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Tucson Weekly Freaks Of The Week

Atlanta's Marvelous 3 Are On Top Of The Alternative Radio Dog Pile, But What Next?

By Brendan Doherty

MARCH 29, 1999:  THE FAKE DRUMS lead right into the rolling bass line of "Freak of the Week," and for the band Marvelous 3, the song has become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. It's propelled the Atlanta-based trio straight onto the Billboard charts and radio-play formats for Edge stations everywhere, making the band famous in just a short few months. It's a position in which the Marvelous 3 hope to stay for a while.

"This is no Cinderella story," says Butch Walker, the trio's singer, guitarist and primary songwriter. "We've known each other since we were kids, growing up in a suburb of Atlanta. We've passed through a lot of bands together, and we've been touring 250 dates a year for five or six years. When that's all you do, every birthday becomes a road story, every relationship becomes a road story, and every pair of pants ripped in the crotch onstage becomes a road story. I don't want to come off the road until I can't rock anymore."

That should take a while. Their breakout album, Hey! Album looks like it could contain any number of genres in its plastic jewel case. These tattoo-covered lads could be mistaken at first glance for a Mötley Crüe cover band, or Trent Reznor's backing band gone solo, but spin the record, and it's filled with the raucous songs that might have come from a harder-thinking Romantics or a harder-drinking Cheap Trick. But pop fans do a double take, and metal fans may find themselves fooled.

"I was sick of all the insecure, apathetic attitude that showered the '90s," says Walker. "I just missed that whole boat. I actually still like my mom and dad; I graduated with a B average in school. Nothing makes me want to crawl into a corner and lash out at everybody."

But the band obviously struck a chord with listeners of alternative rock stations, and is now cashing in on the groundwork laid by years of touring. Walker and the 3 have managed to dress up a pop-trio ensemble into a tattoo-clad, mascara-wearing, hook-playing machine.

"The whole premise was to do two things," says Walker. "I'm not ashamed to say I grew up on new wave and punk. We want to have both sides of the spectrum. We think rock should be over the top, and nobody seems to be doing pop that way. Marilyn Manson and Korn have the showmanship and the style, but they obviously listened to Mötley Crüe, and grew up and wanted to be them. Where are the songs? I'm not like that."

Hey! Album is more than a collection of guitar-laden rave-ups. Walker's storytelling approach manages to incorporate several of Atlanta's characters into a pretty raucous beat, backed with guitars. "Indie Queen" travels tragically on cocaine and credit cards, through "all the after-school specials of your life," only to dream of being the person she once was. On "Mrs. Jackson," Walker sings longingly about an older woman he only wants to matter to. "Lemonade" is clearly about a relationship with a troubled woman Walker "drops off at the therapist/don't think I don't see it all, the beautiful high and the sobering fall begin." But more than singing about only the troubled ladies of Atlanta, Walker and the 3 tell stories.

"I'm 29, and I've had some time to live and sing some songs and look around," he says. "I want to tell a story, and I want the songs to be memorable. It may not be a good time to be in music, but here we are."

And "Freak of the Week" may just propel them further than, well, the freaks of the week. Walker runs his own studio in Atlanta, and it shows. "Who are the People in Your Neighborhood" plays on a music box just before the band begins "Write it on Your Hand," a song about loving a neighbor. The recorded voice of a fast-food worker through the speaker-microphone outside the restaurant is woven into another song. It underscores the fact that the band recorded their own first album, Math and Other Problems (and Sevendust's first record as well), and shows that the 3 have a skill at the little gems that matter. There are things worth finding during repeated listens.

"You've waited your whole life for it to happen, and you're almost not prepared for how it goes," says Walker. "Everybody says it's 15 minutes of fame that you get. I guess if the part of getting a lot of exposure is that long, the rest will still be here. I plan to make records for the rest of my life. I've done that without anyone's help, and I'll do it after."

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