Band preserves some favorites for the stage
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Staff Writer
Save Ferris, that is.
In 1986, it was a rallying cry for the hooky-playing hero of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." In 1995, it was a phrase scrawled across a desk in one of guitarist Brian Mashburn's Cal-State-Fullerton classes while in search of a name for his new ska pop band. And coincidentally, that was about the time when the Orange County, Calif.-based band found a lead singer/business manager in vocal dynamo Monique Powell.
"They were really nice guys," said Powell recently, from her Los Angeles home. "And they needed some help. The deal was that I would manage the band until we got a manager. So I did that, and I got us some shows, and I got us financing from our families and friends for an EP."
A few months later, the band had both its own seven song EP ("Introducing Save Ferris") and its own independent label to release it on (Starpool Records). The band also began playing in just about any spot that would have them in addition to clubs and bars, the occasional amusement park. Epic Records came calling in 1996, not long after "Introducing" managed an impressive 15,000 in sales.
"To be honest, signing onto a record label was a little bit uncomfortable for all of us," remembered Powell. "We already had our own label and were doing what we wanted. What we really needed was the financing and to be able to start to tour. And that's what we got. We didn't stop for two years."
The band's major-label debut, 1997's "It Means Everything," sold more than 375,000 copies, spinning off an alternative radio hit with a remake of the Dexy's Midnight Runners pub crawler "Come On Eileen." Save Ferris's touring schedule also included a couple of Hawai'i concert stops, most notably for 1997's Big Mele.
Released in 1999, the band's second album, "Modified," featured a rather abrupt shift from the horn-heavy ska pop sound the band was known for to a more distinctly pop beat. But arriving at a time when the popular buzz surrounding Lilith Fair's sisterly good will and female rockers in general was abating to the testosterone-fueled musings of Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock, "Modified" was less than a best seller.
"'Modified' came out at a time when it was really difficult for women to have careers in the alternative (music) industry," Powell said. "I feel like we're still paying a lot for what happened at that time. For lots of female-fronted bands and female musicians ... we just stopped getting played on the radio."
Despite a steady touring schedule and appearances on film ("10 Things I Hate About You"), television ("Roswell") and soundtracks ("Scary Movie"), Save Ferris was dropped from Epic in early 2001.
The band is working on songs and shopping labels for a new CD it hopes to release this summer. Powell said the CD would follow the light-on-ska, pop punk model of "Modified" a logical step, as the band permanently let go trombonist T-Bone Willy and trumpeter Jose Castellanos last year.
In addition to Powell and Mashburn, Save Ferris' current lineup includes bassist Bill Uechi, drummer Evan Kilbourne and guitarist/saxophonist Eric Zamora. Powell said that while the band still digs deeply into its old Save Ferris ska vault on stage, the band was slowly phasing it out.
"There's still a lot of old songs too, but we're going to have to see if we're going to still close every show with 'Come On Eileen,' ya know?" Powell said. "We still love (the ska) scene, but it was just years and years ago and we've kind of moved past that. I don't think the fans are going to be disappointed because it's still the same old Save Ferris." Pause. "We just dress better."