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Downplay is upbeat about new freedom and projects

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Downplay is upbeat about new freedom and projects


For Downplay, the flip side of getting dropped by Epic Records has been a flurry of creativity and productivity.

The rock band led by Salem native Dustin Bates was signed by the major label in mid-2010, only to be released a year later. When music executive L.A. Reid came aboard last year, Epic cleared room on its roster to make room for “X Factor” talent, according to Bates. Reid was a judge on the television show.

Downplay became a casualty before it even got to release a CD on the label.

“We were just starting to hit the pinnacle of what we were moving toward when we were released,” Bates said.

The band routinely opened shows for national acts such as Puddle of Mudd, Chevelle and Sevendust, and performed at Rock on the Range in Columbus and X-Fest in Dayton before crowds that topped 10,000.

But getting dropped has turned into a blessing.

“We are back to being regional,” said Bates, “and I can do what I want again.”

The band did do a showcase performance for Warner Bros. Records and is waiting to hear if it will be offered a contract. But in the meantime, it is moving forward.

For example, Downplay pushed out two records in a six-month span, including “Radiocalypse,” which was released earlier this month. A third Downplay record is slated for a fall release.

Half of the songs on “Radiocalypse” are Downplay standards, radio-friendly rockers that would have gone on the band’s Epic debut, including favorites such as “Save Me” and “Sleep.” The other half is newer material, and a truer reflection of the band’s natural sound (i.e., songs not geared toward radio). It’s this dichotomy that gives the album its name.

“We’re now moving away from radio rock to a more progressive sound,” said Bates.

Downplay fans can catch the band in its transitional phase at an outdoor festival Saturday at Bojangle’s on Route 14, east of Columbiana. The band is co-headlining with Red Wanting Blue.

With all his newfound prolificness, Bates is perhaps most excited about a side project that he is working on.

It’s a concept album with a science-fiction theme dubbed “Transmissions from Atlantis.”

The songs have all been recorded, but Bates must first raise enough cash to release the album and deploy a complex marketing scheme.

He hasn’t come up with a name for the project (it will not be released under the Downplay name), but just about everything else is ready, including a full-length comic book that Bates wrote that tells the story. The comic will be included with the CD package.

“It has more of a sci-fi, geek-chic flair,” said Bates, as he described the plot. “Technology created for the good of mankind has been manipulated to enslave him,” he explained. “The year is 2045, and a signal is sent back to the year 2012 to warn them.”

Bates called the album the best collection of songs he’s ever written.

Downplay had undergone a few personnel changes in recent months. In addition to Bates, the current lineup includes Even McKeever on guitar, Ron DeChant on bass and Brian Weir on drums.

Bates, who previously only sang lead vocals, also is playing guitar again, filling the shoes of a departed band member.

“I’ve had to get used to playing guitar and singing again,” he said. “It’s been crazy getting my chops back, but a lot of fun.”