HotStar: Flobots

Flobots were recently in Denver, their hometown, for the Democratic National Convention. They had a couple of days to visit with family and friends before they returned to a tour that began at the start of this year and will last through Thanksgiving.

It was a triumphant homecoming when the Flobots joined their philosophical partners, Rage Against The Machine, for an antiwar concert and march. They left Denver at the beginning of the year as a regional act. They returned with national exposure and a popular single called “Handlebars” that is already included on the latest version of the “Guitar Hero” video game.

That’s quite a contrast for the activist rock/rap group. Before February, Flobots were operating inside the Denver area, trading favors with other local bands to build up a following and sell out 1,000-capacity venues. They recorded their own album and raised their profile without the help of a manager, label or agency.

“We have had a lot of people asking us lately, ‘What’s the advice you give to other bands looking to sign to a major and make a career out of this?’” Jonny 5 told Pollstar. “We always say you have to do everything on your own. You have to start touring on your own, do everything on your own as if you were on a major label. And once you’ve shown you’re running a successful business, then the labels will be attracted and want a piece.”

That’s not all.

“One of the decisions we made about a year ago was to invest in [Nielsen] SoundScan and Pollstar, because we wanted our ‘leaps’ to show up on the map. Once we sold out the Gothic Theatre in September, before our album came out, we knew there was one spot on the map with a sellout show. So we made sure our next shows would sell out so the pattern would continue.”

The dominoes started to fall in February, starting with Universal Music Group, which repackaged the band’s CD and launched it nationally. The band was immediately signed to The Agency Group, and an assistant to Corrie Christopher, one of their agents, took on a new role.

“We’ve known J.J. Italiano for a while,” Jonny 5 said. “When we signed with The Agency Group, he became our manager right around the same week. He’s a young guy, he hasn’t done this before and he’s done an incredible job. We’re very happy with where he’s gotten us.”

Italiano had been friends with Flobots guitarist Andy Guerrero for years. While working at TAG, he made sure Christopher was aware of the band.

“I fell in love with them,” Christopher told Pollstar. She signed them but decided she needed some help. The Flobots are unique in that they rap but include Mackenzie Roberts on viola. It’s like Andrew Bird onstage with The Roots, which opens up a lot of doors.

“I work primarily with alternative rock acts,” Christopher said, “but we decided for this particular project it would make sense to bring in an urban agent as well. So we decided to bring Peter Schwartz on board.”

Schwartz, who works out of TAG’s New York office, not only brought an urban sensibility but a bi-coastal element to the booking strategy.

“We went into Boulder and Fort Collins and did a few shows around the Denver area,” Schwartz told Pollstar. “Then it was out to the [KROQ] Weenie Roast in May, the Santa Barbara Bowl, the University of Denver. Then we were pretty much routing a headlining tour that was based on radio and we filled in around it.

“They’re really cultivating their own crowd and the numbers they’ve done on their first tour, selling out 1,000-cap venues, is incredible.”

The group has continued to build a following by constant touring, which Jonny 5 described as “always working and always on vacation.”

But there was another odd reason why the band increased its profile. A “huge influx” of fans, according to Jonny 5, came after a 45-minute interview on the Alex Jones radio show. Fans of the show probably assumed Flobots aligned themselves politically with the radio personality.

After all, Jones’ slogan is, “There is a war going on for your mind,” and it would seem Flobots were aware of that, considering “There’s a War Going on For Your Mind” is the opening salvo to Fight With Tools.

“We didn’t know that!” Jonny 5 said. “That was sheer coincidence. I didn’t find that out until after the interview. I said, ‘Wow, he really seized on that phrase in his interview and wanted to know all about who thought of it and how.’ Then I went to his Web site and said, ‘Oh, that’s why.’

The connection was sheer coincidence.

“Stephan – Brer Rabbit – he saw this World War II poster that said ‘Fight With Tools,’ and it had somebody on it with a hammer. So he thought, ‘What’s the war that’s happening now? It’s a propaganda war. The war for our minds.’”