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Monday March 19, 2001

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Band waits for success to 'Pile-up'

By Phil Leckman

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Obscure indie-rock band plays Solar Culture tonight

If you ask most people, rock music has seen better days. The record charts, chock-full of rock bands just a few short years ago, are now crowded with hip-hop, dance and country, with little room for guys with guitars.

But rock survives in tiny clubs and obscure record stores across the country, fueled not by the shifting tastes of mainstream audiences but by hardworking bands who will never be able to live off their music, let alone see their faces in the pages of Rolling Stone. Their stories revolve around empty nightclubs and broken vans, not headlining tours, and around hand-packaged records, not MTV videos.

The Jim Yoshii Pile-up, a San Francisco group playing Solar Culture tonight, are just such a band. Despite a good following in the Bay Area and a critically well-received EP, the Pile-up continue to labor in obscurity, said drummer Ryan Craven.

"I feel like we get good responses from people who work in record stores, essentially," Craven said. "It's a good start, but you kind of want it and need it to go beyond that a little bit."

Part of the problem is about exposure. The band plays nearly every other week in San Francisco, said Craven.

"We've played so much up here, and we still do," he said. "We play constantly, constantly, constantly and get these really great shows, but I think we all kind of feel like we've worn out our welcome in San Francisco."

Getting out on the road, then, seemed like a logical next step. But that's easier said than done when you live in one of the most expensive areas in the country, said Craven, the only member of the group who doesn't work full-time.

"Because there are five of us, it's hard enough to get a night to practice, let alone say, 'Okay, let's take a week-and-a-half off of our lives and go down the West Coast,' or whatever," he said. "In fact, we were going to drive up to Portland and Seattle again (on this tour), but we couldn't all get time off work, so it kind of fell apart."

The band has some cause to view even this brief tour with enthusiasm, however. Although Jim Yoshi Pile-up's hand-packaged, self-titled debut EP has received rave reviews, Craven contends even this mild reputation is limited to a very select audience - after all, only 1,000 copies of the EP were ever made.

"Our reputation might extend to people who work in record stores, or who write for college newspapers or the guy who runs Zuma online - he's heard of us," Craven said. "But beyond that, I think the average indie-rocker with a plaid shirt and Chuck Taylors probably hasn't heard of us."

Indeed, it's generous to even call The Pile-up's tour experience "limited," Craven said.

"The only time we've really played in Southern California was with this sort of pop-industrial band. They were really nice, but we were playing for all these kids who wanted to hear guys banging on metal and making sparks come out of things," he said. "They didn't want to see three guys playing guitar and being all sad and slow and all that."

Given the band's lack of experience, Craven said he has no grand illusions for the upcoming tour.

"We'll see what happens. I think we'll be happy if people come out and see us play," he said. "We want to get down there, sell some CDs and find people who like us. But I think a lot of it is just to go and play and hang out, you know?"

The Jim Yoshii Pile-up may not exactly be headed for the limelight, but in the end, Craven said, being in the band is all about having a good time.

"Like I said before, we're so busy that we don't get to practice much, let alone hang out together much as friends, which we are - we're really good friends, and we have a great time when we do get together," Craven said. "I think that's a lot of it too - if we weren't having fun when we were in the band, we wouldn't do it."

The Jim Yoshii Pile-up plays Solar Culture tonight at 9 with local group Ladies and Gentlemen. Call 884-0874 for more information.