Better Living Through Livestock

Crossover: Clearwater's Crossbreed mixes metal, industrial and techno, but poses like the Backstreet Boys for promo pics. What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, Clearwater's Crossbreed played 98Rock's Livestock festival; seven months later they were signed to New York-based indie Artemis, home to such diverse acts as Kittie, Steve Earle, Baha Men and J. Mascis and The Fog. This weekend, the band, together for less than five years, will play Livestock again, this time in one of the choicest spots — between 3 Doors Down and Saturday headliner The Offspring. It's all gravy, is how James Rietz, Crossbreed vocalist and all-around nice guy, succinctly puts it.

Yeah, that's right, nice guy. That the howling, grunting singer of lyrics like, Death is a disease/ People they believe/ Almost out of time/ That's it, you're underlined is a gregarious fella with his head on straight is just one contradiction that Crossbreed brings to the table. The band's music fuses prickly metal guitar and big rock rhythms to techno beats and blurps, coating the concoction in a synthetic industrial sludge that harks back to Ministry and Nine Inch Nails.

Crossbreed's promo photos, unfortunately, show the six members in Backstreet Boy pouts and postures, despite their primary-colored dreads and Gothic spaceman getups. And the band's ferocious sound and over-the-top live presence is born not of drug-drenched, discord-ridden chaos, but rather of a close-knit and, in most of the members' cases, long-lived friendship.

Rietz, guitarist Chris Nemzek and drummer Travis Simkins have known one another since grade school. They met Crossbreed's future bassist, Charlie Parker, in their early teens. Now ranging in age from 22 to 25, half of Crossbreed lives in a house owned by Nemzek's mother, where the band also practices; the other half live up the street.

She takes care of us, says Rietz of Mother Nemzek. ... She owns half our equipment; she bought it for us. She's always been cool. She's all about the band. She hopes we make it so she can quit her job and work for us.

If this seems like pie-in-the-sky talk, keep in mind that though the guitarist's mom is still punching a clock somewhere, the band members are not. Last spring, when Crossbreed met the femme metales of Kittie at Livestock, the Clearwater sextet thought nothing of passing on their demo. Flip, one of Crossbreed's two keyboardists, was trying to put the mack down on (Kittie bassist) Talena (Atfield), recalls Rietz. It obviously worked.

Some time later, Talida called Flip from a video shoot, and Flip suggested she give Crossbreed's demo to Kittie's A&R rep. It was just a cheap, 8-track demo, Rietz says, and we didn't think anything of it. A few weeks later, the rep e-mailed the band and said he wanted to talk to them. He came down to see Crossbreed perform and offered them a record deal the next day. Three days later, the band was in New York, recording their debut album, Synthetic Division, with producer Matt Chiaravalle (Orange 9MM, Kittie).

Kittie definitely hooked us up, says Rietz, who undoubtedly scored the band a few hookups as an employee of 98Rock's promotions department. No band absolutely has to, and a lot of times, some bands might not want to, because it becomes competition on their label. ... But with us and Kittie there's really no problem, because they're the ones that helped us get on the label. And we're the only two heavy bands on the label.

Synthetic Division hits the streets May 8, and a three-song, pre-release sampler has just been added to CMJ's Loud Rock and Loud Rock College radio charts. While some songs on the full-length, like Stem, are practically dance numbers, the disc's first single, Underlined, features an opening drum-and-guitar storm that would make Soundgarden blush, and a near-delicate synth breakdown. The lyrics hold special significance for Rietz, who wrote the song while unemployed, carless, living with his mother and a fractured foot. It's a hidden message for myself, that I wrote for myself, and people can make whatever they want about that, he says. It's more or less about my father. To me, underlined' is like, you're dead. My dad died when I was 12, of cancer, and I had a lot of animosity towards him. ... Jonathan Davis from Korn wrote a song, Daddy,' where he was really blunt about it, and that's totally cool.

But Rietz prefers to stay mysterious.

He claims Korn's energy as an inspiration for his band's live show. But the hallmark flamboyance of a Crossbreed concert is closer to South Florida's favorite spooky kids, Marilyn Manson, than it is to rapcore's simple live muscle. The centerpiece of the show is Crossbreed's glow-in-the-dark attire, inspired by a broken glowstick at a show at the Rubb. We just started thinking, remembers Rietz, what would happen if we could glow on-stage? We just wanted to look how we felt when we played.

That ambition evolved into black rubber coveralls with clear plastic strips, washed in the same blacklight-activated makeup that the band members wear on their skin. The look is accessorized with fire-optic wiring, blacklights on the stage floor and other lighting effects. The band, who worked with a local designer to create their current look, is now trying to revamp it, with fiber optics sewn directly into the suits.

Crossbreed will soon take its glowshtick on the road; a national tour is in the planning stages. The names Fear Factory and Rammstein have been tossed around as possible roadmates, and fall tours like Family Values, Slipknot's Tattoo the Earth and Rob Zombie have also been mentioned. In the meantime, Crossbreed has just completed a mini-tour of Florida with Darwin's Waiting Room, out of Miami, and Tallahassee's Presence.

Despite Darwin's Waiting Room also having an album forthcoming, on MCA, and Presence negotiating with labels, the tour was entirely funded by the bands, just because we wanted to do it so bad, says Rietz. No label support from any of them. Because I'd rather save whatever money we'd get for tour support. I'd rather save that money for bigger stuff. We ended up still ahead, with money at the end. So it wasn't a loss on our half.

Moneywise, Crossbreed is an egalitarian unit. Though Nemzek and Flip are largely responsible for the band's melodies, and Rietz for its words, the three have waived their rights so that all six members can split profits evenly. We all got here together, says Rietz. Don't get him wrong: He wouldn't mind getting rich. But Rietz insists that money isn't what it's all about. And if the album's a dud, he'll just go back to the radio station, he says, and then corrects himself, laughing. Slit my throat.

No. Either way, if we get to go out and do a few tours, then we get to accomplish what we wanted to do. Go out there and get paid to play, play with such big bands ... tour the country for free.

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