By JOHN PATRICK GATTA
Course of Nature may be one of the only bands around with a hit single that could satisfy the ignorant jerk in a concert crowd who keeps yelling for Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird."
The Enterprise, Ala., threesome was originally a cover band under the moniker Cog that worked the region around its home state. The lack of satisfaction creatively became unbearable for vocalist-guitarist-songwriter Mark Wilkerson. Add to that the small pay available, and the decision to bring in original material became his band's only option.
"Alabama is different 'cause they don't pay any bands," said Wilkerson during a recent phone interview. "They don't like original music. They don't like cover music. It's a real weird situation down there.
"Our manager, we went to him and told him, 'If we're going to make it in this business, we've got to start playing more originals. We can't continue 'cause nobody's going to notice us. We're the same as everybody else.' So, all we did, this is in the matter of a day, we decided we're going to start taking a cover band with us on the road and let them open up for us."
As Cog, Wilkerson and guitarist John "Fish" Mildrum recorded an independently-released album. Their decision didn't truly result in dividends until the two entered a Memphis studio to record demos with producer Matt Martone (3 Doors Down). Martone suggested Rickey Shelton to fill in the vacant drum position for these sessions. The three musicians immediately hit it off, and the songs that were initially put to tape last July became the basis of the trio's Lava/Atlantic records debut, "Superkala."
The positive feeling derived from the union of Wilkerson, Mildrum and Shelton, the fateful events that went in their favor, plus a copyright problem with another named Cog, brought about the change to Course of Nature.
While the album's first single, the epic ballad, "Caught in the Sun," displays CON's sensitive side, its current single, the hard rocking "Wall of Shame," shows that its songs can be just as tough as they are soft and cuddly.
As Wilkerson points out, the remaining eight tracks fall somewhere in between those two styles. "Everything comes back to the middle. Our selection of singles will be easier after we establish ourselves as a rock band."
Course of Nature's sound is familiar to anyone who's caught the current resurgence of rock 'n roll. "Superkala" throws out hard and sustained riffs but does so in a way that's just as heavy on melodic content as it is on stacking Marshall amplifiers for powerful effect.
You could easily align this band with others -- Fuel, 3 Doors Down, Creed, Nickelback -- who have mined success by adding a ballad or two among the forceful rock numbers.
"Incubus is the best example," Wilkerson said. "They came out with 'Drive' and they have harder songs like 'Pardon Me.' I don't think it scares people like it used to. I think they're actually expecting it. Your album now has diversity in it. It's climatic instead of being monotone the whole time."
Looking beyond the acoustic guitar and string arrangement on "Caught in the Sun" he stated, "I don't think it's that abrupt of a song. It's a rock song. 'Caught in the Sun' rocks live. It just has some more subdued moments than say "Wall of Shame" does."
Wilkerson doesn't defend his band fitting in with the melodic rock genre, but when he does explain his songwriting influences, it does contain a surprise. "I got into rock through my older sister in the '80s. So, I was a big 80s hair metal freak. I think the melody comes from Motown. Writing melodies and putting them into songs comes from that."
The band received its initial push thanks to the television series "Smallville," which included "Caught in the Sun" during several telecasts. Later the WB network sponsored a tour for CON. Now, the trio (with a touring bassist) is crisscrossing the nation on tour dates with Kid Rock and Nickelback, as well as performing at radio-sponsored festivals and headlining dates.
Although Course of Nature received a recording contract with relative ease and saw its debut single and album attract instant popularity, Wilkerson realizes that sustaining a career in the music industry takes a lot more than a bunch of engaging tunes.
"I thought you could be a good band and that's all you needed," he said. "But that's about five per cent of it. Ninety-five per cent of it takes place off the stage. The pros and cons of that are, you don't have to deal with as much, but nobody's going to take care of you in the way that you want to be taken care of. It's hard to sit back and let other people take care of stuff that is so crucial to your career.
"We don't have any control over a lot of it. You've got control over about five percent of your career -- the public, the label, everybody intertwined in this whole organization has the other 95 percent. It's good in a way, but it's kind of nerve-racking."