The Format

The songs range from a simple cabaret waltz to orchestral pop that would make Brian Wilson proud. The music has maturity that matches The Shins or Sufjan Stevens, if sunnier. Despite having fans longing for their first drivers’ licenses, the band wears well with the older demographic.

Tom Gates of Nettwerk Management agreed, telling Pollstar The Format has put together an album that 30-somethings can enjoy, even if the shows have a younger crowd.

Multi-instrumentalist Sam Means and lyricist/singer Nate Ruess have been writing since they met as kids in Phoenix. Dog Problems is the band’s self-released sophomore album.

The Format had a long, ugly relationship with Atlantic that the band claims hampered its career and musical progress. Whenever rumors arose it was getting dropped, the band reportedly held parties.

“Matt (Galle)’s been the one to keep us afloat,” Ruess told Pollstar, speaking of his Ellis Industry booking agent. “He kept us constantly on tour at a time when our record label was saying we couldn’t be on tour anymore because we were touring too much. We’re thinking, ‘Well, they’re not doing anything for us. Matt is the only one who is helping us.'”

Galle, who knew the bassist and met the band close to three years ago, kept The Format on the road year round. It has supported Dashboard Confessional, Switchfoot, Something Corporate, Yellowcard, Jimmy Eat World, and Taking Back Sunday. Now, the group is selling out 1,000-capacity venues on its own.

“They sold out The Troubadour two weeks out and the Glass House in Pomona really quick,” Galle told Pollstar. “On the current tour, they sold out Irving Plaza, and The Metro in Chicago is just about sold out. They’re selling out 1,000-capacity venues everywhere. They did 1,000 people in Orlando and 830 in Atlanta. The Axis in Boston is sold out. I couldn’t be happier with how things are going for them.”

Because they’re DIY, The Format has the opportunity to take chances and agreed to be the guinea pig for Shawn Fanning’s newest project. The Napster man is also the founder of Snocap, which is building a record store via MySpace. Fans can download Dog Problems by visiting the band’s page.

“I think not having a label and doing it ourselves and through Nettwerk allows us to make all those decisions, to decide when our album was leaked to throw it up on the Internet for digital sale,” Ruess said. “We can do that. We can do things like Snocap, where a record label would say, ‘No, you can’t do that.'”

In fact, that was one of the reasons The Format went with Nettwerk when it shopped managers about three years ago.

The Format

“Nettwerk was such a forward-looking company. Their belief is, you’re never depending on the record company. You’re depending upon yourself and you’re depending on the forward movement and the progression of things, like the Internet,” Ruess said. “Or, you’re playing shows and it’s all about the fans.”

The band had a manager, Mike Jarmuz, who owned his own promotion company – and one of his partners was Means. The company, AMJ Concerts, was eventually sold to Nobody In Particular Presents and Jarmuz is currently the Format’s tour manager and lighting tech.

Ruess said the band met with managers big and small, and “some people I apparently annoyed very badly.” At some point, Galle called Gates and alerted him to an opportunity. Gates flew out to Phoenix and met the band with a large binder under his arm. He had mapped out The Format’s future.

“What was in that thing was an outline of what we’ve done over the past two years,” Gates said. “We didn’t know if they were still going to be on Atlantic or if they were going to be self-releasing. That was the one question.

“But largely the whole plan is based on what happens on the street, not what happens on the radio and MTV. We’ve developed a section of the Web site called ‘The Living Room,’ which is a special section for the ber fans. We make live recordings just for them, put up special content just for them. We do special shows for them.”

The Living Room is free, but the fans agree to participate in a “mutual admiration society.”

“Right now we give them stickers, postcards and posters, and they’re off slapping those up at venues and handing them out at school. Really, the whole Format thing has not happened because of traditional marketing. It’s because of peer-to-peer stuff,” Gates said.

And, financially, getting dumped by a major label is good news. The Format is currently earning approximately $6 from every record it sells on its Web site, versus the dollar-range figure usually associated with a major. An $8 digital download all goes back to the band, minus the 50 cent Visa charge.

“It’s all exciting,” Gates said. “We’re just trying to take shots at the future. Just because it’s new or hasn’t been done before, that doesn’t mean we’re afraid to give it a shot.”