Lola Ray Biography
Last updated: 10/26/2007 12:00:00 PM
Long before serendipity stage-dived into Lola Ray and a platinum-selling band signed them to their new label, John Balicanta, Brian Spina, and James McIvor were just a bunch of seventh graders hanging out in the O.C. They attended St. Margaret's, a parochial school in the small missionary town of San Juan Capistrano, California. Brian moved from Northern California, John had lived in Saudi Arabia, and James relocated from his native U.K. The three spent too much time loitering at Disneyland, throwing crap at the lunch lady ("mammoth hunting"), and replacing their prohibited piercings with clear fishing line. More than anything else, however, they obsessed over music. Meanwhile, three thousand miles due northeast, in Syracuse, New York, Alex Smolinski, similarly fanatical about music, was taking it out on the drums.
"Brian was the school's bad-ass guitarist," explains John. "On free dress days he'd wear a Slayer T-shirt — I was in awe of him." But when the two finally played, it was Brian, a self-professed Guitar Player subscriber and Joe Satriani devotee, who was impressed with John's guitar shredding. Beyond studying rock's "Hessian masters" (even attending guitar camp), the middle schoolers rocked the day's standard bearers (The Cure, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins), the indie (Failure, Chavez, and Pedro the Lion), and the intense (Fugazi, Pantera, and G'n'R).
Sophomore year the trio formed Lola Corin, a band named for John's grandmother Corin ("lola" is Filipino for grandma). "We were really abrasive," says Brian, "lots of screaming and shouting " Unfortunately, no greater destructive force exists for any high school band than college—and Lola Corin got hit hard: For John it was NYU, Brian chose Vanderbilt and later Cal Arts, and James to Harvey Mudd. During breaks, however, Lola Corin continued playing.
Alex, for his part, went to college in upstate New York but dropped out to pursue his music passion full-time. He toured and recorded with several national acts. “I was having fun, but I wasn’t playing the music I wanted,” he says. “It wasn’t until I recorded with a band called The Churchills that I realized what I wanted in a band.”
In 2001, John, a philosophy/audio engineering major, needed an internship. His friend's roommate just happened to be dating Peter Robinson who, in addition to signing Dave Matthews, owned Brooklyn's Dumbo Studios. John began working and meeting artists like Adam Green, Ben Kweller, and Natalie Imbruglia. He also began recording music as Lolo Ray (Grandfather Ray) and invited Peter to one of his gigs. Peter was so awed he offered to manage John and have Jon Kaplan, his Dumbo partner and producer (and former member of the Hatters), record him.
After recording the majority of I Don't Know You, John met Alex and the two immediately clicked. “I met John through a friend at the studio” says Alex. “I heard the songs and knew I'd found the band I was looking for.” But unable to find a bassist or guitarist, John flew back to California to see his former band. “We were fans of what John was doing right away," says Brian who was working lights at the infamous Troubador. "Once we heard the music we knew we had to move to East."
Thus Lola Ray (a combination of Lola Corin and Lolo Ray) was born. They first crashed on Peter's floor while rehearsing. Soon they were playing with bands that would come to include the Sounds, Jet, and Flickerstick. The band fully intended to spend the next several years touring, promoting and recording until they found success. No one expected a break to come as soon as it did.
In August of 2003, while John was running errands with Peter Robinson, Benji from Good Charlotte called from a nearby studio looking for an acoustic guitar. "We brought him one," says John. "And I just happened to have a bag of cds with me. I didn't actually think they'd listen to it." The very night Benji called from the road. "He was like, `holy shit, this is the coolest CD we've heard in a long time,'" says John. "`We're so excited, we want to talk to you more about this when we get back.'"
Then, this past September when Good Charlotte were in town for the MTV Video Music Awards, they called again. "Benji was like, `Hey what are you doing?'" says John. "You want to get sushi?'" Though there were industry people at the table, John spent the entire dinner talking to Benji and Joel. " They are both genuinely sincere, good people," he says. "and they knew all the lyrics to my songs, which I couldn't believe. " The next day Lola Ray finds themselves at Good Charlotte's VMA's after-party with Linkin Park, Beyonce, and Kelly Osbourne. "The whole scene was just unbelievable," says Brian.
One listen to I Don't Know You and you'll feel the same way and you'll understand why Benji and Joel signed Lola Ray to their new label DC Flag. From the chant-worthy opener "Plague," to the melodically-addictive (and autobiographical) "Our Brown Friends," to the ferocious urgency of "Automatic Girl," Lola Ray is one of the hottest young bands to bubble up from obscurity since, well, Good Charlotte. And soon you too will be glad to say you do know I Don't Know You.