Planes Mistaken For Stars: The Best Band You Never Heard Of

I wrote this in 2003. Gared was my fourth interview for the music edge. In celebration of them coming to San Diego to play Cullens 30th B Day bash I thought I’d put this up. There is a funny anecdote of an experience I had when they played the Black Box in 05′. Gared and I were in Cullens Kitchen along with Mikey looking for ice cubes for our Jack and Cokes. Cullen, being a vegan, had a tray of frozen vegetable bullion in his freezer and if you’re outside of CA or not a vegan, that is just bit strange. Well Mikey and Gared both got regular ice cubes and in my drunken state I put what i thought was frozen cola cubes in my drink. It was a very healthy Jack and Coke to say the least. I also sustained a pretty good head wound that night as well. Enjoy!

When the boys from Planes decided it was time they leave their hometown of Peoria Illinois to seek their fortunes, they weren’t alone, “a mass exodus” ensued (thirteen of their closest friends) and they transplanted themselves to Denver, CO. Gared O’Donnell (vocals, guitar) says that, “We all moved out here. It’s sort of the ‘grass is always’ greener type thing. There really are a lot of downsides to Peoria but once you get away you realize that happiness is what you make it. I think at that time in our life when we left we needed to do something. It was a time in our lives when we all knew we wanted to do something. It was an awakening. When you realize that you are you and its sort of a cleansing, learning, teaching experience.”

The kind folks of Denver would have never been the wiser except for the fact that Planes is one of the standout bands as far as music is concerned in that little big city on the eastern side of the continental divide. They even made the number one slot on the Denver Post’s best underground band vote, a place often reserved for indie rock neophytes like Dressy Bessy or veteran indie outfits like The Apples In Stereo, both are great bands, albeit light years away from the hard edged sound of Planes Mistaken For Stars (and without the same amount of distortion).

Matt Bellinger (guitar, vocals), Gared O’Donnell (vocals, guitar), Mikey Ricketts (drums) and Chuck French (bass, formerly of the band Peralta and currently Git Some) comprise this powerful combination of post hardcore music and straight from the gut honesty that has left bystanders speechless and made a fan out of many a skeptic in a commercialized state of “the next new thing.” Eschewing references to the genre known as emo, Planes nosedives into a burning cornucopia of hard rock balladry that hasn’t had the fire of idealistic panache since the second Hot Water Music record or Bukowski’s Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument, Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit. This cadre of road warriors are hell-bent on making music, playing it for themselves and their fans without any apprehension of whether they will be “signed” or cash in, which they wouldn’t complain about on either scenario.

At 26, Gared and his band mates (all roughly around the same age) have been on a dozen tours, both regional and national, and have shared the stage with some amazing bands. As far as his age is concerned, he says that, “Days go by slow but years just zip by, especially looking back and thinking about what you have done or haven’t done.” Yet just this past spring they shared the stage with metal moguls, Motorhead in their hometown of Denver. Aside from playing with some amazing bands, Gared muses with a laugh about performing, saying, “You feel like you’re really alive for like five minutes.”

Thankfully that kind of attitude translates itself well to the crowds that have gathered at their shows. They don’t take themselves too seriously, nor do they demonstrate that upper crust nescience when they rock the club (but are often intoxicated to the point of falling down). When they first moved to Denver, thirteen people shared the same house in a somewhat dilapidated neighborhood in North East Denver. It became more than just a place to throw parties, it became a place to sleep for touring bands and a place to play for bands in Denver that otherwise would have to wait until the legal drinking age to play bars or hope that some promoter would let them grace an all ages venue (as long as they could draw a crowd). In essence it became an extended community of like-minded individuals that loved playing music and loved each other’s company.

Gared’s first recollection of music was family inspired; “I was always around music, my Mom was never a music fanatic but she was always into music. She always had the radio on. She had a moderate sized record collection. I can remember times when I was young, but going further back, of course I remember my grandmother and mother singing to me, thinking that was neat. I don’t know, I guess the first time I remember it (music) making an impact on me I was in second grade and my mom worked third shift so she would sleep most of the day. And this was during the summertime. I figured out how to use her record player, and I remember listening to Simon and Garfunkle’s, Greatest Hits and Bruce Springsteen’s, Born in the USA, over and over again until she woke up that day.

