When MTV called to say that Orlando band Cider had won an opportunity to perform on the network, nobody was more surprised than Ken Charton, who answered the call. The guitar player was shocked, not because he didn't believe in his band's music, but because he knew the group had not spent nearly enough time preparing the required live-rehearsal video for the competition.
"We only taped it once and sent it off," says Charton of the two minutes of fateful footage. "We didn't think that we'd get any calls out of it."
Well, they called. Cider was chosen -- over thousands of hopefuls -- to compete along with 11 other acts. It was only on May 21 that the band flew to San Diego for three days of fun, rocking the crowd at the network's party central Beach House, along with the other contenders. The shows were taped, and bits and pieces were broadcast over Memorial Day weekend.
Needless to say, the band had a blast.
During the first round, Cider be-grudgingly played 90-second versions of "Kiss and Tell," the standout track on their current full-length CD, "Beautiful Backwards World," as well as newborns "Typical Mistake" and "Bottom Lip."
"That sucked," admits Charton. "We had a week to learn [the shorter versions]." Still, Cider made the first cut, sending them to the semifinals. Four sort-of-celebrity judges -- Busta Rhymes, MTV VJ Ananda Lewis, a music critic from Entertainment Weekly and an Epic Records V.P. -- looked on as the band bashed away for the crazy Beach House crowd, in what later turned out to be Cider's swan song.
"We got cut during the semifinal round," says Charton. (A Limp Bizkit-style rap-rock act nabbed first place.) But Cider didn't leave empty-handed -- the Epic rep showed some serious interest, and rapper Busta Rhymes threw the group some props. During a break, "He was walking by," says Charton of the highlight moment, and "he started singing our tune."
Certainly, MTV isn't the only one thirsty for Cider. Hometown audiences have been quick to swallow the foursome's unapologetic power-pop. And it's no wonder, since Cider's "Beautiful Backwards World" packs a wallop, enveloping the listener in a sphere of influence that celebrates esteemed noisemakers Elvis Costello, Squeeze and The Beatles. For sure, their sound is neither original nor ground-breaking, and could be compared to similar contemporaries Lit and Vertical Horizon. But it's a sound that the band believes in wholeheartedly.
"That's really the first kind of music that Kenny [Beaumont, bass/vocals] and I started listening to," says Charton of the group's throwback attack.
But it wasn't until the band became a four-piece a year ago, adding rhythm guitarist Travis Wetheringon, that things started to snowball. Weaned on '80s hair metal, the heavy-handed guitarist brought valuable stage experience to the fold. He used to front Tampa-based Christian-rock touring outfit Solomon's Porch but re-established contact with Cider drummer Eric Younggren, a former high-school bandmate, and eventually signed on.
Almost as refreshing as their musical approach is Cider's image, or lack thereof. Charton assures that they won't be "buying contact lenses that make us look like zombies or anything." Instead Cider is concentrating on writing and recording material for the next CD.
"We think we got the live show down, the material's there," says Charton. "We're ready to take it nationwide."
They just did.