The Killers, Ne-Yo, Slaughter, Panic! At the Disco, The Crystal Method … 12 Volt Sex. You’re not alone if you don’t know the last name on that list, but for a few years in the late ’90s, 12 Volt appeared destined to join the short list of make-it-big Vegas-bred acts. Signed to RCA Records and awarded a massive recording budget and access to award-winning producers, the power-pop quartet stood at the doorstep to immortality—only to feel it crumble beneath its feet. “It was a huge blow for all of us,” recalls singer Matt Chernoff, now Matt Gucu, “to the point where I remember it being difficult to stand in a room with the fellas and have enough positivity to even play.”
12 Volt called it quits soon after, and aside from two shows in 2006 hasn’t been onstage since. On Friday night, the foursome—now spread across two states and 1,000 miles—convenes for a one-off reunion at Beauty Bar. “I realized, if we’re not trying to make a record, with no writing involved and no tension, it can just be about having fun with our fans and friends,” says guitarist Michael Stratton. “Once I started thinking about it that way, I started getting really excited.”
- 12 Volt Sex
- With A Crowd of Small Adventures
- February 19, 9 p.m., $10
- Beauty Bar, 598-1965
12 Volt Sex’s longtime lineup—Gucu, Stratton, bassist Jason Coleman and drummer Gary Wright—coalesced in 1996, releasing an independent album the following year. Then-new Xtreme Radio began playing 12 Volt locally, and stations in Phoenix, Portland and San Francisco soon followed suit. The buzz drew the attention of RCA, which inked the band and sent its four mid-20s members to record with Rob Schnapf and Tom Rothrock, the production team behind Beck’s Mellow Gold and Elliott Smith’s Either/Or. 12 Volt finished what it believed to be a quality album in early 1999 … and then the ride got rocky. “They tested our single and it didn’t do well, so they suggested we go into the studio with new songs and a new producer,” Stratton says.
12 Volt got back to work, this time with pop-punk pro Jerry Finn, swapping out a couple of tracks for new ones. A single went to radio, and the album, titled Stereo Quatro, got a tentative release date. Yet once again, RCA hesitated. “We’d spent over a year making the record, and we didn’t have any momentum,” Stratton says. “The gas was slowly leaking out of the balloon.”
In 2000, 12 Volt requested and received its release from RCA. By Stratton’s calculations, the label spent more than $600,000 on an album it never shipped. “It was ridiculous, and kind of embarrassing,” he says. The band mounted a short West Coast tour, then separated.
Stratton now manages a local P.F. Chang’s and works with local group Halloween Town. Gucu stayed with his other Vegas outfit, cover band Love Shack, for several years before relocating to Oregon; after working as a graphic designer for a time, he recently turned his full-time focus to musical project Kinetic Origins of Rhythm. Coleman owns a custom-tile company in Portland, where he plays in the Mark Twain Indians. And Wright, an event coordinator for MGM Grand, remains a mainstay on the local scene, playing with The Fremonts and Las Vegas Nines.
Five years ago, the four former bandmates got back together to self-record a disc of unreleased tracks and gig once in Vegas and once in LA. And in 2010, RCA finally released Stereo Quatro—on iTunes. “When you’re a struggling band and this white angel record label lands on your shoulder ... and then pulls the carpet out, it hurts,” Gucu says. “But as an older, wiser adult, you realize that putting all your eggs of happiness in one basket is a mistake, with anything in life. You can stay bitter or you can move on. We’ve all moved on.”