No. 1 with a bullet

With major record deal, Chico band keeps the road in its crosshairs

BAND ON THE RUN <br>From The End in Nashville, TN (above) to crowded Spirit West Coast Fest in Monterey last year (below), Number One Gun has been touring nonstop for over a year now.

From The End in Nashville, TN (above) to crowded Spirit West Coast Fest in Monterey last year (below), Number One Gun has been touring nonstop for over a year now.

Photo By Kyle Circle

There exists a small town in Alaska where one will never, ever hear Chico’s Number One Gun. The rest of the world is fair game, but radio stations from this wishing-to-remain anonymous burg insist that, with their town’s endearing claim to have the highest suicide rate per capita in our nation, they couldn’t possibly play a song by a band called Number One Gun. It’s the “G” word—and clearly the end to the civilized tribes of the frozen north.

While Alaskan disc jockeys fear a decrease in population, the only weapons Number One Gun’s chief songwriter Jeff Schneeweis uses are words—words designed to build rather than destroy. Schneeweis (vocals, guitar) and band mates Jordan Mallory (drums, vocals) and Trevor Sellers (bass guitar) are doing exactly what their hearts dictate, while ignoring the labels and lines the world would like to fence them in with.

Number One Gun is an emo band after all, right? Or is it a Christian emo band? “I just tell people we’re a rock band,” Sellers says with his usual economy. It’s got to be the best response to the annoying hyper-specific genre-labeling the media and public insist on.

Photo By Kyle Circle

Yes, Number One Gun is a rock band, the first one in Chico’s recent memory to rabidly criss-cross the nation touring behind a major-label-distributed album. It’s managed to do what every band in town dreams of doing—make music its life.

It might be fair to assume that Number One Gun is a Christian band, being that its record label, Floodgate, fosters bands whose lyrics focus on Christian themes and subject matter. Surely a band could find itself in the middle of less appealing trends, as the Christian market guarantees a captive audience of sorts. The kids can pump their fist in confidence that the mosh pit has nothing to do with the fallen angel and his demonic minions that most rock music is grossly caricatured as glorifying.

Numerous music Web sites, as well as the band’s own record label, recognize Number One Gun as a band that has immediate potential to duplicate the mainstream success of Christian rock crossovers MXPX and Switchfoot. Sellers acknowledges the popular “myth” that bands branded Christian rock are instantly generalized as “less than” and “not as good” compared to bands performing in other genres. Floodgate saw Number One Gun as a means of obliterating that “myth” and that the band, in Sellers’ words, “was accessible to anybody, and not just the Christian market—opening up options for the label as well.”

Number One Gun remains an anomaly in that it may be considered a Christian band by record-label association more than any self-referential nametag. One gets the impression that faith is no less important to the band than for those who wave that flag, yet faith might be a personal issue too precious to cheapen as a marketing tool. Similarly, songwriter Schneeweis’ lyrics are smart in that their recurring themes of forgiveness, growth, love and redemption can be interpreted based on the experiences of the listener. If the song is a direct call to the heavens, anybody who’s ever fallen in love will surely get the same message.

CHANGES ONE <br>An early promo photo (above) of Number One Gun with recently replaced guitarist Ben Tietz (second from left)

Photo By Matt Wignall

Schneeweis finds optimism at every corner, dark or otherwise—hence the debut album’s title, Celebrate Mistakes. That’s a brave philosophy when the general attitude of 20-somethings is either raging against the machine, being skeptical of everything the world tells them or, worse, simply being apathetic. When hopelessness came into vogue, Number One Gun missed the communiqué.

The members of Number One Gun gained insight into the mechanics and politics of the modern rock band while still at Pleasant Valley High School. Schneeweis and Mallory had performed with Paper Trees, a group whose inspirations mirrored the grunge movement’s more stadium-friendly acts (Pearl Jam, et al), replete with classic, contagious rock guitar soloing. Meanwhile, Sellers played in several local rock bands, the most notable of which (Either, Isabell) always included Benjamin Tietz (recently departed guitarist for Number One Gun) and drummer Casey Deitz (currently in The Americas). The trio developed a reputation for delivering energetic live performances that were never derivative and smacked mightily of their chief influences, Kurt Cobain and the Midwest Prozac punks Braid.

With the demise of Paper Trees came the structuring of the new band, Number One Gun. Early lineups predicated the eventual blueprint that would define the band; priorities were songs laden with passion and muscle against any calculated strategies. Idle hands and broken bands eventually brought Sellers and then Tietz to join the fold.

During the summer of 2002, the band released and independently sold over 1,000 copies of the five-song EP Forever, an immense task without the aid of record stores and distributors but understandable considering their active touring up and down the West Coast. Number One Gun played many of these shows with PAX217, whose member Dave Tosti also worked doing A&R for Salvage Records. Tosti signed the band and worked a deal to release Celebrate Mistakes (which came out last August) along with Floodgate with distribution by major label WEA.

A more recent shot with (from left) front man Jeff Schneeweis, bassist Trevor Sellers, drummer Jordan Mallory and new guitarist Chris Keane.

Photo By Tom Angel

Number One Gun made touring a priority from the beginning. The band has toured virtually non-stop since April 2003 and will not see consequential downtime until after the summer of 2004. So dedicated to the road is the group that when Schneeweis married his sweetheart Kristen last March, she joined the band for part of the tour. Schneeweis in his enthusiastic candor admits that the lifestyle of a touring rock musician is “craziness” juxtaposed against that of the typical newlywed.

Of course, Schneeweis’ better half must enjoy the traveling these days, considering the band’s new, beautiful, comfortable van. It replaced a rattletrap Sellers could start only by crawling beneath it and hitting key electrical components with a pair of rusty pliers to turn the engine over. With a constant and heavy touring schedule, it was essential that Number One Gun have an effective mode of transportation. The band can now laugh at the distant memory of driving all day to a weekend show south of Fresno when not one, but two flat tires assured the band wouldn’t arrive until long after the audience had left.

Number One Gun insists that life is better on the road than at home. The band cites its touring as income, while its brief returns to Chico never last long enough to yield decent employment opportunities. Clearly, this is a band that appreciates its position. “It’s our job, and [it can be] easy to forget how fun it is and take it for granted,” says a thoughtful Schneeweis.

The ever-blurring line between hobby and job has even conjured once “unthinkable” ideas, as drummer Mallory muses, “Never thought we’d enjoy having a day off.” Mallory’s and Schneeweis’ concerns pale against the thrill they speak of in visiting new places, making new friends and crossing paths repeatedly with like-minded bands with similarly concentrated tour schedules.

The band will begin recording its sophomore effort when the heavy touring schedule winds down. The next album should also include new member Chris Keene (of Chico band Seven Dollar Jacket), who replaced Tietz on guitar in an amicable parting.