Sweet guys, good rock

After a four-year hiatus, Convicted Innocence is back and taking the Reno rock scene by storm

The members of Convicted Innocence usually like to play life-size chess naked, but for this shoot kept their clothes on.

The members of Convicted Innocence usually like to play life-size chess naked, but for this shoot kept their clothes on.

Photo by David Robert

Convicted Innocence will play 10 p.m. Jan. 24 at the Zephyr Lounge. Cover charge is $5. More info at www.zdegrees.com/convicted

It is impossible not to like the four members of Convicted Innocence. They’re some of the friendliest, most genuine guys I’ve ever met.

When I meet them at guitarist Eric Stangeland’s house to talk about the band, the atmosphere doesn’t resemble an interview so much as a beer commercial. All the ingredients are there: laid back guys in their 20s, a football game in the background, the consumption of endless quantities of beer without the faintest signs of intoxication. At one point, Stangeland even launches into a short speech about the comparative merits of Icehouse. The band, the photographer and I get so lost in conversation that the interview doesn’t even start for over an hour.

All this probably doesn’t say much about Convicted Innocence’s music, but it does reflect the kind of show its members put on. The band has been together since 1992, when Stangeland met drummer and backup vocalist Beau Melia in a mutual friend’s dorm room. Despite a four-year breakup spanning from 1998 to last July, the band has developed a strong, enthusiastic following.

At a recent Flowing Tide show, I noticed that Convicted has a much better rapport with its audience than I’m used to seeing. The crowd and the band seem to respond to each other; you can almost feel the band changing the energy of each song to match the audience’s mood.

Convicted’s music itself is pretty heavy; it’s safe to say that it’s some form of metal. There are also some funk influences, which make Convicted’s style sound a bit like the Nü Metal. They’re quick to point out, of course, that they were playing the style of music well before it became popular.

“After Godsmack, we were like ‘Man, we did that already!’ “ says bass player Mario Guzman.

What really makes Convicted Innocence stand out among metal bands is that its songs, despite having an aggressive, distorted sound, don’t convey much anger at all. Lead singer Shawn Jones manages to fit melodic vocal lines over the music, a practice that even today remains unusual in the metal genre.

“I like the melodies to take over, because I think people can appreciate a more melodic vocal,” says Jones. “I like people to enjoy what we do.”

“We’re not angry,” offers Guzman.

The effect is that people don’t respond to Convicted Innocence the way you’d expect them to respond to a metal band. At the Flowing Tide show, I saw plenty of people dancing, standing up front and watching the show attentively, or just generally having a good time. I didn’t see any moshing or fighting, or sense any of the anger usually associated with metal shows.

Above all, the band just tries to play music that it thinks people will enjoy—and its sound is tailored to that goal. Convicted tries to keep its original material as accessible as possible.

“You always want to hear what you like,” says Jones. “A lot of people talk about ‘selling out,’ so to speak. But I like people to enjoy what we do.”

Convicted Innocence isn’t playing music just for its own taste; its members are just trying to help the crowd have a good time. And with an attitude like that, how could anyone not like these guys?