So, I don't even think in terms of is someone going to like it. Actually, the first thing I think about is is this a song for Five Star Iris, or is this a song for somebody else. I've been doing a lot of writing with other people and doing a lot of writing outside of the band as well. As a matter of fact, it's kind of crazy, I wrote a song for a 15-year-old pop artist on Puff Daddy's label that's coming out next year. No one would ever listen to what I do and then hear that and then go, "Oh, yes. Alan wrote that." I just sit down to write and if I think it's good I pursue it. You know what's weird, and not to be so long-winded about it, I think I know that if I finish a song people are going to like it. For no other reason than I'm such a hard, hard critic on my songs in terms of if it's not something that's really, really, really compelling and interesting and special to me in some way I won't even finish it. As opposed to there are some people that will write five songs a week, or they'll write 40 songs for a record of 10 or 11, I'm really not that kind of writer. I'm much less of a quantity and more like being picky and taking my time and making sure that each song that I write is worthy of consideration.

AA: There was a point in time that I thought I wanted to write songs - and I did - but I was so horrible at it that I never finished any of them. So, we just won't talk about that.

AS: I'm sure they were much better than you're giving them credit for.

AA: I don't know. In my head they are, but they never come out the way I'm hearing them in my head. So, I gave up on that.

AS: It's something that you should revisit.

AA: Perhaps. Perhaps. What were you doing in life before growing this career that you have now?

AS: We had this band, Another Man Down. After Another Man Down I was trying to figure out what was going to happen, what I was going to do. What I realized was I had to get better at the songwriting thing, so I started going to Nashville. I kept going, and I got taken under the wing of some pretty established songwriters who kind of showed me the ropes, so to speak. My whole thing was I was really kind of on this quest just to become a better songwriter. That's really what I was doing before Five Star Iris. I'd been in all these different bands. They'd been close, and had maybe moderate to light success, depending on who you ask and how people view things. I just thought, okay well, there's something that I'm not doing, and there must be some other approach that we can take, or that I can take with what I'm trying to do with my career, or our career. So, it was really just this big, huge science project, like, a lot of research. I was kind of teaching guitar and working on my songwriting and that kind of stuff.

AA: Have you come across any crazed fans thus far in your career?

AS: Crazed fans. Well, in terms of Five Star Iris, or just in general, yeah, I have come across some crazed fans. I remember in a previous band someone showing up drunk at my hotel room telling me that we were going to be married. I don't know, does that count as crazed?

AA: I think so, I've got to say.

AS: Yeah. For the most part everybody's pretty cool. We're a friendly bunch. It's funny, now we don't have crazed. Now we have very enthused fans, which is really awesome. We played in Auburn, Alabama, last night and there was somebody who drove six hours from Florida to see us. Now, some people would call them crazy, I call that incredible.

AA: I always wonder when people do that - drive all those miles to see a band - and the band knows it, I've always wondered, "Do they think that fan is obsessed, or do they really appreciate the fact that they did that?"

AS: I think it might be just a little bit of both. I think first and foremost, unless you're just an asshole, how, as a band, can you not appreciate somebody that's willing to spend their time and their money, but more importantly their time, to drive to see you? Or just to come see you at all? That's a very humbling thing. It amazes me every time. Every time we get up to play I'm like, "Man, is anyone going to show up?" And they always do. It just blows me away. There's times when I'm on stage and I just look at the crowd, and I just get this look of amazement and wonder in my eyes. People think I'm freaking out. It's like, I can't believe you people just keep coming out. It's awesome. There are some people that are definitely obsessive about not just bands, but things in general. I think if you put all your efforts and energy in just one thing I don't think that can be the healthiest thing in the world. At the end of the day, who are we to judge? As a band or as people, I guess it's not really our place to kind of judge and say that's sane, not sane, cool, not cool, crazy. Everybody has what they're into. I'm sure there are things that I do that people would say, "I can't believe he does that."

AA: Me, too. Your song "Let It All Out" won the 2005 United Kingdom Songwriting Contest. How did coming across the contest and submitting your song come about?

