A Show Less Ordinary

Mama's Root rocks hard

As the show looms ever closer, Guinaugh and the rest of Mama's Root -- Calhoune, guitarist Denny Siebert, and frontman-vocalist Todd Toler -- stand outside a large, subdivided warehouse in Hollywood, chatting amiably and drinking the Budweiser longnecks that Toler's wife, Chrisi, brought to tonight's rehearsal. For $320 a month plus electricity, the band rents a practice room here. It's familiar turf to the band, particularly to Calhoune, Siebert, and Toler, who from 1990 to 1994 accounted for three-fourths of Terraplane, a hard rock outfit that was voted "Best Heavy Metal Band of the Year" at the South Florida Rock Awards in 1993, only to disband a year later. Terraplane practiced six doors down from the black-lit, glitter-walled, 18-by-22-foot room in which Mama's Root currently hones its chops two to three times a week.

Three members of the band are 30 years old; Toler is 29. All of them have day jobs they would just as soon forsake. No one here is a kid anymore. By conventional standards this is a band that will soon be too old to play the kind of high-octane, shit-kicking music for which it's known, especially if it has to keep playing it for chump change.

The men in Mama's Root say they feel no pressure to impress anyone on Saturday night, and maybe they don't, but some of their recent actions indicate otherwise. For instance, at the suggestion of a top A&R honcho at RCA Records, the band has beefed up and somewhat renovated its slightly dated sound. Toler says that while Mama's Root will always be a power-rock band, it is now more attuned to what he calls "heavier, modern rock." At the request of Scott and Sutton-Shearer at 2Tribe, everyone has a stylish new haircut and new stage clothes. Toler says all of the changes "have been for the better" and scoffs at the notion that they've compromised the band's integrity.

Mama's boys (clockwise from bottom left): Patrick Calhoune, Michael Guinaugh, Denny Siebert, and Todd Toler
Melissa Jones
Mama's boys (clockwise from bottom left): Patrick Calhoune, Michael Guinaugh, Denny Siebert, and Todd Toler

"When you're younger," he reasons, "you play for yourself and you play what you want. When you're older and someone comes in and makes some suggestions, you learn to go with it sometimes, because a lot of times they're right."

The unspoken yet clear subtext of the revisions that Mama's Root has made to its sound and image is that they were calculated to increase the band's marketability, to get it signed. At a more elemental level, however, the band changed simply to survive. The alternative is just too grim to consider.

"I have to do this," Siebert says with the forceful intensity of an unrepentant hard-rock junkie. "It's just something I have to do to keep my sanity at this point. I need to keep this thing going. This is a dream I've had all my life. I couldn't stop if I wanted to. If I did, I think I would really lose it."

As for Toler, who sports a "Reckless Life" tattoo across his belly and seems honest almost to a fault, the stakes are somewhat grander. "I want to play in front of 20-, 30-, 40,000 people four or five days a week until I can't do it anymore. The money and all that -- ya know what? I can make money even if this doesn't happen…. But my dream is to be loved by millions of people, and I want to love millions of people. I want to have that many friends. I want to become very personal with everybody in the whole world."

Before Toler achieves any of those modest goals, he and his band are going to have to become very personal with at least one influential A&R representative on Saturday night. Beyond that immediate hurdle, the whole world waits.

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