It takes nature thousands of years to make a brilliant green emerald. It only took Sammy Wulfeck, Brian Kitzmiller, Peter Underhill and Ric Hickey a matter of days to make The Emeralds. And from the start, they were brilliant in spite of being green.
“It was really just to get together and rock out,” says Wulfeck over lunch at Amol in Clifton. “The chemistry was there immediately. We jumped into a couple of covers we talked about trying, played them twice and nailed them.” The Emeralds shimmered into shape when Kitzmiller’s previous band, The Trojan Rabbit, imploded on the eve of an already booked East Coast tour. Kitzmiller contacted Wulfeck, his former bandmate in The Stapletons, about getting together to jam back in April. Wulfeck brought Hickey into the session, Kitzmiller brought former bandmate Underhill, and the chemistry among the quartet was instantaneous. When the quartet reconvened in June after Hickey’s recovery from sinus surgery, the foursome entertained a crazy thought.
“We were on the patio at Boswell’s (bar in Northside) and Brian was like, ‘Trojan Rabbit was supposed to do this tour and we just broke up … you guys want to do it?’ ” says Hickey. “And we were all like, ‘Yeah!’ That day was the kick start.”
“It got productive from there on out,” says Kitzmiller. With the quickly christened Emeralds seriously writing, practicing and booking tune-up gigs in early August, mere days before departing for the East Coast, the band naturally began recording in order to have something to distribute during the tour. The result was the appropriately titled An Alarming Rate of Speed, a five-song EP that showcases the quartet’s considerable strengths, from the sophisticated sleaze of Hickey and Underhill’s Glam/Pop/Blues guitar interplay to Wulfeck’s strong and dusky vocals and melodic bass lines to Kitzmiller’s slippery backbeat.
“The first two hours we were kind of uptight but at some point we started playing and it was ‘boom, boom boom,’ ” says Wulfeck about the Speed session. “We said, ‘We’re gonna do this in a day and that’s it.’ It’s not the easiest thing to do, but sure enough, come 11:30, we were like, ‘Okay, we’re done. Let’s mix it.’ ” Against long odds, The Emeralds loaded their gear into a borrowed RV and set off for the three-week East Coast jaunt with Italian Pop/Rock band Moldig in tow.
Although the group maintained pretty tight quarters for the duration of the circuit (which included an appearance on XM Radio’s Ron and Fez Show), their camaraderie never waned and the tour was a howling success by every standard. The band recorded their show in Brooklyn and will have CDs of it when they play the MidPoint Music Festival this weekend.
“Someone threw gas on the fire that night,” says Hickey of the Brooklyn gig. “The last song of the set is not on the CD. It was a complete abomination. I have friends in Brooklyn and we all got really drunk. Nine of our 10 songs were like Cheap Trick at the top of their game. That last song was like The Replacements on a bad night.”
Given The Emeralds’ individual pedigrees, it’s not surprising that the band’s orientation time has been almost non-existent. Hickey is a longtime scene vet with numerous solo and band projects (The Speed Hickeys, Telegram Sam, The Loose Wrecks) to his credit; Wulfeck played with The Stapletons and is still a member of Goose; Kitzmiller got his chops with Ray’s Music Exchange and The Trojan Rabbit; and Underhill has seen action with Trojan Rabbit and Foxy McCoy.
“I haven’t been in band love like this for a long time,” says Hickey with a laugh. “Peter said, ‘I’ve never been in band love. This is great!’ The songwriting chemistry is really distinctive, too.” “We’re all on the same page, we all want the same things,” says Wulfeck. “We went after it and we’re getting things done. And we’re having fun.” Equally unsurprising is the fact that The Emeralds are already looking ahead to their first full-length recording, which they hope to record early next year.
To find a similarly gifted local outfit with The Emeralds’ natural talents and unforced, smartass exuberance, you’d have to name-check The Raisins. Can huge things be too far behind for the boys in green? “We’ve got a lot of options,” says Kitzmiller. “MidPoint and through to Christmas, and then there’s talk of going to Austin in March and then talk of going to Italy. After Hours — the band from Italy that Greg Dulli produced — are touring with the Gutter Twins and they’re coming in November and they offered us a show. Before that they offered us two to three nights in Italy next fall. So maybe we’ll have a fundraiser.”
THE EMERALDS (myspace.com/theemeraldsusa) play the MidPoint Music Festival Friday at Arnold’s at 10 p.m.