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Real-World Punk

The needle on my record player is wearing thin./This record has been playing since the day you've been with him." If you're in the lucrative 12-to-24¯year-old pop-music target market, you've heard this refrain from New Found Glory's "Hit or Miss." Rock radio is playing it ad nauseam. It's being put into rotation on MTV. Even Guitar Center is plugging it on its in-store radio. The song will soon be damn near impossible to avoid. A kind of Britney Spears with rock guitars, the photogenic fivesome from Coral Springs is the TRL generation's great punk hope.

Before fame nestled on its doorstep, A New Found Glory (as the group was known then) was four classmates at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Bassist Ian Grushka, singer Jordan Pundik, guitarist Steve Klein, and a drummer known as Taco Joe got together in May 1997 to kick out some Green Day¯ inspired jams. Soon afterward they heard that Chad Gilbert, teenage vocalist for Revelation Records' hardcore act Shai Hulud, wanted to play guitar in a punk band, and they recruited him. After five months A New Found Glory recorded the five-song It's All About the Girls for Miami punk label Fiddler Records. While the band would grow musically and produce better records, the lyrical content was by then set in stone. Every single New Found Glory song to date is about guitarist Klein's relationship woes.

To promote It's All About the Girls, A New Found Glory played every all-ages haunt in South Florida that would admit its underage fan base. The group's Mexican-jumping-bean stage antics packed Miami's now-defunct punk palace Cheers (where Fiddler owner Amy Fleisher worked) and Davie's Club Q with hardcore boys and pop-punk girls. About this time the band dumped Taco Joe for Cyrus Bolooki. "Taco Joe would rather mow his folks' lawn than show up to practice," snipes Grushka. "So we replaced him with someone who not only wanted to be in the band but could actually play the drums."

With its permanent lineup solidified, A New Found Glory was only hindered by its members' school schedules. Gigs were scheduled for weekends, vacations, and teacher workdays. Punk DIY ethic in full effect, A New Found Glory's initial road trip was far from glamorous. To get to gigs set up via e-mail with kids they met on Internet message boards, the musicians stuffed themselves into a Ryder box truck with Boca Raton emo band Vacant Andys. Four people squeezed in the front while six contorted themselves in the back. "We traveled Nazi-style," recalls Bolooki. "It was literally feet to neck." Ventilation was at a premium. Bolooki remembers: "The only way we could get air in the back was for the a/c to be cranked full blast, so in the front they'd be in full winter gear while in the back we'd be practically naked."

Back in South Florida in October 1998, A New Found Glory banged out its first album, the 12-song Nothing Gold Can Stay, with Eulogy Recordings. Recorded for $1200, Nothing Gold Can Stay is perhaps the greatest indie-rock bargain since the $600 Nirvana spent on Bleach. Powered by the aforementioned "Hit or Miss," Nothing Gold Can Stay's irresistible combination of pop hooks and guitar crunch melted the ears of all who heard it, including those of Drive-Thru Records' emo band Midtown. As soon as members of Midtown got their mitts on a copy, they played it for Drive-Thru's co-owner, Stephanie Reines. "We were in New Jersey, in the middle of a mall parking lot, and it was snowing," recalls Reines. "It was time to go, and Midtown said they had to play me a CD. I said, "No way! I'm freezing, I'll listen to it later!' They go, "You'll listen to it NOW,' popped it in, and started dancing in the snow with their shirts off. I was blown away. It was the greatest thing I'd ever heard, and I just knew I had to sign them."

Reines flew home to Los Angeles and set about wooing A New Found Glory to Drive-Thru. Since Drive-Thru has a manufacturing and distribution deal with major label MCA, the courtship was short. In the ultimate act of rock 'n' roll altruism, Eulogy Recordings owner John Wylie licensed Nothing Gold Can Stay to Drive-Thru for the spare change needed to reimburse his pressing expenses. "John is our friend," affirms Gilbert. "We loved his label, but he understood we wanted to be as successful as possible and didn't stand in our way." Fiddler owner Fleisher has a different spin: "John didn't know what he had. None of us did."

