Nobody said success in the music business was easy but it has rarely included doubling up on classes and summer school. The Starting Line's youngest member, vocalist/bassist Ken Vasoli, was still in high school when the group caught the interest of indie We The People Records who eventually passed the group's demo on to Drive-Thru. Touring was next but Vasoli's parents insisted that Ken finish school - which he did. During the down time, guitarist Matt Watts picked up his college degree.
Watts, guitarist Mike Golla and drummer Tom Gryskiewicz, were in a Pennsylvania based group in need of a singer. It was an email from Watts to Vasoli that got things rolling. Watts had seen Vasoli's profile posted on AOL. Soon Vasoli was hanging out and rehearsing with the group. Interestingly, Vasoli was only 14 at the time. He passed himself off as "like 15" which, if you counted from conception rather than birth, was probably true. But the band interpreted "like 15" as "almost 16 and ready to roll."
Once school was out The Starting Line hit the studio and recorded "Say It Like You Mean It." The CD hit the stores in '02.
Recorded in a bedroom (a friend's), a basement (Vasoli's) and the band's tour bus, the '03 acoustic set "The Make Yourself At Home" EP did just that. Shortly thereafter, the group parted with Drive-Thru. The Starting Line's next stop was Geffen for their '05 major label debut "Based On A True Story." But the relationship with Geffen soured almost immediately. "Inspired By The $" took a couple shots at the label (for wanting the group to develop a more radio-friendly sound and to recreate "Best Of Me" as often as possible). Still, the album sold reasonably well as the Starting Line toured with Fall Out Boy. Keyboardist Brian Schmutz, a friend of Vasoli's, who worked with the vocalist on a side project a few years earlier, was added to the line-up. As the tour got underway, the group asked to be released from Geffen and the label obliged.
The following year the Starting Line signed with Virgin Records and released their third full-length album, "Direction." While "Based On A True Story" had peaked at #18 on the Billboard 200 album chart, "Direction" could only get to #30.
The Starting Line is a slightly off-kilter Emo-power pop unit. Expressive lyrics pop like holes in a dike, surprising tempo/rhythm changes occur and songs abruptly change course. These are all traits that make indie music fun. But since Geffen Records is in the business of selling hundreds of thousands of CDs, their desire to shove The Starting Line more toward the mainstream, though regrettable, is understandable.
With a touch of Blink 182 ("Up & Go"), hot guitar lines ("The Best Of Me") and melodic Rockers ("A Good Night's Sleep" and "Saddest Girl Story") The Starting Line's "Say It Like You Mean It" covers a lot of ground and is a cut above the pack.
"Based On A True Story" plies the film motif, from "Action" to "Cut! Print It!" While this concept is a bit shop worn and doesn't always hold up (the band's non-cinematic issues surface) it does get Vasoli off the boy-girl dynamic. "Inspired By The $" takes on the question of selling out (or doing what you're told) with some urgency and believability. "Make Love To The Camera," "Stay Where I Can See You" and "The World" grab attention. The ballad "Ready" has Say Anything's Max Bemis contributing vocals while the uptempo "Cut! Print It!" closes the CD on a raucous note.
"Direction" is a sonically heavier album. It's also more driving though nearly all of The Starting Line's traits are still in place. The set opens strong with the title track and "21." "I Could Be Wrong" is another standout on an album that really has few weak spots.
The acoustic "Make Yourself At Home" could have been a real self-indulgent disaster but the songs are good and the performances have some life. The feeling of watching someone sitting on the corner of their bed playing and singing is conveyed in an entertaining and often compelling way.
The "With Hopes Of Starting Over" EP, released in '01, contains some good tracks including "Saddest Girl Story." But what's up with covering Jefferson Starship? While the '80s had more than its share of vacuous numbers like "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" there were some great songs that could stand being dusted off. On the other hand, maybe covering Starship is a no-risk proposition. How could you do worse? The Starting Line takes a bad song and makes it (a little) better.