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Mounting Success

Dodge ad spells commercial gains for Bonepony

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It's almost like watching a music video. The clips make quick cuts from one scene to another, and a band's name even appears in the lower left corner just like on MTV. But the star of these catchy commercials that are constantly being aired on major networks is a vehicle -- more specifically, a Dodge. And as it turns out, TV commercials aren't the first time the Nashville-based roots rockers known as Bonepony have dealt with a large corporation. In fact, the band's debut album, Stomp Revival, was released in 1995 on Capitol Records. But unlike that deal, which eventually soured, the commercials appear to be working in their favor at the moment.

"We've gotten a lot more e-mails and a lot more hits to the website since that thing has started running," says lead vocalist Scott Johnson. "It's been great, but it's also kind of a double-edge sword."

He explains, "I got an e-mail the other day from a guy down in Florida who said he saw the commercial and loved our music, so he went to the website and bought some CDs. 'I love your band, but I'm sick of that song. They play it every 10 minutes down here!'"

The singer, however, shrugs it off because, like most business-savvy musicians (if there is such a thing), he understands that the amount of exposure the band is receiving through these commercials is simply priceless.

"We made a little money off of it, which was nice, but we really did it for the promotional aspect of the deal," he says.

As it turns out, the band had landed the deal with Capitol after achieving a noticeable industry buzz in their hometown. And while it sounds as if the band was quite successful on their home turf, it didn't help in selling records to a national audience.

"I've talked to a lot of our fans who are real down on Capitol, saying the label didn't really know what to do with us, but we have to take a lot of the responsibility for not selling more records ourselves," he admits. "We really only had one market where we could draw a crowd, and that was Nashville."

These days, however, the band finds itself working almost backwards and going back to more of a grassroots effort. "We didn't get out there and do the grassroots kind of stuff until after the label was gone, but we've spent the last five to six years playing every place we can. We go to secondary markets and smaller colleges where a lot of bigger bands don't stop, but the folks are there and they want to hear great music. We try to find a niche for ourselves in those smaller places and we've built a pretty decent fanbase. We've got about 12,000 names on a mailing list that's real active."

In addition to Johnson, the band also features guitarist Nick Nguyen and a fiddler who goes by the name Tramp (and who was born right here in the Queen City). "We also have one employee, and he does everything from getting the oil in the van changed to booking shows. We all divvy up the managerial chores. We've had talks recently with record labels, booking agents and managers, and we're open to talk to everybody, but we're very willing to do it ourselves as well. I found that if you're going to take on a team member, it's got to be the right person with the exact same goals. So far, it's been really hard to find and I can't think of anybody better than the guys who are creating the music and who are out there having to do the drives and do the shows. So far, it's just been the four of us."

So what does Johnson, who describes the band's sound as an amalgam of funk, soul, country, rock, R&B and every other genre you can imagine, foresee in the near future for Bonepony? Aside from touring, the band is also currently working on songs for their fourth record (after Stomp Revival the band released two independent records, Traveler's Companion and Funhouse).

The resurgence in the popularity of roots music, due in part to the success of the Grammy Award-winning O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, also has the band optimistic in regards to their future.

"I think the industry, for the most part, is totally missing so many listeners," states Johnson. "I mean, a success for them is one or two million records, but if you look at the population of our country, that's nothing. I think there are so many people who are willing to buy CDs and go see good music who aren't being catered to. There's no radio station for them and the industry has sort of turned their backs on them. Not intentionally -- I just don't think they realize that market is out there. And that's the folks we're seeing. They seem very underserved and then very appreciative we're out there doing it."

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