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'Escape' artists 

It’s not fair to say that John O’Keefe, drummer for Boys Like Girls, is an asshole or even a dumbass, but he’s the most oblivious musician I’ve ever interviewed.

His Boston-based band, most simply described as emo and more accurately described as a poppier Jimmy Eat World, formed in 2005 and quickly loaded two of their songs onto Myspace and, both of which turned into instant hits on the sites, garnered the attention of industry bigwigs, and landed them a label deal with Red Ink and, later, Columbia. In 2006, they recorded and dropped their eponymous debut album. Now it’s 2007, two years after the Web helped launch them, Boys Like Girls are on the road with Vans Warped Tour and cracking the pop charts with their single, “The Great Escape,” and O’Keefe, the aforementioned oblivious drummer, honestly thinks success didn’t come shockingly fast for him and his crew. He has his reasons, so hear him out.

First off, Boys Like Girls might be only two years old, but O’Keefe, lead singer and rhythm guitarist Martin Johnson, and bassist Bryan Donahue had been playing together for two years before that (lead guitarist Paul DiGiovanni came later). That makes four years, though they had, as a band, never really toured. O’Keefe is quick to point out they had all toured separately, but he sort of glosses over the absence of shared road experience. Maybe that’s why he says the Web is “awesome for bands, because it gives everybody a chance. Not everybody has the opportunity to go out there and promote their music, so it really helps get your name out there.”

O’Keefe is, of course, missing the point of touring on the cheap to build a name for yourself. It’s not about being able to afford it, at least not if you play rock or, especially, something that even vaguely resembles punk rock. Touring is about the communal experience, it’s about being broke and living off Ramen noodles, it’s about forming bonds with other bands no better off than you. It’s called earning your stripes, though O’Keefe also disagrees with that philosophy.

“I started touring when I was 18,” the 23-year-old drummer says. “Is five years enough time to get some respect? I think that kind of sucks. People are like, ‘Bands have put 10 years into touring and they’re just making it now and that’s how it should be.’ But why does it have to be like that? It’s not our fault kids like our stuff.”

Point taken, though O’Keefe does overlook the fact that, A, something intangible is gained, personally and in one’s music, from hard touring and, B, something intangible is lost when you don’t even hit the road as a band before you record your first album (which is why Panic! At the Disco’s debut, despite its success, isn’t nearly as brilliant as its sales suggests).

“When you really think about it, is it that crazy, though?” O’Keefe says of how the Web got them signed. “It used to be, someone saw you at your show or you sent your demo in and somebody listened to it. We’re just more accessible now.”

O’Keefe leaves your head spinning when he starts pontificating about why Boys Like Girls’ collective youth was actually a lot harder to endure than the one experienced by those “respectable,” “do-it-yourself” punk bands. “It’s been very gradual,” he says of the band’s two whole years of success. “People look at us like, ‘Oh, that was only a year and a half, two years ago. I’m 23 and I was 21 then. That’s a while ago for me, you know.”

True, Boys Like Girls have been touring non-stop over the last couple of years, as O’Keefe points out. But they’ve also had a label backing them much of that time, which is evidenced by the fancy press kit that comes with their CD, courtesy of Columbia, which probably cost as much as 10 crappy press kits for unsigned, poor bands. They’ve never known a real rough patch in the greater scheme of rock dreams and, even worse, O’Keefe is, as already stated, entirely oblivious to this. Ask him if bands that launch so quickly on the Web lose something by not experiencing the DIY lifestyle punk has always inspired and you get: “Long term do it yourself? I would say a year and a half in a van and sleeping in hotel rooms is pretty long term. I hear bands say, ‘We were in a van on tour for five years,’ but they weren’t touring the entire year. There are plenty of bands that tour for three months for five years.”

He adds, “I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything,” refusing to acknowledge any sense of surprise over how quickly all of this happened for him and his bandmates. “We’re just on a tour bus `now` and can get a good night’s sleep.”

Hey, they worked hard for it. Why shouldn’t they?

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