Byline: Lewis Taylor The Register-Guard
The line of tour buses in front of Portland's Crystal Ballroom said all there was to say about where the Rock 'n' Roll Soldiers stood in relation to the other bands on the bill.
First, there were the luxury liners - sleek hotel rooms on wheels with tinted windows and impenetrable hulls. One was assigned to the Detroit rock band the Von Bondies; the other two were hauling the headliners, the all-female rock band the Donnas. Tailing behind the coaches was an equipment trailer the size of a small delivery truck.
Bringing up the rear was the Soldiers' silver Ford Econoline van. Parked illegally at a fire hydrant, the van served as a sort of caboose to the train of touring vehicles.
"We don't get to complain when we're the opening, opening act," lead singer Marty Larson-Xu said. "When we get a gold record, we'll get two buses."
A gold record is still a long way off for the Rock 'n' Roll Soldiers, who have yet to release their major label debut six months after signing a multialbum deal with Atlantic Records. But even though the Eugene band was the last group on the list during its recent Portland performance, there was a feeling in the air that things were about to start happening for the Soldiers, who play a homecoming show today at the WOW Hall.
"Right now, it's just sort of the beginning," said Garin Duffield, the band's road manager and a longtime friend. "They're just trying to get everything together so that when they release their album they'll really be a great live band and they can show the audience the real thing."
In recent months, the Soldiers have played everywhere from CBGBs to the Playboy Mansion. They've toured London, rocked the Los Angeles House of Blues and developed a small following in Anaheim, of all places.
The incessant touring is starting to pay off for the Soldiers, at least, when measured by the amount of tour merchandise being sold. Each time out, the band seems to gain a few new fans and the label is starting to launch its preliminary publicity strikes in anticipation of the new album, "So Many Musicians to Kill," which is due out sometime in 2005.
The Soldiers' music is crop- ping up on video game sound tracks and TV shows, and the band will soon have its own cell phone ring tone. In September, the group's song "Funny Little Feeling" made it onto the sound track for an episode of the WB teen drama "One Tree Hill."
The Soldiers are working with a radio promotions guru to get their music on the air. While they were in New York for the CMJ music festival, the four musicians sat for a photo shoot with rock photographer Michael Lavine in a seedy Brooklyn bar. And in early 2005, Gearhead Records will release two vinyl EPs of the Soldiers' music.
But the biggest Soldiers news in recent months is the departure of longtime guitarist Lucas Gunn, who grew weary of the relentless touring routine and left the band in September. A founding member, Gunn returned to Eugene to work with his other band, Blimp, leaving a big hole in the Soldiers' lineup.
Eventually, the slot was filled by Kevin Sciou, a 24-year-old French guitarist with an extensive music resume.
"He's a real professional," Larson-Xu said. "He just fit in with us and our sense of humor and how we look and how we act, and he was pretty much a perfect match."
The first time Sciou met the Rock 'n' Roll Soldiers, he remembers thinking that Oliver Brown, the group's consistently unkempt drummer, already looked like a rock star. He also remembers being impressed by the band's music collection.
"We were in the car and they played the Flaming Groovies on the CD player," Sciou said. "It's a band from San Francisco, and they have the greatest songs.
`I grew up as a kid listening to this band and (no one) I talked to ever knew about this band, but they did. …