In the garage of 8stops7 frontman Evan Sula-Goff, there is a framed picture from 1999 of his band signing its major-label record deal. Once hung proudly in the living room, it now resides next to boxes of Christmas ornaments and rusty tools. But even through the dusty glass frame you can see the unmistakable joy on the young band members’ faces.
An exhausted Sula-Goff, who has just finished putting his two young children to sleep after working a full day and taking a class online, muses aloud, “Sometimes I come out here at night and just stare at that picture. Seems like a different life.”
Sula-Goff’s own disbelief over his band’s career is understandable. 8stops7’s odyssey has become the stuff of legends in the local music scene.
In the late ’90s, when the music industry was at its financial peak, the young alternative hard rock band from Ventura hit pay dirt after being the focus of a major-label bidding war, ultimately signing with Warner/Reprise Records.
The band lived the dream for more than two years, releasing a full-length record that produced two minor alternative rock radio hits and sold in excess of 100,000 copies. It toured nationally and played to thousands on radio festivals, alongside major acts of the day, and even made two big-budget videos that received MTV airplay.
Just as quickly as success happened, though, it seemed to be gone. Blame label shake-ups, management, personnel and financial issues, the fact is that only a few years after the band was on the verge of legitimate stardom, 8stops7 found it was in semi-hiatus mode, down to two original members left to play the occasional show at a local dive bar in front of a handful of friends.
It wasn’t alone. Dozens of bands from the same era who had similar success were also abandoned by labels, agents and even their own fans. Most of them simply called it quits. But most bands are not 8stops7.
Sula-Goff and drummer Adam Powell forged ahead, playing and recording when they could between the increasing demands of day jobs, marriages, houses and children. Through it all, though, 8stops7 still existed, almost laying in wait for another chance to finish what it had started.
The seeds for the rebirth were finally planted in 2007 when sorely missed original members guitarist Seth Watson and bassist Alex Viveros returned to the band. Also in the mix was new guitarist Rodney Amieva.
It was an old but somehow new version of 8stops7. With an understandably different perspective on the crumbling music industry they were once a part of, they simply went back to being a local band playing together for the sheer fun of it. With no pressure or record deals in the way, the band began performing live more, and all the while writing a new record.
The result, Fables, its first record since 2004, is a tour de force by a band that clearly is out to make a statement. Slightly more mature but fiercely aggressive, 8stops7 sounds like a band that would fit just as easily today on the hard-rock-driven radio that dominates Midwestern airwaves.
The musicians also made the decision to take to the road for the first time in a full decade when they performed 13 shows as part of the VenAustin Tour in March. As their confidence grew with each show, their headlining set at the Texas rock fest was nothing short of triumphant, with a smattering of fans in faded 8stops7 T-shirts singing along to every song, clearly having thought they would never see the band again, live.
Home from tour, back to work and completely independent, the band is in full second-wind mode gearing up for a local CD release show, and there’s an energy and excitement among them that hasn’t been seen in years.
What the future holds exactly isn’t clear, but there’s talk of radio campaigns, regional touring, a recent movie placement in the horror movie Among Friends and even a long-dreamed-about trip overseas, which was one of the few goals the band didn’t achieve in the major-label days.
Back in the garage, though, after a white-wine-induced reflective conversation on his band’s up, down and up again history, Sula-Goff stares hard at the framed photo and then suddenly pulls it off the pegboard, announcing, “I think it’s time to put this back where it belongs.”
The framed photo, much like the band in it, is now back where it can and should be appreciated.
8stops7 celebrates the release of Fables with an all-ages show on Saturday, May 26, 8 p.m. at Zoey’s. Aaron Orbit will also be performing. For more information, visit www.8stops7.com.