It's a safe assumption to say that the men of Fools & Horses are fans of Starbucks. While many Americans have become regulars (read: addicts) of the java juggernaut's offerings, the establishment hasn't returned much to customers beyond a good buzz and the introduction of terms like “half-caf” to the national lexicon.
For Fools & Horses, however, Starbucks has already provided them with national exposure and will deliver even more of the same this year.
The band, which hails from Baltimore and mixes frequently with the D.C. music scene, was named the grand prize winner in Starbucks' “Off the Clock” CD contest. They scored a track on a compilation album of the same name featuring musicians with ties to Starbucks and sold nationwide through the store. This year the band will appear on a second Starbucks compilation, this time with established, nationally renowned acts.
While Fools & Horses obviously had the chops to earn a spot on the album, a fact recently vetted when they claimed three Wammie awards from the Washington Area Music Association, good fortune had a part to play as well. In January 2006 Steve Herrera, who now plays guitar and sings backing vocals, joined up with the group. A partner of Starbucks, Herrera introduced his new bandmates — frontman Matt Hutchison, drummer Tim Hutchison and bassist Kent Warren — to the contest. And like that, the band found their way onto an album that has sold over 30,000 copies.
Fools & Horses have found fortune in other music competitions as well. Using their radio-ready sound — Matt Hutchison describes it as Wings-era Paul McCartney melded with more modern influences like Foo Fighters — they snagged a spot opening for Bon Jovi through a battle of the bands sponsored by CBS Radio Mix 106.5. Needless to say, playing in front of 15,000 fans was a memorable occasion for the band, even if they didn't pick up any sage advice from Bon Jovi during their brief encounter.
“It was very scripted, very regimented. The backstage hands were like, 'After you come off stage you will meet here, shake hands here, turn, and take a picture. You'll go that way, they'll go that way and you're done.' And that's exactly how it happened,” Matt Hutchison says. “It still felt like time stood still, even though it only took 30 seconds. He's a lot shorter than I am, but I was still looking up at him. It was very strange … but he looked as glorious as ever that Bon Jovi.”
So far though, Hutchison and Co. haven't needed too much help crafting their sound. Six new songs posted on the F&H MySpace page illustrate a polish that is often unusual for an unsigned band, unsupported by a veteran producer. Hutchison pegs the Foo Fighters' sound right on with the distortion draped, muted-strings intro to “Wide Eyed Wonder.” Meanwhile, “Anna Was the Enemy” rekindles memories of 90s acts like Fountains of Wayne and Gin Blossoms.
“We just kind of put a new, more modern spin on the sounds that came before now,” Hutchison says. “We've been getting a lot harder as we go along. I'm not talking, like, Metallica, but it has a little more edge to it over the years.”
It appears that their earlier work is no less agreeable. In mid February, the band won a trio of Wammies for Best Modern Rock Group, Best Artist Website and also the Fan Favorite Award. While the accolades were enjoyable, Hutchison found his time on stage collecting the award a little more uncomfortable than usual.
“We are so cool and calm and collected when we're performing, but as soon as we have to speak, it's like I might as well have never spoken before. My nerves were really going,” Hutchison says. “We were nominated for quite a bit [seven categories in all], so the odds were in our favor to win something. To go in there prepared would have been a good idea, but of course we didn't because we sort of wing everything we do.”
Following their success at the Wammies, the band has upcoming shows in Florida, Ohio and Milwaukee, not to mention their debut appearance at the prestigious South By Southwest festival in Austin.
Locally the band will play Monday, March 3 at the Santa Fe Cafe in College Park, Md. The show is part of a Rolling Rock-sponsored party starting at 9 p.m. Fools & Horses will hit Virginia later this month when they play Clarendon Grill on March 20.
• For more on Fools & Horses, visit www.foolsandhorses.net.