I covered my ears, wincing as electrical shrieks in painfully grating tones resonated through a church auditorium. Despite my reaction, Hot Rod Circuit played on in a vain attempt to combat the disinterest, and sometimes disdain, of an apathetic crowd. Even taken in context, the show was pretty awful. My prognosis: this band sucks and they’re going nowhere.
But that was two years ago, an eternity on the evolutionary scale of contemporary popular music, and sometimes even the most esteemed critics eat their words.
Two years down the trail, Hot Rod Circuit has definitely gotten their proverbial poo together. Recently signed with Vagrant records, the band has toured with bands like Saves the Day and Dashboard Confessional. Eschewing the disjointed tunes of its past, the band’s new record Sorry About Tomorrow is a healthy mix of pop-punk melody and pure rock fury.
So, maybe they’ve gotten really good, but as Hot Rod Circuit guitarist Casey Prestwood said in a recent Hatchet interview, my initial reaction wasn’t atypical in the early days.
“We kind of got used to people just standing there. We were almost intimidating to the crowds,” said Prestwood. “I’m pretty comfortable with what I do; I don’t think the crowd was though.”
Only a few years ago, these boys were playing basement shows. Now they are on Vagrant’s roster of artists amongst many whom have recently exploded into the wider market. Banking on the popularity of these bands, Vagrant has secured national distribution, a reality that Prestwood is only slightly disturbed by.
“I don’t go to the mall at all, but one of the last times I went I saw one of our splits in Hot Topic,” he said. “It was like shrink-wrapped a thousand times. It was so weird.”
As strange as it may be for him, Prestwood does acknowledge certain social advantages to having a more commercially successful band.
“It makes you feel a little more legitimate,” said Prestwood. “You can be talking to some hipster at a coffee shop and he can be like ‘so, you in a band?’ and I can be like ‘actually yes I am, and you can go to the store and get my record.'”
While mainstream success is still a ways off for Hot Rod Circuit, many of the band’s long-time friends have already made the jump to radio and MTV play.
“I’ve seen all those bands from the beginning. We played with Saves the Day like three and a half years ago and there were like 20 people there. That’s how we all got to know each other,” said Prestwood. “Its cool. Now I get to see my friends on TV.”
Prestwood admits that he wouldn’t mind a little of the limelight himself, or at least a chance to get his music out.
“I wouldn’t say it’s my ambition, but it’s not something I’d shy away from,” he said. “Success is a good thing when you’ve been busting your ass for so long.”
For now though, Hot Rod Circuit is a working band. As Prestwood explained, “Vagrant isn’t exactly making us millionaires. We have to get out there and tour our asses off.”
Prestwood enjoys the touring experience, but said it can be disorienting.
“We’ve been on tour for three years,” he said. “It’s hard to remember being off.”
In their time on the road Hot Rod Circuit has had its fair share of run-ins with big name acts such as Cypress Hill, Papa Roach, the Strokes and Tenacious D. Playing with more famous musicians is an experience that Prestwood truly enjoys.
“It’s surprising to me how cool those people are. Everyone always says they’re dicks,” said Prestwood. “We seem to make friends wherever.”
It’s not all roses though, Prestwood said. He said that some bands do tend to throw their weight around when he’s in the room.
“There’ve been bands we’ve played with that we didn’t hit it off with,” he said. “It definitely happens. People boss you around.”
But then again, hobnobbing with big name acts doesn’t seem like Prestwood’s MO. On stage he’s fueled by pure electricity, gyrating and pulsing behind his guitar and creating an air reminiscent of 70s rockers like The Who and Led Zeppelin. In person, he is quiet and open, but with great reserve. His persona outweighs his personality.
Like his band, Prestwood may be akin to greatness, but he hasn’t quite managed it for himself. Prestwood admits that he feels the need for constant improvement.
“I want to continue to get better at lead guitar. I never started out to be a lead guitar player,” he said. “I want to solo more. It’s all about orchestration.”
Writing new songs and playing new cities, Hot Rod Circuit is taking the road to success one mile at a time. They know where they want to go, but, as Prestwood admits, they sometimes can’t even remember where their tour started.
“The first show was in . I don’t know. We’ve played too many shows.”