Above the radar

The mainstream alt-rock of Paradigm may be just what record companies are looking for

Paradigm from left to right: Steve Stratton, Ryan Flynn, Shannon Curtis, Keith Ogden and Tony Edwards.

Paradigm from left to right: Steve Stratton, Ryan Flynn, Shannon Curtis, Keith Ogden and Tony Edwards.

Live! 9 p.m. Wednesday, February 6, at Harlow’s, 2708 J St., $5, with Call Me Ishmael.

Band sends demo. Record label listens, calls back, offers contract.

Welcome to the music-biz version of that old Hollywood tale in which a tight-sweatered Lana Turner sits on a stool in Schwab’s Drugstore, sipping a soda, waiting to be discovered. And, now that the process of how to go from zero to top of the pops has been precisely demystified in such books as Donald S. Passman’s All You Need to Know About the Music Business, virtually anyone with decent songs and a desire to succeed can make a run at the charts.

Take Paradigm, a local quintet whose members are mostly in their late 20s, formed in Stockton in December 1998 by singer Shannon Curtis and guitarist Steve Stratton. After relocating—first to Roseville, then to Sacramento—Paradigm started on that long haul upward from obscurity to recognition. First came the local gigs, then the demo recordings, then the Web site (www.paradigm-music.com) with links to downloadable tracks at MP3.com, then the demos sent out in the mail and the hopes that someone at a record label might notice.

“We got interest,” says Curtis, who co-writes most of Paradigm’s material with Stratton. “Everyone we sent it to said, ‘Yeah, we want to work with you.’ “

However, according to Curtis, the intensity of the response caught her and her bandmates a bit off-guard. “In the last couple of weeks,” she continues in a voice that betrays more surprise than braggadocio, “we’ve been getting a lot of phone calls—like, random people that want to shop us to labels or pass us on to other people in the industry. So it’s like, maybe we shouldn’t spend thousands of dollars [laughs] right now of our own money; maybe we should make a good-sounding recording, as best as we can do it, and kind of play the cards that seem to be making their way into our hand right now.”

So why Paradigm, and not countless other bands toiling in practice spaces around town? For starters, there’s Curtis’ voice: Yes, it has that warm, familiar graininess that you’ll find in dozens of female singer-songwriters from the post-Jewel school of the sweetly earnest. In a conservative media environment where pre-tested products have an edge over anything from the avant-garde, however, that’s a plus, not a minus. Add the cross-picked electric guitar lines, which frame Curtis’ voice with a heartland texture that lends Paradigm’s music a folk-ish cast at times, and you have something that sits decidedly in the mainstream of what, ironically, gets called “alternative” rock today.

But mostly, the secret to why Paradigm might stir up any large interest outside Sacramento lies in its songs. Take “You Are,” the song that leads off the band’s most recent demo. Its “you loved me before I loved you” theme might seem, on first listen, to be directed toward some prescient paramour. Who might that be? How about a certain Jewish carpenter who lived, oh, 2,000 years ago?

Curtis, whose husband is a pastor in the Covenant denomination, might be writing from a Christian perspective, but she’d rather her band didn’t get pigeonholed as a contemporary Christian act. “The people who started the group had considered going in that direction,” she explains, “but we did a lot of soul-searching and decided that that’s not what we want to be doing. We don’t want to limit the scope of where we think our music can go. And so we decided that the best place for us to be is in the quote-unquote mainstream music scene.”

Still, if current charts are any barometer, that mainstream is now defined by such acts as Creed, essentially a cleaned-up Pearl Jam with New Testament flavoring, whose newest album was this past holiday season’s blockbuster. And any record company talent scout anxious to hang on to a job might do well by signing such a dead-on mainstream act as Paradigm.

Is Curtis ready? "We’re really wanting to take this as far as it can go," she says.