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Under the Influence of Giants  

"Once there was a way to get back homewards…"

Aaron Bruno: vocals/lyrics Jamin Wilcox: drummer, keyboards Drew Stewart: guitars David Amezcua: bass

"Once there was a way to get back homewards…"

It was 40 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. That Beatles classic was one of the first two albums Jamin Wilcox bought as a 12-year-old, along with a record by Pantera. Aaron Bruno's initial CD purchases were Iron Maiden's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and Run-DMC's Raising Hell. Drew Stewart says their band's music is a combination of rock energy tempered with pop sensibility, harmonies and a hefty dose of groove-based funk. Drew Stewart's mom was a singer who taught her son to love melody even if he had to go through his punk phase before learning to once again appreciate the joys of pop music.

When you call your band Under the Influence of Giants, you're expected to somehow be the sum of your roots, but this L.A. outfit defies easy categorization. As their self-titled debut Island Records album bears out, the Giants' funk-inflected, hook-saturated pop-soul is a combination of the Talking Heads' African poly-rhythmic groove ("Ah-ha," "Got Nuthin'"), the ethereal falsettos of Michael Jackson and Prince ("Mama's Room"), the blue-eyed R&B of Hall & Oates and George Michael ("In the Clouds"), the insinuating melodic pop of Rubber Soul ("Stay Illogical"), Earth, Wind & Fire's horn-driven, noirish funk ("Against All Odds"), McCartney's winsome balladry ("Lay Me Down") and even the throbbing beat of post-hip-hop by way of Madonna ("Meaningless Love").

"We were really lucky to have cool parents who pointed us in the right direction," says Aaron, who has been writing music together with Drew since they were teenagers. When Jamin, whose father is drummer Willie Wilcox of Hall and Oates and Utopia renown, joined two years ago, Under the Influence of Giants was born.

"I noticed something when I first met them and listened to their record," says Jamin. "They had this capability I wanted accentuated in any band I was in."

"Jamin was just the right fit for what Drew and I were doing. Our individual talents just complemented one another perfectly," says Aaron. "When we started writing, we felt it could either be completely groundbreaking and monumental, or it would be horrible… definitely an extremity, though, one way or another."

Aaron, Drew and Jamin had all been in bands signed to major labels, so they knew what they didn't want when they got together and worked on songs without a recording deal, then proceeded to build a local following through the Internet and playing live.

"We learned how the labels run, what should be happening and when," explains Drew. "Now we know the red flags to look out for …"

"The great thing is, we'd already started to create a scene of our own, which attracted the interest of the majors," says Aaron.

The band set up their own page on MySpace, and ended up compiling an extensive friends list that continues to grow. "When we weren't signed, that's all we had," says Aaron. "It was the only way we could get people to come to our shows." "It's just a great way to talk directly to your fans and people who care what you're all about," nods Dave, who joined the band eight months ago to complete the current line-up.

The group recorded a five-song EP, featuring "Mama's Room," distributing it at their shows and on-line. Most of that release survived intact on the band's debut album, both of which were produced by former Blind Melon members Brad Smith and Christopher Thorne.

"They're like the fifth member of our band," says Aaron of Smith and Thorne. "They're our best friends and our older brothers. They come down on us if we're fucking around. But we've learned so much from their experiences, what they've shared with us. They were in bands and know what it's like to tour, to have your hopes fulfilled, then broken. It's a great thing because they keep us in line as far as the overall plan."

Under the Influence of Giants is an unlikely album for a group of twenty-somethings who aren't afraid to cite Olivia Newton-John's "Let's Get Physical" and Bob James' Heads album as inspirations.

"A lot of the lyrics are about the experiences we went through getting to this point," says Aaron. "Especially finding the right sound, the right aural space…"

He explains that "Mama's Room," which talks of seducing someone in your mother's bed, is "about the feeling you get when you do something you're not supposed to be doing."

That could well be a description of the madness behind the musical method of Under the Influence of Giants.

"The album is a musical journey of many influences from different bands," adds Jamin. "We're like a mousetrap ready to snap shut on the unsuspecting listener."

It's a trip that comes full circle with the torch of pop's not-so-guilty pleasures being passed to a new generation of music junkies and true believers.

"If you cross me/I promise you'll see," sings Aaron in "Ah-ha." Under the Influence of Giants will open your eyes and ears to the past, present and future of pop music.


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