You’ve heard the angsty, electro-rap of urban space cowgirl Carah Faye, the female vocalist in Shiny Toy Guns, on “Le Disko.” The track — which aired in a recent Motorola Razr2 commercial, rotated regularly as a video on MTV and pulsated through big-city clubs all over the U.S. — teases with a sultry edge similar to artist Peaches.
Though the song has drawn in young fans via the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart, it has also appealed to viewers of Dancing With the Stars (it played on the first episode of season two) and a Honda ad campaign. Putting little boys in their place, “Le Disko” has branded the band, though the rest of the quartet’s full-length debut, We Are Pilots (Universal Records, 2006), sounds nothing like its hit single.
Instead, the best of electronica, synthpop and rock collide in a star-sweeping explosion of harmony, programmed and live instruments, led by the yin yang of Faye (who grew up singing like Whitney Houston and played in a garage band) and her male vocalist/guitarist counterpart, Chad Petree, a reformed child boy band singer turned punk rocker.
Contrasts of musical elements and vocals create multilayered textures in STG’s songs. Similarly, We Are Pilots’ album cover of a salt flat in California’s Mojave region reflects this perspective.
“It’s miles and miles of nothing but white salt,” Dawson says. “In the middle of the salt is a black oak tree. It’s not supposed to be there, but it’s beautiful.”
This unlikely beauty is what makes STG unique. Formed in 2003 after a move from their hometown in Oklahoma to the brighter L.A., friends Petree and keyboardist/bassist Jeremy Dawson (a DJ/promoter in the 1990s once invited to work with Paul Oakenfold) used trial and error to bring forth their new band.
“It was necessary. We had to go to L.A. to find ourselves … and to be around a ridiculous amount of creative people,” Dawson says. “It was a really exhilarating environment.”
The duo added Faye and hardcore drummer Mikey Martin before recording and re-recording their debut (first a demo) a brutal four times as STG.
“We were spread too thin,” Dawson adds. “We thought, ‘We need to modify this to grow.’”
Perfectionists and new wave modernists, STG’s futuristic perspective means their songs aren’t just danceable melodies: They’re mapping memorable, uncharted pop territory. And with Dawson and Petree’s history in the music industry (they played together in a successful electronic band called Slyder before STG), they’ve honed their plan of attack by embracing grass-roots networking with fans.
The three boys and girl of STG go beyond most bands, actually wishing each fan a happy birthday via MySpace, setting aside free show tickets for road-tripping fans who run out of money and once driving three straight days to Alaska to play coffeehouses for die-hard high school fans.
Though Dawson has four people working for him to filter the thousands of e-mails the band receives daily, he does answer the more meaningful ones. “If you want to know when we’re gonna tour Germany, we’ll let you know. … One of us will personally answer you. That’s the way it should be.”
To top it off, Dawson prides himself on learning new technology each year to keep up with the digital expansion of the music industry. Logic 8 is his new tech toy. “I’m a recently converted Apple guy,” he adds.
Dawson and Petree value quality songwriting — not just dance tracks churned out by a major record label. They have the same view on other musicians’ remixes of their own songs. They must be impressive or risk rejection. Even Ferry Corsten faced their wrath with his unfiltered, first-attempt at a “Le Disko” remix. STG shot it back to him with the attitude, “Who are you kidding? You’re better than this!”
“The coolest remixes we have are [when] people have different visions for a song and reinterpret it completely,” Dawson says.
Down-to-earth and genuine, the hardworking members of STG wrack their brains for new musical ideas — gems that will be appreciated and not soon forgotten. They are currently working in their mobile studio while on tour and organizing a collaborative musical effort with DJ Tiësto.