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Keeping it Simplified

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Ever heard that old saying, "K.I.S.S. — Keep it simple, stupid"? Not that any of the four members of Simplified are stupid by any means, but they've been keeping it simple, and it works. The band has created a solid fan base in Charlotte — a CD-release party earlier this year at the Visulite sold out — and is slowly growing in popularity in other Southeastern markets.

Instead of spreading itself thin, the band has played regular gigs around the city, including a weekly spot at Mac's Speed Shop on South Boulevard. Thanks to grassroots word-of-mouth advertising and performances at a variety of local venues, the band's fanbase has increased enough where it can play four or five shows a week and no member needs a "regular" day job. Instead, days are spent handling management duties -- marketing, merchandise, hotel booking, etc. -- or songwriting.

"We did a run over the summer that was 13 shows in a row," guitarist Chris Sheridan says. "Our major concentration has been in the Southeast and we're trying to now stay on the road as much as possible now -- within a four-hour radius because of gas prices."

The band of 30-somethings -- Sheridan, Clee Laster (vocals/guitar), Chris Lynch (bass) and Tim Lail (drums) -- formed nearly five years ago as the quartet they are today. Originally, Laster and Sheridan were performing acoustically when they met Lynch. They then found Lail as the percussionist. "Clee and I were doing an open mic and secretly auditioning people," Sheridan says. "People also responded to an ad we posted on bandtastic online."

Sheridan recalls Lail saying the band's music "needed some ass to it," and Laster agrees that the early recordings were slow and sleepy. The duo was looking for musicians with personality and similar goals who could help create their own sound -- and that's what they got. "We'd get to jam with people who played bass and drums, but we wanted to do that all the time," Laster says.

Trying to describe Simplified's music is no easy task. It's got hints of Sublime, Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson, but there's also rock, blues, reggae and funk. "There are so many styles that we incorporate," Sheridan says. "I think you said it best (in a Music Menu item in Creative Loafing) that it's more of a mood than a genre."

The band has always had originals in its setlist, but would throw in occasional covers -- done in the band's style -- to help get gigs. As repeat performances grew at a venue, they would slowly weed out the cover songs. "A lot of places don't want us to do originals, but usually when they hear them, they like them and we get invited back," Sheridan says. Laster says they abandoned working on new covers roughly three years ago.

They also tailor the set to the venue they're playing. For Mac's, it's more relaxed, and Laster says, "It's like playing on a back porch for a bunch of our friends." On the other hand, they look at the Visulite as a stand-up full-energy show to get everyone moving.

These days, it may seem like the band is popping up all over the local music scene as something new and fresh, but they haven't forgotten that it's been a long road, five years in the making, to this point. There have been plenty of gigs with small crowds and rough moments where someone has quit -- each member has "quit" the band at least once. No one has quit in the last two years though, Laster notes with a laugh.

As for Simplified's name, it was suggested by a fan. "It's one word, it's memorable and it was perfect," Sheridan says. The band has released four albums so far, including an EP, a live album recorded at the Visulite and its debut studio effort, 2006's Smile. Its latest CD, Elephant Sky, was released in April of this year. There is talk of the band's next album, possibly acoustic and being recorded with Jamie Hoover, being released next year. Though they say there's enough material for two albums -- one acoustic and one regular.

Sheridan says when they play, it now feels like a party and he's sure some people only show up to simply be there -- and probably check out the women who make up 75 percent of their fans. "We want people to feel like they're going to an event," Lail says. Lynch agrees -- "We want people to feel like they are as much a part of our show as we are. They all sing and dance and it feeds our energy to put on a better show."

As for how they've changed in that time, the quartet agrees that songwriting is now more of a collaborative process, and they've also got a better understanding of the business side. "We're much better songwriters now and better listeners," Sheridan says. "We never made a conscious effort with our sound, but it's more mature now. We're self-managed now and have an agent and publicist."

All the hard work seems to be paying off. Aside from the loyal fanbase in Charlotte, the band is increasing its viewership in the region. The band's next-largest markets are Wilmington, N.C., and Columbia and Charleston, S.C., while Augusta, Ga., is quickly growing.

Simplified recently opened for O.A.R. in front of an Alabama crowd of 8,000 -- the band's biggest show to date -- and a continuing opening slot for a tour next year is being discussed. "Opening for them was a great taste of what we want to do," Laster says. "It was intimidating, but it was a great time. We just want to get to play in new places -- even if we don't make any money. As long as we're playing in front of new faces, we're happy."

Simplified will play at Whisky River on Nov. 6. For more information, go to www.simplifiedmusic.com or www.whiskyrivercharlotte.com.

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