Featured Music: Wednesday, February 27, 2003
Metal Health

It won’t drive you mad — just ask the guys from Lifesize.


Metal exists in a universe all its own, separate from and oblivious to the rest of the music scene. Go to a metal gig and you’ll still see black-dressed guys wearing bandanas and biker chains, and chicks dressed like strippers (or maybe dressed for “work”). Sure, Joe’s Garage on Highway 80 is long gone, and Dirty Perch’s on Highway 377 might have folded the tent last year, but the Tattoo Bar on Division Street still packs ’em in, and you’ll occasionally see a metal band in a different venue — like the time just before Thanksgiving last year when Lifesize blew the roof off the Ridglea Theater.

“We had a hundred people going off in that area in front of the stage,” said Lifesize frontman Greg McKinney. Unlike stereotypical metal frontmen who either shriek or sound as if they took vocal lessons from Satan, McKinney has a strong, melodic voice, like a less-schooled version of Living Colour’s Corey Glover. Per the m.o. of their role models — Sevendust, Godsmack, and Alice in Chains — the Lifesize boys make music that’s all about groove and melody. The songs “Coming Down” and “Again” from their self-titled debut c.d. have both received local airplay. (Both songs are available for downloading at the band’s web site, www.lifesizeonline.com.) Now the band is preparing to release a live DVD, with a new c.d. planned for a spring release.

Onstage, McKinney, a metal neophyte who characterizes himself as “a white guy who really likes R&B,” is a charismatic figure who relates to the audience like a seasoned pro. The days of shredding guitarists are long gone, and Lifesize guitarist Jim Crye — a superb technician who can play clawing Jerry Reed-style country licks as well as dropped-D metal thunder — recognizes this and subordinates his considerable technique to the demands of the song, only cutting loose in tightly controlled bursts that add emotion to the music without dominating it. He and bassist Jason Coyle interlock their lines while assuming the familiar hunched-over headbanging position. Drummer Jeff Gerhardt, a skillful and busy percussionist, flails away at his kit, throwing down an unbreakable groove.

Crye said that the Ridglea show proved “it is possible to draw a good crowd in Fort Worth, but we promoted long and hard for that one.” Other local gigs have drawn a more muted response. McKinney said, “When we played at the Aardvark in December, there were maybe eight people standing up in front. The rest of the people were sitting down with their arms folded, like they were waiting for someone to tell them it was OK to go off.”

All four bandmembers are tireless self-promoters, exploring any avenue that might take them to the next level. “We’ve sold about four copies of our c.d.,” said McKinney with a laugh, “but we’ve given away shitloads to people at shows, hoping they’ll like what they hear and bring their friends back the next time we play.” The band has taken some novel approaches to marketing its music, placing songs on the tank simulation video game Steel Beasts 2, in the extreme sports video Flying Metal 2, and behind pro wrestling on tv’s UPN 21. Crye said that the deal with Steel Beasts “paid a big chunk” of the bill for the band’s full-length c.d. recording.

The guitarist, an Air Force brat, was born in Eugene, Ore., and spent a few months in San Francisco as a fledgling player trying without success to break into the Bay Area band scene. He’s been playing with Coyle and Gerhardt for over a decade. A bunch of dropout teenagers from White Settlement, they hit the boards in the late 1980s, playing instrumental versions of metal covers at Joe’s Garage and a slew of backyard parties. Back then, the West Side metal scene was burgeoning, and Pantera — a Joe’s Garage regular — was poised to make its big break with the Cowboys From Hell c.d. “We would be at every one of their local shows back then,” said Crye. He, Coyle, and Gerhardt said metal saved them from careers in petty crime.

“I stole a car when I was 14,” Coyle recently recalled, hanging out at the band’s jam room in White Settlement. Coyle’s a wryly humorous young man and an aficionado of “metal movies” like The Lord of the Rings, Conan, and Braveheart. “A friend and I went to [a Westside car dealership] and cut the lock on the chain that was holding this car, then bent it back so it looked like it was locked. When I got caught, the cops wanted to know where we stole it from, so I told them, but they didn’t believe me. I got off with a slap on the wrist. I told the judge, ‘I’ll never do this again. I don’t belong in jail.’ We weren’t really criminals. We’d just egg the other guys on when they said they were going to do stuff.”

The walls in the jam room are plastered with flyers for gigs the band has played, under the name KRY with a revolving cast of singers from 1996, and as Lifesize with McKinney starting in 2000. KRY played its first-ever gig at “Jam in the Box” in the parking lot of the Jack in the Box at Cherry Lane and Highway 80, released two c.d.’s of high-intensity guitar shredarama, and had “the biggest turnout ever” for a Tarrant County Harder Beat Showcase at the Tattoo Bar in May 1999. After losing their old frontman, the band took a six-month hiatus in Y2K to write new material, then auditioned 40 singers before settling on McKinney. The new lineup recorded a three-song demo at First Street Audio with producer-engineer Bart Rose in May 2001, made their live debut as Lifesize at the Tattoo Bar two months later, and cut their debut full-length, again with Rose, that fall. “Bart knows how to record,” said Crye. “Bart rocks!”

The members of Lifesize are continually searching for ways to escape the ghettoization of metal. “A lot of places won’t book you if you have long hair,” said Crye. He and Coyle recently trimmed their locks in a concession to that reality. “Maybe it’s like Tommy Lee said,” said Coyle. “We just need to show our asses and cuss more.” At the end of the day, though, they’re determined to stay true to the spirit of the music they love. “We wouldn’t go grunge or alternative or rap-metal,” said Crye. “There’s nothing else that compares with the power and aggression of this music. It’s like therapy for me.”

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