— Submitted photo by Kurt Smith
Big Rock Productions hosted the 2013 Battle of the Bands final March 9.
Uneeda, The Rogues, The Black Branches, Lovemotor and The Combine were competing for the top prize of $5,000 cash and 40 hours of studio time.
Twenty bands signed up in January, each paying the $100 registration fee in hopes of taking home the big prize, and more than 350 people piled into the Rockhouse to see the final battle.
For The Combine, scrounging up money for the registration fee turned out to be a very lucrative investment.
Forged in Stephenville in late 2009 through the College of the North Atlantic Music Industry Performance (MIP) program, The Combine is a four-piece metal band comprised of musicians from all over the province.
Guitarist Mike Mercer and bassist Matt Ball are the two original members in the three-year-old band.
“In my first year, Matt Ball approached me because he wanted to play in a battle of the bands and the band he was in had lost recently. He wanted to start a new one, and thought I was his saviour,” Mercer said. “We entered the battle of the bands, but lost again,” he added with a laugh.
Mercer and Ball were in their second year at CNA and The Combine was about a year old when Taylor Roberts (guitar/vocals) and Chris Reid (percussion) arrived in Stephenville.
Mercer and Ball chose to take a third year of music and recording related courses to learn more about the behind-the-scenes side of being a band, as well as to keep the four-piece together.
“The only thing that matters to any of us in our lives is this band,” Roberts said. “All of the eggs are in the basket,” Mercer added, laughing as Roberts interjected, “It’s either this or death!”
This kind of intense, burning passion is evident in The Combine’s music. It’s almost surprising their fingers aren’t bleeding by the end of a set.
After three busy years of playing in Stephenville while attending “rockstar school,” The Combine made the inevitable move to
St. John’s, aiming to play more shows with different bands, make connections with venue owners and maybe be discovered by a record company executive. Roberts and Mercer are banking on the latter.
When asked about what it was like to have to leave their well-established west coast fan base behind, Roberts summed it up in one word: “Terrifying.”
“It was starting over, that’s what it was,” Roberts said. “It was taking those three years and starting over from scratch. When second year ended for me and Chris and third year (two years MIP, one year Recording Arts) ended for Mike and Matt, we had to decide what we wanted to do. We knew we wanted to continue the band. The only option we really had was to move to St. John’s,” Roberts explained.
In Stephenville, The Combine organized and promoted their own shows, which guaranteed a large amount of revenue for the band, as well as a dependable turnout of college friends.
“It was so nice to start off in a setting where it was all of your friends and everyone came to your shows because they knew you,” Roberts said. “We have a lot of friends out here too, but it’s a much larger setting (in St. John’s). There’s lot of people at our shows that we don’t know and we don’t really know any of the bar owners either, which made it difficult to start playing here in the beginning.”
Drummer Chris Reid works with Stage Eleven and Roberts credits Reid and his connections as the one of the main reasons The Combine started playing shows downtown.
The 2013 Battle of the Bands was only the fifth show The Combine has played on the east coast.
Mike McDonald from Big Rock Productions knows why the band rose to the top of the battle.
“Their complete and utter talent,” McDonald said without hesitation. “They deserved to win. When they played their preliminary round, the other judges and I looked at each other and said, if these guys don’t make it (into finals), then our system is completely flawed.”
“They put in a lot of work and it paid off,” he added. “Not a lot of people knew their name. When they played at The Rockhouse, they played second and they had it blocked from front to back. It was a packed house and everyone was going crazy.”
Big Rock Productions had four judges presiding over the battle on Saturday night, evaluating each band based on creativity, stage presence, crowd participation, technicality and overall performance. Crowd votes counted for 50 per cent of the scoring process.
In the preliminary rounds, The Combine won by one vote, which allowed them to progress to the final round.
“They can shred and everything they played was in perfect harmony. We were looking for reasons to knock points off,” McDonald said with a laugh. “They’re stand up guys. They’re going to make it. Someone definitely needs to come check them out and put ’em in a stadium. They definitely have what it takes.”