Some people aspire to be in a rock band, and some people just aspire to kick ass in the video game "Rock Band." Local musicians High Voltage got the best of both worlds recently when their song "Supernova" was picked for the "Rock Band" playlist—meaning anyone with Wii, Xbox, PlayStation or other platform can buy the song and try to play along with it on the popular video game. For High Voltage, who has only been together since February 2010, it means that despite being from Montana and not on a major record label, the band could soon be recognized by video gamers from all over the world—at least via a single hit.
"It's been surreal," says Josh Rhines, the lead guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for the band. "To our knowledge we're the only Montana band on 'Rock Band.' This game's around the globe–in the United States, Europe, Japan—and it gives us a lot of credibility and a ton of exposure."
Rhines and drummer Collin Scott spent three years before High Voltage in the local band Celestial Chaos. It wasn't until recently, however, that the two decided to strike out on their own and turn their musical ambitions into a kind of business plan. They went through a couple of different bandmates found either through acquaintances or on Craigslist, and started learning classic rock covers—songs from AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and ZZ Top, for instance.
They played several minor shows at the Elks and Higgins Alley before finally solidifying their line-up with Nick Hawthorne (bass) and Adam Goodover (lead vocals, saxophone, keys/synth and percussion).
The band started getting more serious over the summer, says Rhines, which led to playing some out-of-the-ordinary gigs. On the Fourth of July the musicians entertained a crowd of 1,200 people in Seeley behind Lindey's Prime Steak restaurant, while fireworks burst over the lake.
"It was pouring rain and we were under a tent," says Rhines. "But people were having a great time. Seeley Lake people are hardcore; they're wanting their entertainment. And playing to over 1,000 people, there's nothing that can really equal that rush. I'll always remember that."
A couple of weeks later the band played during an Osprey game, and Rhines got to kick it off with "The Star Spangled Banner" on guitar. In August, High Voltage brought laser lights and a fog machine to play prime time 9-to-11 p.m. slots both nights at the Testicle Festival.
"It was amazing," Rhines says. "There were tons of people jumping around and screaming."
Gaining a Montana fan base first and foremost has been part of the band's goal, says Rhines. In the fall High Voltage hit the Top of the Mic Contest at Sean Kelly's and made it to the finals—after a few rounds of semi-finals—before getting beat out. It was during this time, however, that Rhines began to push the band online, posting songs to Reverbnation—where artists can market themselves cheaply—and to a Heineken online contest. Their song "Tell Me" was selected from 60 other submissions to be on the beer company's featured artist playlist. It doesn't mean much beyond exposure on Heineken's website, but High Voltage noticed several hundred downloads from potential fans.
It was Reverbnation that launched High Voltage into "Rock Band" land. Demos of "Tell Me" and "Supernova" (both of which include former vocalist Brooke Beighle) on the site caught the ear of the Rock Band Network, which contacted the band and asked the musicians to formally submit the songs for the video game. Both songs were approved, but "Supernova" was given first priority, while "Tell Me" was put on hold until a later date.
The key to a good "Rock Band" song doesn't necessarily lie with the catchiest melody or the most stunning lyrics. It's a whole different game in the world of competitive music playing.
"They liked the material first and foremost," says Rhines. "But with 'Rock Band' you have to have interesting bass, drums, guitar and vocal parts so that it makes the game fun. The guitar work and drums are pretty complex in 'Supernova,' and so the harder the music is the more challenging it is in the game. Everyone's looking for a challenge and it just seemed to be the right formula for the [company]."
"Formula" may not be the word most independent bands like to associate with their music. But, in this instance, says Rhines, High Voltage happened to create a song that aligned with an opportunity that could gain the band some listeners. Its upcoming debut Mind, Body and Soul (a line from "Supernova") may help with that marketing process, as well.
There's always hope for a big break, but when it comes right down to it, Rhines admits that it's the process of reaching for the big break, not the big break itself, that counts.
"If you don't aim for greatness, you're never going to be great," he says. "Whether we become the greatest band in Montana, or if we even get signed, or if we just end up playing around Missoula, we're pushing ourselves."