Baggin' the big one!

Thomas Conner World Entertainment Writer May 28, 1998

The Bag Eyes band, Richard Sanders (left foreground), Shawn Sanders (at piano), Brad Walker (back left), John McDaniel (back right) and Chris Felthouse (on piano).
World staff photo by Joe Iverson
Area band lands two-page spread in Rolling Stone, spot on TV special
Right now, Bag Eyes is the luckiest band in Green Country. The next time you hear a fan or a musician deride a Tulsa show is ``just another gig,'' hold up the example of Bag Eyes as inspiration for all. They played ``just another gig'' in Tulsa and wound up on national television.
``We just got extremely lucky,'' said one of Bag Eyes' two lead singers, Richard Sanders. ``We were in the right place at the right time.''
No kidding. On Nov. 15 -- just another Saturday night -- Bag Eyes showed up for their first-ever Tulsa gig at the city's breeding ground for up-and- coming alt-rock, the Eclipse. Club owner Khaled Rahhal tells the band that some ``ladies'' are in the crowd from Rolling Stone magazine. The band is skeptical.
``We're thinking, `Yeah. Bull. Does every Tulsa club owner hit you with this line?'' said Chris Felthous, the band's other lead singer.
But, sure enough, after the band ripped through it's scorching brand of rap-influenced hardcore rock, two women approach the band, introducing themselves as casting representatives for an upcoming Rolling Stone television special. Would the band mind being interviewed?
Yes, a thousand times yes, and a few on- and off-camera interviews later, Bag Eyes is ensconced in this month's brief but mighty PR boost from Rolling Stone. First, the magazine featured a two-page spread on Sanders in this week's edition, which spotlights nearly 200 unknown young musicians and others in an effort to look at the state of the American dream. Then, last week, (May 21) ``Where It's At: The Rolling Stone State of the Union'' aired on ABC.
The two-hour special featured famous stars discussing issues from religion to sex, and numerous young people and musicians from around the country were featured. Tulsa, in fact, was represented three times (the only location with numerous stories): by members of GUTS church, local musician Holly Vassaur and -- right before a segment with the Beastie Boys -- Claremore's Bag Eyes.
You could almost hear the thuds of other local bands kicking themselves. ``If only we had been playing Eclipse that night ...''
The members of Bag Eyes have already learned some lessons about fame, too.
``Now all of a sudden, those people who were always against what we were doing are like, `Yeah! Way to go!,' '' Felthous said. ``We score this thing, and suddenly we're all right.''
What could people be protesting? Well, Bag Eyes isn't your basic jangly pop band, and they don't necessarily sing about girls and broken hearts. Bag Eyes is a loud, hard band shouting lyrics about personal pain and anguish. If this sounds like any grunge band from the '90s, consider this difference: instead of presenting their angst for self-glorification, these guys are trying to be a social force. They were happier that their message and ideas were presented on the show in addition to their volatile live performance (which is only about a dozen shows fresh).
``We're not just in this to party and have sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll,'' Felthous said. ``We want to get our message out.''
``We're not just five guys trying to pump you full of crap. We've all been through some serious (things), and we've got some serious things to say about it,'' Sanders said.
And don't think they won't tell you. Perhaps you couldn't catch some of the lyrics to their song ``Americanized'' on the TV special: ``I've been Americanized / I was raised on lies / Fed a spoonful of pride / You call that civilized?''
But don't call them a negative band. The music and its presentation may appear harsh and possibly destructive, but the intent of the Bag Eyes guys couldn't be more constructive.
``In order for a lot of people to relate to something, it has to be forceful and maybe angry,'' Felthous said. ``We sound like that because, well, we're venting a lot of anger. But we've got some design for doing that.''
``There's so much negativity in the world. We need to think positively,'' Sanders said. ``But it's not even a matter of negative or positive. It's a matter of reality. You have to see things as they really are, or else you get stuck in these bad situations.''
``Any negative that's happened to us has turned into a positive. It's made us stronger,'' Felthous added.
The bonus is that these aren't a bunch of well-off suburban rats griping about things they've only read about. Sitting with the members of Bag Eyes, you hear some stories that will brush against the nerves of your stomach. These guys have seen some harsh realities in lil' ol' Claremore. Sanders' older brother Richard, the band's guitarist, is in remission from Hodgkin's disease. Several members have been arrested before, mostly on marijuana charges -- thus the band's outspoken views on legalization.
``It's more interesting to take out your frustrations through something artistic. There's a lot of other bad stuff we could be doing,'' Sanders said.
Through it all, the band has thus far maintained a level-headed perspective on its bright but brief fame. If anything, the national exposure has strengthened the band's determination to make it here in Tulsa -- thus the back- pedaling, from Rolling Stone to the Tulsa World and other local outlets. And, in the end, the little things still make the biggest difference.
``You know, meeting the Rolling Stone writer was really cool. He bought my breakfast and said, `Rolling Stone just bought your breakfast.' That kind of thing doesn't happen to most folks, and something like this probably won't ever happen again,'' Sanders said, ``but you know, those few moments when I was enjoying my French toast were pretty (darn) cool.''


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