I really remember the Simon and Garfunkle record being important because it was the first time I realized that there was more to songs than just a tune. I remember it painting pictures for me, and in second grade you know, you can’t really grasp the gravity of what the songs really mean but that’s what I remember being meaningful. I also remember being in daycare before school and I remember having a crush on one of the ladies that took care of me, as much of a crush as a four or five year old can have. I remember hearing some love song on the radio and connecting her face with the song.”

It’s those kind of dramatic connections that make Gared such a benevolent and imposing figure, on stage. His strong ties with his family have made him into an insightful person, which is something that communicates itself through the music of Planes. Although there is an underlying excitement that permeates his calm demeanor Gared has world-weariness about him. Soft spoken and thoughtful the guitarist and lyric maestro is a stay at home father who lights up at the topic of being a father and the difficulty of being away from home so much.

A modest upbringing in the town of Peoria contributed to the Zen-like outlook he has on life a childlike wonder that has been with him forever. “I came from a single parent home. Me and brother were raised by my mother. We came from a very loving fostering environment. We lived very close to my grandparents. My Grandmother is the one that got me into comic books. My very first memory of my grand parents house was that it seemed as big as a castle but it was just a regular sized suburban home. I always liked exploring and looking for things and finding things and one time I found this box that was over my head but it was within reach and I kept wondering, “What’s in the box, what’s in the box?”

And I pulled at it and the whole box fell on top of me but as it did it opened up, it literally knocked me over, but I was covered in comic books and at that moment I could have died the happiest little boy in the world. I sat down there for what seemed like hours just reading comic books. She came down and told me that, ‘oh yeah, I was going to give those to you at some point.’ So I just have a real big appreciation for that kind of, well, pop art, I guess? That sounds kind of cliché or something but my childhood was filled with that kind of wonder.”

Gared’s influences as a musician is actually simple, citing one band in particular, The Police. “I was always into them [The Police]. I’ve got a lot of younger memories from them. Once I started to put together what songs meant, even on top of the whole Simon and Garfunkle experience, I started to understand that songs could change your moods at the time. You can hear something and it can trigger sadness or happiness or elation or whatnot, it’s The Police. They have always been a huge influence on me.

Adding, “I just wish I could follow suit more and know my instrument better to play at that caliber. But even with the stuff that we write, I’ve always got Police songs in the back of my head.”

Getting signed for Planes Mistaken For Stars was, according to Gared, a bit of a fluke but an interesting story nonetheless.

“We’ve never really been into shopping stuff around or sending stuff out. We had never really done that. But I guess business wise or career wise it just never occurred to us. We didn’t even start making shirts until we had been together for like three years. It never occurred to us, I don’t know why and we might have been a lot better off had we thought of those things. Anyway, when we first started out, we sent out that first copy of our record, we sent two out, one went to Deep Elm, because we played with a band that was on Deep Elm and they were like, ‘You have to make Deep Elm a copy, and you should send this to Deep Elm. I think he’d really like what you’re doing.’

Sending out the record wasn’t really with the intention of trying to be on Deep Elm, cause I’d never really heard of the label. When I did hear stuff from Deep Elm it wasn’t really our thing, anything on that label, it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t what we were going for. And then we sent one to Crank Records, well actually we didn’t send it, our old bass players roommate sent one to them. And it was weird because we decided to go out on our first tour and it was a big deal but on our way to our second show our engine blew. It ended up being this big fucking ordeal because half of us ended up getting stuck. Well actually it was me and two other guys but we had a car following us with a bunch of our friends because we’ve always been kind of communal in that sense. We always roll ‘mob deep.’ We always have a bunch of friends us with and it was a good excuse for all of us to get out of town.

We had a carpool following us, so we were lucky enough to have this car behind us so everyone went ahead to the next show and this was somewhere on the border between Oregon and Idaho. Me and the other two guys stayed back, and I called home to my Grandma to check in because I was living with her at the time, to see if she was ok, and she was like, ‘You want to check the messages?’ And the first message was the dude from Crank and the second one was the guy from Deep Elm. Both were like, ‘Whoa, we really liked the tape that you sent us, give us a call, we’d like to talk about doing something.’ We never even thought about being on a label, and that was such a shock and it was so foreign to us because we were such huge fans of music anyway that we just didn’t think that could happen to us. It’s totally a fluke that we’re doing this anyway.”