AS: That's another thing that I found out through Sonicbids. I sound like a Sonicbids infomercial. The song has a bit of a Brit thing to it, like some of the guitar sounds and things. I thought, you know, I think this song would do well. I always thought that song was a song that would do well in Europe in general. So, I entered it, and much to my surprise it won. It pretty much flipped me out. I couldn't believe it, actually. It's cool because it certainly legitimized to some folks as a songwriter, but it's just another cool thing for the story. Winning a contest doesn't matter so much as in people's minds it legitimizes you. I'm not so sure that it should take a contest to make people say, oh yeah, that guy can write a good song, but that's just the way it works.

AA: Did you just win and that's it, or do you actually win something?

AS: There wasn't a cash prize, or anything, but there was kind of a package of prizes. They hooked me up with a publisher, but I didn't do a deal with the publisher. I got some songwriting software. Not so much some sort of glorious prize, so to say.

AA: You wrote a couple of tracks on the album with Ed Roland of Collective Soul, and you knew I was going to ask about this.

AS: Of course. As a matter of fact, I knew that was your next question.

AA: One of them is "Anyway". What's the other track?

AS: "All I Am", which was on our EP, and then we recorded it because our producer was just very much in love with that song and felt like we didn't do it justice the first time around.

AA: How does writing with Ed change the dynamic of the songwriting process?

AS: Well, its interesting in that we wrote two songs together with very different processes. "All I Am" was started on a boat in the Caribbean. Ed was sitting around with a guitar and played a thing that he had been working on. That "thing" was what would become the chorus of "All I Am". After our trip I started working on the song on my own and wrote the rest of the song around what he had already started. When I finished it I played it for him and he was into it which was cool. The song "Anyway" was different in that we were hanging out in Arizona and I had just come in from outside when I picked up a guitar and strummed a few chords while I sang the words "it's such a shame the way we blame everything on hollywood". Ed kind of flipped out on that and we started working on it. At one point it looked like the song was going to be on the last Collective Soul record. When it didn't make the record I asked if he would mind if I put it on our record and of course he was into it. I do have to say it's very validating and flattering to have a writer as accomplished as Ed into your writing. He was the first person years ago to really encourage me to improve my songwriting.

AA: The album was also produced by Sylvia Massy-Shivy. It seems it's not often that you hear of women producing albums. Was it any different working with a woman?

AS: Right. Yes. It was really cool. Especially from a vocal perspective because when we were doing the vocals it was cool to have a woman making comments. I'd sing something down and she'd say, "Oooh, yeah! That was sexy!" You wouldn't hear that from a guy producer. She's very accomplished. The record she's most known for, she produced "Undertow" by Tool. It was Sylvia Massy-Shivy, and actually a guy named Rich Veltrop. They actually co-produced it. It was very much a really, really cool process. We recorded it out in Weed, California, which just seems to be a funny name for a place for a band to do a record. It was really cool. It was a really amazing experience, and as we were recording it we felt like we were doing something really special while we were there. I think that vibe and that feeling we were lucky enough to get on tape.

AA: What's it like playing to international audiences versus homeland audiences? Is the reception you get different?

AS: Here I think they take it for granted. They take bands for granted because there's a zillion bands and somebody's coming through and playing every five seconds, whereas, internationally speaking, especially being an American band, depending on where you're playing, especially if it's a place that's a little bit more remote, they're genuinely, genuinely appreciative of you being there in a completely different way. That was really cool.

AA: Does the music market itself being different, do you think that that has any sway on how they feel about your music?

AS: Internationally?

AA: Yeah.

AS: I think especially in Europe, overseas, political views aside, I think the rest of the world looks at America as the birthplace of rock & roll. I think being an American rock band actually yields a certain advantage, and there's a certain openness. I think, though, that in Europe in general, there are very strong pockets and followings of what they call, basically, the new version of classic rock. People are pretty fanatical about it. I think I've heard it called new breed. I've heard it called all kinds of things. I don't know the market enough in terms of what really is popular there, and on the charts and all that. It is interesting that you mention bands like Oasis and stuff because you're right. That's really the exception and not the norm, is it? But over here I think we have a different view of what's popular there just like they have a different view of what's popular here.

AA: In your song "Anyway" you talk about people blaming Hollywood and the government for their problems. Do you think that people also look to Hollywood to help them form their opinions?

