When Benji Madden asked to borrow an acoustic guitar from a friend, he got more than he bargained for. Not only did he wind up with the guitar in his possession, but an entire band to go with it.
So goes the story of New York’s Lola Ray, the second band signed to D.C. Flag, the record label founded by Good Charlotte’s Benji and Joel Madden. When Benji phoned friend Peter Robinson for a spare guitar to play an impromptu acoustic show, Robinson’s friend John Balicanta came along for the ride and managed to hand Benji a demo tape.
The guy must receive dozens of demos every day, Balicanta thought, so when he got a response it made it that much more unbelievable.
“He said he loved it a whole bunch and was really excited,” Balicanta recalled. “He was like, ‘This is great… the best thing in a long time. I want to do something.’ And then he started talking about D.C. Flag.”
When announcing the label’s formation last month, the Maddens said D.C. Flag would be modeled after the noble punk aesthetic of their hometown scene in the nation’s capitol, one which hinged on the staunch DIY ethics of Ian MacKaye and his band Fugazi. The label’s first release, due in February, is by Hazen Street, a hardcore punk group featuring members of New York hardcore vets H20 and Madball, and New Found Glory. Lola Ray’s LP, I Don’t Know You, is expected to drop in April.
The Maddens’ interest in Lola Ray really sunk in six months ago when they were playing a gig at Brooklyn, New York, club Luxx. The band didn’t have a very large fanbase, and even fewer people knew all the words to the songs. So when Balicanta saw a guy standing in the back who was mouthing along to the lyrics, he knew something was out of the ordinary.
“Oh man, that’s so weird and creepy,” he thought to himself. “Nobody knows all the words to any of our songs.” When the set was over Balicanta realized the superfan was Benji and Lola Ray started down the road to expanding their fanbase.
Balicanta, bassist James McIvor and guitarist Brian Spina had been friends and bandmates since seventh grade, when they all lived in Los Angeles. In 1999 Balicanta moved to New York to attend NYU, and before dropping out three years later to concentrate on his music, he scored himself an internship at the Maddens’ friend Robinson’s Dumbo Studios in Manhattan. After hearing Balicanta play an open-mic night at a local club, Robinson offered to manage him.
With Robinson’s help, Balicanta recorded and self-released the 10-track, original version of I Don’t Know You, playing all the instruments except drums. His bandmates eventually relocated to New York, and the band they had in California, Lola Corin, regrouped across the country as Lola Ray.
The band’s name stems from Balicanta’s grandparents. “Lola” means grandmother in Filipino, and Corin is his grandmother’s name. When he relocated to New York, he briefly called his group Lolo Ray, with “lolo” meaning grandfather and Ray being his grandfather’s name. With his old friends back on board, Balicanta simply combined the two names.
Before its D.C. Flag re-release, Lola Ray will replace one song, “Goodnight,” with two new ones, “What It Feels Like” and “She’s a Tiger,” which give the LP more of a live band feel.
“I recorded I Don’t Know You by myself, so to me it will always feel like me sitting behind the computer, doing all the instruments,” Balicanta said. “The way we play live is more energetic. These new songs were recorded as a band and it just felt right. I want to get that across from now on.”