John Balicanta, Lola Ray's singer and guitarist, just received a FedEx package containing the final cut of his band's very first video, "Automatic Girl." He's beaming. "We just watched it and cried. I wasn't expecting much, but it fits the song. It's pretty exciting."
It's been like that lately for Balicanta and his three bandmates. Last August, Lola Ray was just another group of guys from the O.C. struggling as out-of-towners in New York City, working crummy jobs during the day, playing below-minimum-wage gigs at night, and shopping their demo. Then, while tagging along with RCA A&R Vice President Peter Robinson (a friend of a friend), Balicanta met Good Charlotte's Benji Madden. "And I just happened to have a bag of [Lola Ray] CDs with me," he says.
Madden asked for one, listened to it, and loved it. "He called from Japan," Balicanta says. "We chatted, had a couple meetings about it, went out for sushi, and he signed us. It was one of those weird things you hear about in movies."
Not so surprisingly, Lola Ray's debut album, I Don't Know You (on Good Charlotte's DC Flag Records, which is distributed by Sony), skirts the line between punk and pop, just as Good Charlotte does. It also offers slabs of guitar rock that build upon the seemingly simple layers of Balicanta's songs. Thankfully, there's not much angst here; the 10 tracks are about girls and growing up.
Still, there has been some agita along the way. There are parts of I Don't Know You that sound too polished and clean, even to Balicanta. "It's frustrating," he sighs. "A lot of times, it sounds like someone's sitting behind a computer, recording everything. It doesn't have that organic feel that we have when we play live. I wish we could go back and record all the songs over. It just sounds a little too good. We're naturally rougher than that."
Balicanta, 23, and Lola Ray's bassist (James McIvor) and guitarist (Brian Spina) went to a parochial high school in the well-to-do California community of San Juan Capistrano. Balicanta, who's Asian, found himself inadvertently serving as a poster boy of sorts for the predominantly white school. "I was, like, the 'brown kid' at school," he explains. "I was on the cover of their magazine as their token Asian. Me and the only black kid at school were used: 'Hey! We have diversity! That's cool!'
"But I never wished I was white or anything like that. But all my friends were white, and all the Asian kids in the area were into different things like hip-hop and stuff. I was into rock and roll and metal."
And while many of his former classmates have since taken jobs in their fathers' firms or climbed similar rungs on the corporate ladder, Balicanta (who attended New York University) says that was never an option. "I lived in a two-story house, and I was still the poorest kid in school," he laughs. "I have a long-distance father, and there wasn't a company for me to take over. Besides, I wanted to do music for so long, I wouldn't follow in my dad's footsteps even if I could."
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