Once in the Drive-Thru camp, New Found Glory dropped the "A" and Klein, Grushka, Pundik, and Bolooki all dropped out of college. Gilbert left J.P. Taravella High School without a degree. "I went to see the guidance counselor with my mom and told him the situation," he recalls. "He said if this is truly your dream, go for it! So I did."

Once freed from scholastic obligations, New Found Glory hit the road with abandon, touring with punk-rock luminaries such as Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, and Fenix Tx. To support the rising stars, Drive-Thru made a video for "Hit or Miss" starring former teen movie star Corey Feldman. The video, a sendup of Cops, made waves on JBTV and The Box. But for once timing was not on New Found Glory's side. Gilbert expounds: "We showed it to MCA, and they told us they couldn't send it to MTV, because Corey shoves a nightstick up Ian's ass in the video. It turns out we shot it around the time the NYPD did the exact same thing to that Haitian guy, Abner Louima."

In December 1999 New Found Glory took a two-week respite from the road and recorded From the Screen to Your Stereo, a seven-song EP of rip-roaring renditions of movie themes. This rest would be the band's last for quite some time; in 2000 the group logged nine months on the road, at one point going for six months straight. "It's all we do," a beleaguered Grushka grimaces. "We wake up, eat, drive to the next show, eat, play, sleep, and repeat the process the next day. We become punk-rock robots." To alleviate the grind of life on the road, New Found Glory and its tour mates play elaborate practical jokes on one another. "We covered Saves the Day's van with meat one night," Grushka grimaces. "The next day they dumped pounds and pounds of foot powder on us when we were on-stage. When we jumped it looked like it was snowing. To this day I still have foot powder on my amp."

In June 2000 New Found Glory took six weeks off from the road and went into the studio with Everclear producer Neal Avron. Steve Klein's relationship woes once again were on display, but this time they were backed by a seasoned band whose chops had been honed razor-sharp by a year of touring. Gilbert's songwriting talent, already obvious to all who heard Nothing Gold Can Stay, took a quantum leap forward and delivered 12 songs that contain no filler whatsoever. Breakneck tempos, powerhouse choruses, and the most interesting bridges this side of San Francisco make it nearly impossible to listen without singing and dancing like an idiot. Especially infectious is the second coming of "Hit or Miss." "It's my favorite song of ours," Gilbert offers. "We recorded the last record so cheap, I wanted to give "Hit or Miss' a chance with a real budget." MCA was more than willing, giving the green light for a new "Hit or Miss" video starring Mormon Julie from MTV's Real World New Orleans. For the video's performance scene, New Found Glory sent an open invitation to the taping via their Website. More than 1000 kids showed up to the 150-capacity warehouse where the filming was held, causing the Los Angeles County fire marshal to shut down the set.

But even the fire marshal couldn't douse the flames once New Found Glory was released in September. At press time the record has sold 81,451 copies at a clip of 6000 units per week. Firmly fixed within the demographics of their fan base, these photogenic punks are growing with their record sales. On February 27 Bolooki celebrated his 21st birthday at a gig in Denver. Headliners Less Than Jake made the occasion memorable by setting up a bar on-stage, complete with a personal bartender for Bolooki. New Found Glory will play the first two-week leg of the Vans Warped Tour -- a sign of commercial coming of age -- then hop off to do six weeks of arenas and outdoor sheds with fellow pop-punksters Blink 182. In the fall New Found Glory will embark on a headlining tour of its own, conquering whatever is left in its path to rock stardom. Chances are Pundik will marry Britney Spears, Gilbert will become engaged to Mormon Julie, Klein will get sued for palimony, and Grushka and Bolooki will shack up with the Bush twins. Carson Daly will officiate at the Spears-Pundik wedding, and they'll honeymoon at the Las Vegas resort Circus Circus. Roll over, 'NSync, and tell the Backstreet Boys the news.