Watch Crash Kings' video for their Zeppelin-esque "Mountain Man," and you'll likely be impressed by the "guitar solo" coming out of Tony Beliveau's whammy-bar-enhanced clavinet.
"There's only 12 in the world," says Tony in regard to his modified Hohner keyboard. "I think I'm the only one that uses it in a rock context. Stevie Wonder has one, but I've never seen him use it."
Tony and brother Mike (on bass) may have joined the likes of Ben Folds and Elton John in the keyboard rock tradition, but they've taken a decidedly more electric approach. The clavinet has been called "a guitar in a box," complete with strings, pickups and an overdriven guitar amp. And the whammy-bar gives the keyboard player even more guitar-hero presence.
"There's definitely a learning curve to playing that thing," he says. "There's a lot of subconscious math when you're bending those notes around."
The Beliveaus are also extending another old rock 'n roll archetype, the "brother band." Think Oasis' piss-drunk Gallaghers, Radiohead's Greenwoods and, of course, the Jonases. After growing up outside of Boston, the brothers even studied together at Berklee College of Music.
"We had a swing band in high school, and then in college, when we were at Berklee, we had an organ funk trio where we would play all vintage instruments," Tony recalls. "The arguing used to be a lot worse. We've managed to handle those situations a lot better."
When drummer Jason Morris stepped in, the trio was complete. "He's just like the other brother from another mother," says Tony.
Primed for the classic fledgling rock band struggle, Crash Kings chose Los Angeles as their place to "make it."
"The biggest struggle is trying to figure out how you are going to support yourself while trying to keep the music alive," says Tony. "Which is pretty hard to do unless you're a hipster band. I don't feel like there are a lot of insanely talented bands in L.A. They just look really good."
Crash Kings got their break when Tony waited on the table of former 4 Non Blondes singer and mega-hit producer Linda Perry. He handed a demo to the Pink and Christina Aguilera song-crafter, and the Kings' story moved onward.
"Linda is no-nonsense, no-bullshit," says Tony. "I was like, 'Tell me if this is good or not. Tell me if I'm wasting my time.'"
Perry signed the trio to her label, Custard Records, and introduced the group to Oasis and Jet producer Dave Sardy, who would coach the band through its 2009 self-titled release. The song "Mountain Man" has since been featured on the soundtrack for a Warren Miller ski film. It's a sport that also turns up in "Come Away," which Beliveau describes as "a love song about skiing — you're in the trees and you hear the sound of nothing. I don't get to ski as much as I used to."
Not that Tony's complaining, given how well everything's been working out so far.
"We really wanted to make one of the greatest piano rock albums ever," he says. "Sometimes the stars are aligned, and sometimes things are amazing."