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Published: Thursday, 3/29/2001

VH1 reality show follows 4 bands trying to make it


Everything Temptation Island promised and didn't deliver is on view in VH1's wild new unscripted series, Bands on the Run, debuting at 10 p.m. Sunday. It's got uninhibited behavior, after-hours partying, skimpy clothing, and fistfights. And its blasts of rock and roll put a loud new twist on the reality-show genre.

For this show, four unknown rock bands were sent on an eight-week national tour with a van and gas card, $20-a-day stipends, and some preset club gigs. Cameras trailed the bands as they competed for whoever could sell the most tickets and T-shirts. VH1 kept track of the proceeds and by the time they reached Cleveland and Columbus (for episodes 4, 5, and 6) one band had been cut for underperforming. The winning band got $50,000, new equipment, and the chance to make a music video.

But the contest angle is the least compelling part of this series. The tune-in factor comes from the often outrageous antics of the young band members (only one is over 30), who seem to put no governors on their language, alcohol consumption, or tendency to switch from unflustered to furious in nanoseconds.

These musicians act like they've adopted Jim Morrison and Courtney Love as role models.

The competitors are Harlow, a just-formed all-girl punk group from Los Angeles; Flickerstick, a Dallas-based rock band always on the verge of breaking up; rock foursome Soulcracker from San Diego; and the mellow Josh Dodes Band from Philadelphia.

Once the cameras rolled, the musicians “overdelivered” in terms of high drama, said producer Jane Lipsitz.

“We would have days off after shooting for six days and [the musicians] didn't change that much. They were really being fairly honest on-camera. Anytime we were concerned about it being monotonous, something would happen that would have us going, `We couldn't write this better,''' said Lipsitz.

In episode 1, the long-estranged father of Flickerstick singer Cory Kreig dies unexpectedly, plunging the whole band into emotional turmoil. By episode 3, Flickerstick has turned on one of its own, Dominic Weir, a hard-drinking and volatile drummer who spends almost all his free time pounding booze and hitting on girls. Kreig refuses to appear on The Jenny Jones Show, claiming it's beneath his artistic standards. Soulcracker goes to war against Harlow, dubbing them “the vampire girls.” The guitarist for the Josh Dodes Band threatens to quit over a bad set at a Hard Rock Caf .

It's egos on parade all day and all night. With nonstop cocktails.

The producers and the 90-member crew had to stand by silently as the bands threw ugly hissy fits and drank themselves into blackouts. The producers stepped in only when someone was too wiped out to drive (a production assistant took the wheel instead).

“There were certainly moments when we had discussions about [all the drinking],” said Lipsitz. “But the thing is, this is rock and roll and this is what they do and we're documenting it. If anyone was putting anyone else at risk, we would have stepped in and taken care of it. But we didn't have to.”

Amanda Roote, lead singer of Harlow, admits that all the bands spent a lot of time getting “(bleep)-faced” and trying to hook up with the opposite sex. She felt that VH1 encouraged the dodgy behavior to get spicier footage.

“They wanted you to be [flirting] and drinking,” said Roote. “They didn't want you to break the law. But they just stand there and film.”

The only firm no-no was fraternizing with members of the film crew.

“They were really paranoid about that because of what happened with Real World [where a roommate had a secret fling with a cameraman],” said Roote.

Bands and crew weren't allowed to mix until the wrap party, two months after shooting began. That was another level of weird, said Roote.

“They had been watching us for two months and knew everything about us. And we knew absolutely nothing about them.”

Unlike Making the Band and Popstars, two other popular reality shows about musical groups, Bands on the Run found groups that already were working together. The four on the show were chosen from among 10,000 entries. Harlow was the “baby group” and the only one without professional management. Its members were living hand-to-mouth, burning CDs by hand, and making souvenir Harlow dolls in the backyard of the shared apartment they call “Harlowland” when they got the call from VH1.

Harlow soon discovered that being followed everywhere by cameras can get “kind of creepy,” said Roote. “Like, you have to wait an hour to do something because the crew is on a break. Or you'd have to go to five or six clubs because they wouldn't let us in with cameras.”

The payoff, of course, is sudden stardom and big wads of cash. (Roote wouldn't reveal which band won). The only drawback is the cut of each group's future earnings VH1 will take.

“VH1 and MTV own us for a couple of years,” said Roote. “We can't say no if they want us to do promotion and they can release songs we did on the show. But hey, I don't think signing the contract was a bad decision. We are really lucky. We're getting to make music and hopefully people will want to buy our record (coming out Sunday) and we'll actually have something to eat.”

Harlow is back in L.A. now, writing new music and still living together in Harlowland. Its members recently attended the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, where Roote said they spent “four drunken, disgusting days” reuniting with former competitors Soulcracker and the Josh Dodes Band.

Not much seems to have changed since they all parted ways after production ended last fall.

“Adrian from the Josh Dodes Band made out with Bob from Soulcracker,” Roote said. “And we ate barbecue and got absolutely (bleep)-faced.”

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