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Together, they polished five songs, and Suecof and Gabriel found they got on swimmingly. "When we're hanging out, we're like brothers. We just really understand each other," Suecof says. "I've been playing guitar since I was 8, and I wanted to show him stuff, and he picked up stuff I showed him so quickly, I was like, Holy shit, here I am jamming with a 12- or 13-year-old. He can probably play stuff now that I can't, to tell you the truth."
The Atlantic deal never gelled, but the demo quickly found its way to Jeff Sosnow, an Interscope Records A&R man. Sosnow — whose latest finds have included Buckcherry, the All-American Rejects, and Wolfmother, along with up-and-comers such as London's Switches — flew down just a few days later to check out the band at the now-defunct Studio A (which Pedro Mena was then helping run). Struck by the energy of their live show, he decided that night to sign them.
"They played like a band that had been playing for years, and they played as if they were playing for 10,000 people on an arena stage," Sosnow says. "They played without any inhibition. It seemed very visceral and authentic." Their age was no issue for him either. "There are lots and lots and lots of bands who came before Black Tide with adolescents and teenagers in the band. The Replacements, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin — these people were 16, 17, 18, 19 years old. People forget that."
When the mandate came that the band would be recording for at least four months in Chicago with producer Johnny K., the choice was clear: Make the record or stay in school. Zakk and Alex dropped out completely, while Gabriel's father enrolled him in an online program (since postponed indefinitely). The bandmates (and Gabriel's father) relocated to Groovemaster Studios, in a sprawling, old, industrial loft space that was half studio, half living quarters. The band had also changed drummers; Raul Garcia quit when his interest in playing hardcore punk increased, and Steven Spence was tapped as his replacement.
The recording process stretched to six months. Downtime was whiled away watching movies, playing foosball, and discovering Guitar Hero. (The band's lead single, "Shockwave," would later be turned into a downloadable extra for play on Guitar Hero's main competition, Rock Band.) The resulting 14 tracks, dubbed Light From Above, were worth the effort. While most of its peers' lament mall romance angst, Black Tide came rip-roaring from the gate with fist-pumping riffage to mosh or break beer bottles to. Gabriel eschewed screaming in favor of an eliding, surprisingly robust groan-wail, sometimes almost lustful and snarling.
It was a heady mix that made even cranky older critics go apeshit and garnered the band a spread in Spin's annual "Who's Next" issue, highly positive reviews in Revolver and Blender as well as on Blabbermouth.net, and even coverage in Entertainment Weekly. Rollingstone.com described the sound as "everything you love about Eighties metal gods like Judas Priest and Guns N' Roses without all the irony."
Light From Above was released March 18. By March 27, the band was performing "Shockwave" and "Show Me the Way" on Jimmy Kimmel Live. The disc peaked at number 73 on the Billboard albums chart, and "Shockwave" climbed to 25 on the Billboard Hot 200.
In the past year and a half, Black Tide has traveled the United States and the United Kingdom multiple times. Raul quit his job as an Orkin man to accompany the band full-time; his son must legally have a parent or guardian with him on the road ("Imagine: From rats, I jumped to a rock band," Raul says). As for rocking 'n' rolling with your dad (or your friend's dad) around all the time, Gabriel says, "I just didn't want to tell him anything I did, like, 'Dad, I drink beer' or 'Dad, I smoke weed.' "
"Dude, I remember when you told your dad that," Zakk says, shaking his head, as the bandmates work on their Starbucks coffee drinks. "But it was especially kind of weird when we first went to the U.K. and everybody else in the band was legal to drink and stuff except for [Gabriel]. We were like, 'Dude, we can finally do it!' But we were still hiding it and stuff."
Raul acknowledges that every once in a while, Gabriel has a couple of beers, but the rest of the time, they enjoy an incredibly close and low-key father-son bond. "The other guys get the chance to go out and go to strip clubs and hang around or even drink. But Gabriel, he can't do that, of course — I don't let him, and that's why I'm around. He loves playing videogames, that Xbox stuff," Raul says. "I don't drink, I don't smoke, so I never go out or anything like that. I'm always staying with him in hotels whenever the guys are out partying. He loves eating that stuff — chipotle? The Mexican stuff. And we go to sushi restaurants; we go to movies. When we're on tour with the other bands, we socialize with them, but Gabriel can't party with them."