By Liz Tracy
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Action Action doesn't have a huge tour bus. Hell, the band doesn't even have a small tour bus, just a van a '98 Dodge Ram that serves as sleeping quarters half the time. Though, if you ask bassist Clarke Foley, it works just as fine as any four-star hotel.
"We call it the Radisson because we sleep in it so often," Foley says. "We're road dogs, you know. We'll sleep in the van, on strangers' floors no problem. We are not picky; we're not spoiled on tour."
But that's because touring is something the four New Yorkers are used to, even though Action Action has been a unit for just two years. Before coming together as a dark, synth-heavy indie band, all four members had done time in previous bands, mostly of the pop-punk variety the Reunion Show (frontman Mark Thomas Kluepfel), Count the Stars (Foley and guitarist Adam Manning), and Diffuser (drummer Dan Leo). But these weren't your run-of-the-mill, go-nowhere garage bands; all three had record deals and many miles of touring under their belts.
"I started touring with Count the Stars a couple of days after our high school graduation," Foley says. "We started a semester of college that fall but realized that touring was way more fun. So, much to our parents' dismay, we all dropped out and just hit the road. [Count the Stars] wasn't even signed at that point. But through touring and playing in Chicago, we met and started talking to Victory Records."
That would be the same Victory Records that put out the Reunion Show's debut disc, Kill Your Television. But the two bands had more in common than just a record label; both bands hit the splits in 2003. In their place came Action Action and action it took. Within a year, the band cranked out its debut album, 2004's Don't Cut Your Fabric to This Year's Fashion. For Kluepfel and Foley, it was their final departure from the shackles of poppy, Jimmy Eat World-styled rock. Action Action's latest disc, An Army of Shapes Between Wars, goes a step further in ditching the pop formula. While Don't Cut Your Fabric took the band in a darker, more '80s-influenced direction (the Cars, the Cure), An Army of Shapes added an extra dimension to its songwriting.
"We're trying to make a fuller sound and put a lot of influences, whether it's dance or electronic or harder rock," Foley says. "It's definitely been rewarding playing music that's more than just pop punk or pop rock."
Of course, that doesn't mean Action Action can't get down with some straight-up, synth-free rock. The album's first single, "The Game," is more Oasis than Ocasek pure Britpop. "'The Game' was heavily influenced by the Beatles," Foley says. "Sometimes we'll play a straight-up rock song like that one; sometimes we'll do songs where we're all playing keyboard and switching back and forth. We're influenced by a bunch of different styles. I think our diverse sound comes from us wanting to challenge ourselves."
And the band found just the right guy to carry out its vision William Wittman, the renowned producer who made Cyndi Lauper so unusual. Kluepfel hooked up with Wittman while doing a little freelance studio work on Lauper's latest album, The Body Acoustic. Wittman produced both Action Action albums.
"Mark was doing some session keyboard playing for the new Cyndi Lauper album," Foley says. "He met William in the process and gave him some songs we were working on. Next thing we knew, William was saying he was really into it and wanted to help us out."
Help out, he did. With Wittman's skilled production work shrinkwrapped and ready to sell, Action Action wasted no time hitting the road, touring with the likes of the Sounds and Morningwood. Once again, it was time to roll out the Radisson, despite its considerable wear and tear. This is, after all, the second band it has carried cross-country.
"The Reunion Show bought it in Cheyenne, Wyoming, when their old van broke down," Foley says. "They were stuck in Cheyenne and didn't have many choices for a new van, so the one they bought was a certified lemon. We've had the engine replaced twice and the transmission replaced three times."
But if that weren't enough to deal with, Action Action's recent trip to Mexico proved equally full of technical problems. The band played two nights at the Hard Rock Live in Mexico City (just before Cinco de Mayo), where it learned an important lesson about international power systems. Although American appliances are supposed to work in Mexican power outlets (more or less), the fickle juice there caused serious problems.
"The first night was tough because everything we plugged in our guitar pedals and stuff they kept shutting off and frizzing out because they didn't have enough voltage," Foleys says. "So half the first day was fixing things we broke by plugging directly into the wall. Though, on the second night, we kind of pulled Pete Townshend/Kurt Cobain and trashed our gear. Everyone there was less-than-pleased, but it was pretty fun anyway."
By everyone, Foley's talking about the sound guys, not the audience. If there's one thing that didn't change with every border crossing (be it state or national), it was the glowing response Action Action received. Foley says he was surprised how many fans they have outside all the major cities. Some of the best shows, he says, were in small, out-of-the-way towns.
"We've played in markets I didn't even know were markets," Foley says. "We played in an abandoned house in Alabama, in a town called Heflin. We thought it would be at a venue. But we get there, and it turns out the promoter lived in the house next door. We were laughing at the time, but it was actually a good show. All the kids inside were going insane. This beat-up, deserted, nasty house was just packed with kids. I think if any law enforcement came, it would have been the one deputy in that town."
But Johnny Law never made an appearance. The only people to show up were music-starved kids. It's another lesson Foley has learned on tour small-town audiences can make the extra drive worth it.
"Sometimes when you play places you didn't expect to, the kids get so excited to see bands coming through," he says. "It's a great energy, always."
And afterward, it's party time at the Radisson.