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An Alternative Reality

Cloud Nine Collapse finds its niche in a local scene dominated by hardcore and hip-hop

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The guys in Cloud Nine Collapse have plenty to keep them busy. They all have day jobs — some of them working in the service industry and others doing manual labor — so it's a wonder they found the time to become one of the more active bands on the local circuit. Plus, they've had to contend with numerous lineup changes since forming last year.

Bassist Bryan Stewart says the local scene, which is dominated by hip-hop and hardcore, doesn't exactly help an alternative rock band trying to break out. And yet the band, which plays a CD release party at the Grog Shop this weekend, never wavered from its smooth vocals, intricate riffs and attention to every instrument. Instead, they've pushed the early-2000s emo-rock vibe on skeptical Cleveland crowds and have made waves with their over-the-top stage presence and audience involvement.

In the beginning, it seemed as if band members — who all met each other rather randomly about a year ago — would never gel. After their earlier groups broke up, guitarist Erik Hager and drummer Dominic Lombardo started playing with a friend who found bassist Bryan Stewart at the shopping mall; he then rounded out the original lineup.

"Basically, I was standing behind the counter when [this guy] came up to me and asked if I played bass and if I wanted to be in his band," recalls Stewart, who is wearing a zip-up beanie, over coffee one day at Starbucks. "After I found out what kind of style they were, I just kind of said yes."

The foursome didn't last long.

"We, or I at least, felt like this was going to fail before it even started," says Stewart.

Worries were quickly washed away after guitarist Jeph Harmozis joined within weeks. The guys had similar styles and influences and quickly gelled.

"We all loved Circa Survive, the Receiving End of Sirens, Taking Back Sunday, and Brand New, so basically all those put together shaped our music," says Stewart. "We wrote some songs in those first couple months each bringing to the table our influences."

It was then they decided they needed a singer and found Dan Granata competing in local singing competitions. The first Cloud Nine Collapse show took place last year at the Euclid Tavern; it was a disaster they prefer to forget.

"We all kept messing up, our nerves were on full blast, and anything else that could go wrong did," Stewart remembers.

After a month spent preparing for their next show, they came back last December to a packed crowd at Peabody's Cleveland Music Fest. It was that show that caught the attention of Gorilla Marketing scouts, and within weeks the guys had booking agents that wanted to work with them.

With the help of Gorilla Marketing, Cloud Nine Collapse spent the spring playing around town, supporting indie bands such as Goodnight Owl City, One Days Notice and The Day is Mine. Baldwin Wallace Community College's station played their first single, "Bad News," a rock tune with a sing-along chorus and notably catchy guitar riff, and in June the guys played their first headlining gig — one of Peabody's infamous foam parties.

"We played a cover of the Foo Fighters' 'My Hero,' and just had an amazing time [at that show]," says Stewart. "It's pretty crazy to have that many people stick around for you and know the words to some of your songs. We even had an encore and came out to play one more song, very cool. After the success of that show we said, 'Hey, what do we do next?'"

The answer was to co-headline the 2012 Cleveland Music Fest that was held at various venues throughout town. The guys wound up playing House of Blues.

"Again, we were super nervous to jump from our headliner and then to this and it just was so crazy to think or say, 'Hey yeah we are playing the House of Blues,'" says Stewart. "You couldn't help but have a grin on your face when you say that or tell other people that. But we prepared and practiced like crazy and wrote a new song just in time for the show. It was finalized and done that week."

Atlantic Records reps in the audience praised Cloud Nine Collapse's stage presence and music but suggested an updated radio style and new singer. As a result, the guys parted ways with Granata, something that Stewart says "was hard to do, but it was best for everyone, and we're still on good terms." Without Granata, Cloud Nine Collapse was back to square one.

Enter Dommie Frusteri. Formally of the hard-rock ensemble Envoi, the soulful singer compares himself to R. Kelly, something Bryan and the band second.

"We may not agree with some of R. Kelly's actions, but you've got admit the dude can sing."

Though Frusteri's only been with Cloud Nine Collapse since October, his fit was the boost the band felt it needed, and it leaned away from the heavy stuff and opted for a softer alternative-rock sound. Old Cloud Nine Collapse lyrics to songs such as "Bad News" were reworked to lend themselves to Frusteri's wider vocal range.

The new lineup wrote the new single, "Too Close for Comfort," together; it's a song that Stewart can't wait to play live.

"We all have our musical input in the mix, whether it is lyrics or music," explains Stewart. "We want to have those catchy lyrics and riffs so that people can feel like they are a part of the music, too. It helped that we were able to record and mix everything in Jeph [Harmozis's] basement studio."

In the next year, the band hopes to put out a full-length of all new music, film a music video and play more shows.

"We'd love to get to out of town and play in other cities, like Toledo, New York, or Pittsburgh. And we would love to get a stage at Warped Tour or South by Southwest."

But the short-term goals for the boys of Cloud Nine Collapse are another headlining show for March and a round two for the foam party.

"We play with lots of energy and just want to get the crowd involved."

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