Adding, (at length) “We ended up calling Crank and we couldn’t get a hold of him then we called John from Deep Elm and he was like, ‘I got your tape, lets sign a deal.’ And I was like ‘wait we’ve never even met you man, this is our first tour and we’ve only been together for six months. ‘ Then I told him our plight with the van, he was like, ‘I’ll tell you what, I can take care of the engine for you and we’ll work on doing this record deal.’

And you know what? As much as I wanted to I could’ve been like, ‘hey send us some money for the engine,’ because we should’ve been completely ecstatic about this label wanting to sign us, but I guess we’ve always been pretty leery about labels, skeptical about labels in general. So I told him, ‘let us finish this tour and we’ll talk to you down the line.’ We were lucky enough that Mikey had a credit card with a pretty big limit on it. We fixed the engine, but the only thing was that it took them (mechanics) a week to do it so we had to rent a minivan to finish the tour, and only three of us could fit in it with all of our gear. Then our last show was in Arizona, for some reason we couldn’t find shows for the way back to Peoria, so everyone cruised home from Arizona, except for me and a couple of other guys, we had to go up to Idaho to get the van and return the rental. John from Deep Elm flew in to Arizona to check out our last show there and he was still really trying to sign us.”

In an age of computers, bands are being grown in the digital world, utilizing things like Sound Scan, a system that tracks album sales. Bands use this software so they can proposition labels and promoters while booking for tours or trying to get signed. It legitimizes them as a ‘crowd-pulling’ act in the eyes of the promoters. “I bet if you checked Sound Scan we’ve only sold about a thousand records. We never pay attention to things like that. A lot of people have heard of our band, they might have heard our records but a lot of people don’t think we actually exist. I know we’ve sold more than that though,” Gared explains.

Planes is a grass roots operation, built from the ground up, with friends for fans and fans for friends, its no wonder their support system is so loyal and protective. Gared continues; “He (John) still really wanted to do the record and one thing led to another and he wanted to sign us, but we were like, ‘we’re not sure how long we’re going to be a band, we don’t know how much we’ve got going now.’ It was such a pivotal point in all our lives but we told him that if he wanted to license this record and put it out then that would be cool. Because we were going to put it out ourselves in the states and he was going to take care of the rest of the distribution. He was going to do it overseas and we were going to take over the domestic distribution because we wanted to start our own label but he ended up doing it here anyway of his own accord. It all worked out anyway though. We didn’t really have the time or resources at the time to push the record and give it recognition. On our tour the printing company didn’t send us the covers for the pressings we had done ourselves so we hand made a thousand covers from stock board paper and used duct tape and a bunch of pictures. It was kind of ghetto but it looked really cool. I don’t even have one anymore, I wish I did though they looked nice.

We didn’t sign an exclusive deal with him, but he ended up doing the Knife in the Marathon EP, (and the self titled full length) which was great but we have always been just sort of passing through (when it comes to labels). That’s kind of how our whole take on it is, I’d love to work with as many labels as possible because its that much more of a stamp on your history to be involved with that many people. Each release is exciting because you know you have that different aesthetic

Gared’s love for the art of music takes interesting thematic approaches when it comes to label support. The band has released both Spearheading the Sin Movement (EP) and F*#k with Fire on No Idea Records, which is currently their home. Knife in the Marathon and the first full length as well as starring roles on Deep Elm’s famous, Emo Diaries, found Planes on their first now famous compilation.

As an after thought, in regards to their old label, Gared says that, “We love Deep Elm and we never really signed an exclusive deal with them. But I think that it’s crucial for the survival of a band to not feel backed into a corner. I’ve seen it happen to a lot of bands where they’re like, ‘we owe this label four more records.’ But for us it’s stifling to feel like you have to write a bunch of crap. We’re pretty sporadic as far as writing goes, we don’t release anything for two years and I mean I could sit down and write a whole record today but it would be crap. It’s never felt like a commodity to us so we take our time. I guess we have fits of creativity.”

Planes Mistaken for Stars is not a good band; in fact they aren’t even that cool. In actuality Planes Mistaken For Stars is a great band. A band made of dreamers and musicians that care for one another as much as they care for their fans and the work they put into their music. If there is one band you should see in your life time, it would be Planes, but remember, those aren’t rock stars on that stage, they are people you will be toasting drinks to and laughing with later.

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