AS: I don't think they consciously look to Hollywood to help form their opinions. I think it's something that just happens. I think that's a real dangerous idea. I don't know if people just are lazy about thinking and really thinking about how they are. It's weird. This record is very much at times about the subject of accountability. It's astounding the excuses that people make on a number of levels for so many things. When someone goes into a post office and blows a bunch of people away because they saw it in a movie, I don't think that you can really sit there and say it's Hollywood's fault. On the flip side of it all, I do think that Hollywood should have a least a bit of responsibility. I think there's a lot more good that could be presented. I don't think people realize. I don't think people consciously look to Hollywood to form their social and moral opinions, but I think it happens. I really do think that's out of laziness.

AA: I think that somewhere along the lines, I guess I agree that it's not a conscious thing that people do, but yet somewhere along the lines I think that there was just this shift and it just started to happen and now it's like the norm.

AS: Oh, yeah. And you know, the thing is with the internet, and media is just a completely different thing now. You have to really work hard to try and get really informed about what's going on in the world. Depending on what channel you watch, or what news station, everybody has their own agenda. This news network is owned by so-and-so that's a conservative, so they show things a certain way, and then this one's more liberal, and they show things a certain way. I think the best thing anyone can do is make an effort to be informed about all the things that are going on and then you've got to make an informed decision. There's a line in the song that says, "Why do we live in the drama? It's all make believe." I mean, Hollywood is not real. What we watch is not real. It's a dangerous idea for people to be forming their opinions about what life is, what life should be, based on what a bunch of guys and girls sitting in a room as writers writing scripts are thinking is going to sell and be entertaining. If you really think about it in those terms, it's crazy. But you know what? It's entertainment. It's like someone who watches wrestling. There are those, I guess, people who genuinely get angry at this wrestler for doing this to this wrestler and if they saw them on the street they'd want to go up and get in their face and curse them out for the wrestling thing they saw on TV because they don't have the firmest grip on reality. It's just entertainment. It's there to entertain us. There's some stuff that's there to make us think about things and there's surely a message, and that's great. I think it's a copout, and I think that people don't like to see the flaws in themselves and that's why they blame others. It's very, very easy to point your finger at someone else instead of yourself.

AA: That's true, too. I think a big part of it is that, say, maybe over the last decade more actors and musicians are using their career as a vehicle to promote their political stance. People like Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon come to mind, and Dave Matthews and Dave Grohl. They're very vocal people. I feel like in about the last decade celebrities are using their celebrity to speak up about what they think about the issues, and I think that that has just really swept through and is a huge contributor to why people are looking to Hollywood for answers.

AS: Do you think it's gotten of hand?

AA: I don't think that their sharing of their opinions has gotten out of hand, but I do think that how much stock the general public puts into what a celebrity says has gotten out of hand. At the end of the day, you're just another person, so why would I care what Susan Sarandon says more than I care about what someone who actually does what she's complaining about says?

AS: Eeeeexactly. And you know what? I have to be very, very clear. I have no desire as Five Star Iris, as our career moves, I have no aspirations whatsoever about putting my political views or the band's political views in the world or anything. If there's anything I hope to make people think about is on an everyday personal perspective how are we treating each other? That's it. Not from a political sense, and we should be here, and we should be in this war, and not this. Just as human beings we've got to start having some degree of accountability for what we're doing, and we need to be more mindful of what we're doing to each other. Just on an every day perspective. Not in terms of any sort of social policy. It's crazy. All you've got to do is hop on a highway in any major city and watch the anger and rage on people's faces. It's really, really frightening. It's amazing. I had a woman, this old lady, flip me off because I didn't run a yellow light. She was banging on her steering wheel and she shot me the bird. And I got out of the car [laughs].

AA: You did!

AS: I got out of the car, and I pointed my finger at her. I was like, what is your problem. WHAT is your problem? I would never harm anybody, but I thought to myself, this woman's crazy because there are people that are really nuts that if you do that to them are going to get a gun and shoot you. I'm thinking to myself, how did this person get to the place where they're so upset, so upset, that they want to tell me to fuck off because I didn't put myself in danger so they could make it through a light. It's one of many examples. It's bizarre.

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The album, "Five Star Iris", was released October 3rd, and by visiting the band's official website at http://www.fivestariris.com you can find where you purchase it in your area. You can also find out when FSI will be playing your area. Several tour dates into 2007 are already booked. Of course selected tracks are available at http://www.myspace.com/fivestariris for your listening pleasure!

 

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Special thanks: Alan Schaefer

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