"Make sure you tell them that this was the women's bathroom," yelled Brian Saint, of the band Republic, as we shot the picture found on the cover. I'm not sure exactly why he wanted that information to be known, but you can tell him that you read it here.
For some reason the location of the shot seemed to make a lot of sense at the time. Maybe it's because when you're trying to write about a band with a cult-like following you know you have to do something different. And, for the time being at least, Republic has one hell of a cult following.
Several months ago, I had a first hand glimpse into the world of Republic. The first thing you have to know about these guys is that they just might be the most commercially viable alternative band I've ever heard come from Asbury Park. Their songs owe more to bands like U2 and Garbage than they show influences of Bruce Springsteen. So while they have a large fanbase in the area, the base is somewhat comprised of people who don't follow the normal Asbury Park music scene too closely. For them, Republic is where the scene starts and ends. Anyway, a few months ago Republic opened for dada at the Saint. Just last year dada sold out the club in a matter of days - something relatively unheard of. But on this night, the crowd was entirely there to see Republic. And outdrawing national acts is becoming the norm. As the band works on their first studio record, their hopes are that the release opens up that audience far and beyond the Jersey Shore region. The revolution begins now.
"We have a specific sound and nobody else has it," explains Brian Saint while exuding the confidence of someone who believes it's just a matter of when and not if the band will make it to the next level.
"Every time somebody hears us they come back," he continues. "It started out obviously like any other band does with our friends, but then they bring their girlfriends, and the girlfriends bring their sisters and their sisters bring their cousins and their mothers. We get a lot of moms."
The distinctive sound largely stems from such diverse influences as U2, Stone Temple Pilots, Led Zeppelin, Garbage, Bob Dylan and Pearl Jam. All of the Republic members help in writing the band's songs and since each person brings a slice of their own personal influences, the overall sound comes out as something truly unique.
"For the most part, we're really trying to work at writing together," said Saint.
In addition to the music, the band makes a definite effort to bring their fans to each show through a lot of foot work and by utilizing their network of friends.
"We pay all our friends to come see us," jokes Joseph Savio. "We're in the red right now."
It's easy to understand why the fanbase grows with each show. Lead singer Brian Saint is one of the most intense (Bono-like) frontmen in the area. The band makes every song sound like it's the last one they're playing tonight - simply bursting with an energy that begs to be noticed. Regardless of whether you came for Republic or came for the headliner, as the band roars through their set you're bound to be converted as well.
The band started playing out around two years ago. In addition to Saint and Savio, the other band members include Michael Scotto and Mike Thompson. They largely play clubs in a steady mixture of Asbury Park, Hoboken and New York City. They've also done mini tours of Boston and Pennsylvania.
If the band's name sounds unfamiliar to you, it's probably because they play clubs like Jimis more than they play the Stone Pony - something that aids with the cult band profile. While Jimis is a great club, few people outside of its inner circle ever know what's going on there. For Republic, it's a club that offers them the freedom to do whatever they want. If they feel like playing an all acoustic show, they'll do an acoustic show. If they feel like rocking out, they can do that too.
"It's a little underground," said Saint. "I've known Jimi for six years. My old band used to play at his place The Moon Rock. I've been working at Jimis so we figured we might as well hang out there and play a couple of times. It's a good place to play. It's more relaxed than other places in town."
Republic's upcoming CD is being produced by local singer-songwriter Mark Prescott, who's a good friend of the band.
"He's actually trying to get his producer chops up," said Michael Scotto. "We're huge fans of his music and he's a fan of our music. We're sort of the guinea pig for his venturing into producing and, of course, we'll take that.
"He knows us very well and he knows the music. He has a lot of ideas that we didn't think of. So we're going into the studio with him and he's doing a lot of the engineering himself. He's got an ear and he knows what he wants to hear. We just show up and play our songs and whatever he tells us to do we try it."
If all goes well, the band will have the new record available by early summer. June is the estimated date of release right now. The record is being privately backed financially - one of many favors the band expects to have to pay back in the future.
"Everyone's being very, very nice to us," said Scotto. "I want to make something of ourselves, but to also be able to help out and say thank you in a way. Its an ode to all of the people that have helped us. People that no one has ever heard of. We get a lot of favors - It's karma! It's got to be karma! I believe in that shit... the karma police will get you!"
If karma is working its magic behind the scenes, it may have been behind Colie Brice's return to the area. Colie is an old friend of Brian Saint who has recently set up a record label in Asbury Park called Aeria Records. Republic has been one of the bands contacted by Colie and the band is strongly considering the offer.
As the band reads through the fine print, they're continuing to plug away at finishing the record. They all know that the disc is what will ultimately make the biggest difference in the next six months. They're anxious to get back on the road again; returning to places up north and then adding more cities along the way.
"We want to just do it the old fashioned way," added Scotto. "I mean, nobody's gonna walk in and say 'I want to sign you guys.'"
Nobody except Colie... Maybe there's something to this karma thing after all.
You can catch Republic on March 11th at 7pm as part of the Benefit for Ssgt. Maurice Craft at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at email@example.com.