If the music scene were a Chinese restaurant and all the bands were entree specials, Nate Can't Drive would be "Sizzling Happy Family"--not because they sound like the Partridges on a Caribbean reunion tour, but because their name is a sort of anecdotal Haiku that hints at something tasty and mysteriously satisfying.
The name comes from a comic tragedy that occurred last year while the band was trying to record their first CD. Guitarist Steve Cinti wrecked the van that was carrying all of their amps, instruments and hopes of making an album. But lead singer and guitarist Tom Howard says the crash not only served to make them more determined but also helped them finally choose a band name. Apparently, the off-again on-again rock group has had at least 12 different names since they got together three years ago including: American Spyplane, Moses Watkins, Third String and The Tommymonsters. Nate Can't Drive was "the only one none of us hated," Howard explained, adding that it stands as a monument to Nate Schneider, the original drummer and a notoriously bad driver who has since been succeeded by Roy Shryne.
While the band is not lead by any particular member, Howard introduced everyone and helped keep things going over the years.
"I met Steve working at Video Eye five or six years ago while he was playing for an '80s metal band--fingerless gloves, torn shirt, the whole works. Our current drummer (Shryne) played third string football with me in junior high. We really sucked, we were the littlest lightweights," Howard said of two of his band-mates. His personal history as a musician involves seeing Pearl Jam on MTV Unplugged, buying a slightly burned guitar at Dorsey's fire sale and teaching himself the basics before taking lessons in blues. "I remember seeing that performance and feeling the urge to do it. I had never been moved that way by music, and I knew I had to play something," he said.
When Howard was confident enough to face a crowd, he agreed to fill in for the bassist of Where She Was Hiding, an ensemble that featured both Cinti and Schneider. Their first group effort was at the Barq's Root Beer National Garage Band Festival in McCall, and despite some shaky nerves and a name-change five minutes before the concert (to the Tommymonsters), they snagged third place. This encouraged a second performance at the Time Zone Youth Center, and Howard can still taste the badness.
"We were so bad ... people were trash talking during the show," he said. "Now we actually ask them to boo us, and we talk up other bands before they come on stage. We like people to stay for the whole thing."
Since then, Howard, Cinti, Shryne and bassist Lance Stewart have been working days and playing nights, but not always together. Howard moved to Eugene to pursue a degree at Gutenberg College, and Cinti moved to Los Angeles to attend the Musician's Institute. Both returned to Boise last year, and the band picked up where it left off--in need of practice but with plenty of collective creativity, musical complexity and a killer sense of humor.
The sound they have developed together is an almost genre-less mix of fluid rock, unpredictable rhythms and total balance. Watching them live, you don't really focus on a single element--drums, bass, guitar and vocals are laced with equal skill and energy (not to mention volume), celebrating the delicate anatomy of a song rather than individual talent. Howard's voice is pleasingly throaty (or as he says: "like a husky guy trying to sing Queen") and influenced by vocalists from Poor Old Lou, Guster, Blind Melon and (jokingly) Barry White. Cinti's fingers are fast and graceful on his guitar, Stewart is every inch the subtle powerhouse with his strokes on the electric bass and Shryne is the kind of drummer who never leaves you without a solid beat.
"I usually get kind of nervous up there, but once you get into it it's pretty fun," Shryne said, adding that he has never thrown his drumsticks at the crowd--at least not on purpose. Having come on board in the adolescence of Nate Can't Drive, Shryne is perhaps the most objective in regard to their improvement and chances of making it as a full-time band.
"We definitely have the potential. Right now, our biggest obstacle is schedules. Everyone works," he said. "A lot of us would like to spend time practicing and writing, so we'll just have to put the time in and see what comes out."
Time will tell, and though the members of Nate Can't Drive may not be exactly where they want to be in the scheme of things, they sound pretty sweet for a group of young musicians who have to fight for practice time, respect and, above all, a name that sticks.