Red With Envy works harder than any band in town—and it shows
If Chico band Red With Envy ever makes it big, the band’s VH1 Behind the Music biography will start off with a voiceover that begins something like, “It wasn’t always so easy…” The image on the screen will be a slo-mo shot of front man Chris “Chavez” Jarrett’s blood-drenched face screaming into a microphone during the 2004 Vans Warped Tour at Sleep Train Amphitheater, in Marysville.
The story will build off that real picture of a band hard at work, sweating and bleeding its way to the top. And with “Red” in the band’s name, it will be impossible for the documentary producers not to work in the requisite metaphorical and literal connections: red = passion, red = heart, red = hot, red = blood.
Well, the band is red-hot right now. Its music is in regular rotation on local 106.7 FM, Z-Rock (regular rotation, not just the locals show), and the band’s shows are regularly sold out in Chico—especially its monthly LaSalles gig—and on the road from San Diego to Seattle. And, with the exception of Number One Gun, RWE is the only local band that’s been asked to headline the Senator Theatre.
The self-described “melodic metal” crew has won a battle-of-the-bands contest, played the Warped Tour gig, been on the cover of local papers and was voted Best Band in the CN&R’s Best of Chico issue.
So it might be fair to ask whether VH1 might be on the horizon. It’s also worth asking, “What makes this band so special?”
‘The hardest working band north of Sacramento” is the first line in the band’s bio. This is more than just typical bio-boast; it’s what might set RWE apart from its peers. The ethic comes back to the distorted clichà in the band’s name.
“Red is that anger,” the 25-year-old Jarrett explains. “We want something so bad, and we want success.”
He says the band isn’t necessarily jealous or angry. He describes it more as “a fire inside of us.”
That fire was lit in January, 2003, when four high-school friends from Redding made the decision to come together to form Red With Envy. As teenagers they’d jammed together for years, but now they were getting serious. With Austin Comnick, 25, on guitar and back-up vocals, Nick Harris, 25, on drums, Randy Presleigh, 23, on bass guitar, and Jarrett supplying the lead vocals, the musicians were ready to unleash their sound on Chico’s music scene.
That “melodic metal,” as Jarrett and Comnick put it, is “not just raging and screaming,” Jarrett adds, which helps their music appeal to a broad spectrum of fans, including women.
Hard-hitting drums back up tough and edgy guitar riffs that provide a crisp canvas for Jarrett, whose energized screaming and sweaty black locks have been quite an attraction to the female portion of the band’s young fan base.
It’s easy to see how comfortable the four are with each other. They tease and pick on each other in a brotherly kind of way. Jarrett raises his arms up as he demonstrates Snoop Doggy Dogg’s recognizable hand gestures to imitate the “Dizzle,” as he teases his bassist.
Jarrett divulges that Presleigh’s nickname in the band is “Dizzle” because the bass player “can be ditsy at times.”
After playing only a handful of shows and doing copious amounts of self-promotion, the band had a fortuitous encounter with a young and ambitious Chico State University student majoring in music recording, Katie Perry. The former Riff Riff booking agent signed up the band for a gig and was impressed enough to offer to be the band’s manager.
“It was their songwriting and stage performance,” Perry says. “I noticed how that was capturing people.”
In the year and a half Perry has managed the group, she has seen it grow musically and gain support within the local music scene. Perry said Sacred Art Records, an off-shoot of Sacred Art Tattoos, in downtown Chico, approached Red With Envy about an album deal before she began working with the band; that first recording, Better Off Red, was released in 2004 (as well as a three-song demo on Knee Deep Records).
The band was anxious about its headlining CD release show at the Brick Works, for which Perry said they had ordered 100 copies of the CD to sell. “They didn’t think they’d sell through them,” she says.
Before the band could complete its set, Perry got up on stage to announce that only two CDs were left and that people should hurry and buy a copy if they wanted one.
Justin Maximov, the former booking agent for the Brick Works and now for the Senator Theatre, has been a big promoter of Red With Envy, Perry says.
At the Brick Works, the band got the chance to build upon its fan base by opening up for the mega-popular Floater, as well as an opportunity to headline its own show, at which the group invited other young Chico and Redding bands Brain in a Cage, Distortion Drum and Esoteric to share the stage. Perry said the crowd must have been about 500 people for the Brick headlining gig—impressive for such a young local band.
The Sacred Art Records deal led the band to compete in the Win River Casino Battle of the Bands in 2004 (which it won) and the 2004 Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands, where it placed 16th out of approximately 250 bands.
But the band didn’t stop to take a breather. RWE also won a coveted spot to play on the Ernie Ball stage at The Vans Warped Tour last summer, giving the band even wider exposure, made especially memorable by Jarrett’s blood-faced performance. Forced by the stage layout to switch its traditional set-up, with Comnick playing on the right and Presleigh on the left of Jarrett, the band jokes that the break from tradition is what made their front man slip in the big spotlight.
“Chris cracked his dome open [at the beginning of the set],” Comnick says, but the show went on … red to the end.
Red With Envy may take itself seriously and be pretty business-like at times, but the band members remember that they are still four friends playing together.
Emotional lyrics, such as those about relationships in “The Weather"—"Things have changed now since this open letter/ and I’m sorry it doesn’t make a damn thing better"—are easy to relate to, and the fits of screaming and heavy-metal musicality are a language that fans of all ages can immediately get with.
“If there’s no adrenaline rush, we didn’t do our job,” Comnick says.
Red With Envy also managed to squeeze in a tour in 2004. Perry says Harris packed up what he calls his “Cadillac of drums” in the band’s tour van and the group drove up the coast to Eugene, Ore. and Seattle and also visited Albuquerque, N.M.
Perry accompanied the band on tour and relates stories of RWE performing for a crowd of 400 people in Arizona. She said the tour was beneficial to the group because it brought them a lot of opportunities and more connections.
The band has a good group of fans in Portland and Seattle, Jarrett says. “They love us up there. [Seattle’s] our Chico away from Chico.”
Perry observes how each band member looks at this as his job, all the way down to taking good care of the tools of the trade. It’s that mentality that keeps the band striving for its goals and becoming better musicians in the process.
“It’s a total learning experience. They grow as a band and as men,” Perry says.
The band is also a little superstitious about rituals as well. Comnick mentions how the band goes to Aca Taco for burritos before every local performance. Harris always plays the drums barefoot.
Red With Envy doesn’t rely on luck, however, to improve its music. The members make sure to work in three days of practice a week. “We’ve always practiced, and we’re still trying to get better,” Jarrett says.
The band has been on a much deserved two-month break from performing and touring to start work on a new record. Comnick says new material should be out by this summer. The musicians enjoy being in the studio because there they have the ability to experiment with different sounds, and Jarret notes that everyone has come together in the creative process, whether contributing a guitar riff or lyrics to make a song complete.
Like most bands, Red With Envy has aspirations of one day getting signed to a major recording label. Other bands’ flirtations with success spur on the group.
The MTV reality show Battle for Ozzfest, for example, featured the metal band Manntis, a Southern California group Red With Envy has played with. Although Manntis didn’t win a recording contract, it did earn some publicity.
“They will always be known as that band on the show,” Jarrett says.
The familiar picture of RWE, four young and serious metal musicians, standing next to one another and scowling into the camera holding stacks of promotional fliers in their arms, is an image that would look pretty cool in one of those TV rock shows. Maybe this Chico band will end up being "that band on the show."