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Goodbye, Format

February 14th, 2008

If I were to make a list of my favorite bands of the aughts, The Format would just miss out on the top spot, behind Arcade Fire.

The Format, best known for an appearance on MTV’s “My Super Sweet Sixteen,” enjoy a fan base consisting of myself, a few friends and just about every teenage girl with a myspace page. Indeed, when I saw them a year and a half ago in Towson, Md., I didn’t have the heart to tell my friend that at 25, we’d be the oldest people in the club by about a decade.

Good music is good music—and The Format has an uncanny ability to make infectious pop rock seem so easy, when they’re really choreographing complex arrangements of harmonies and clever choruses.

Or, I should say, had.

Format frontman Nate Ruess announced on Monday that the band would not be making a new album. He stressed that he’s still on good terms with songwriting partner Sam Means and thanked the fans for their support.

Translation? The Format broke up.

Band break ups are difficult to write about. With a few exceptions (Led Zeppelin), when a band dissolves no one gets hurt. Okay, maybe a few egos are bruised, but what typically happens is a spat among friends becomes public. Or, close collaborators decide to go their separate ways.

In other words, it’s hard to make a big deal out of nothing. Ruess and Means won’t make another album together (at least for the time being, under The Format moniker), but they’re still happy and, presumably, healthy.

Who knows? Maybe the best of Ruess and Means is still to come. It’s hard to gage the success of a solo career based on previous output. Take John Lennon for example—very few people would argue that he made his best music after the Beatles broke up. On the other hand, there’s also guys like Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, or, hell, even Justin Timberlake, whose solo material equaled or eclipsed their group work.

But those are all multi-platinum artists, hardly comparable to a small, niche band like The Format. Besides, I’m sure Ruess would kill to write a song like “Imagine.” But I think the point works, in a general sense—some musicians go on to successful solo careers, some are never able to recapture the magic.

The Format were on their way though. They were building their fan base. They had songs and talent. But only the hardcore fans know Ruess by name—essentially, he’ll be starting from scratch with whatever he does next.

On Feb. 19 a singer/songwriter named Brian Vander Ark will take the stage at the Iota Café in Arlington. That name probably doesn’t ring a bell, but he wrote “The Freshman,” one of the biggest hits of 1997, with his band The Verve Pipe. That’s a big comedown after having a ubiquitous one-hit wonder, but I’d bet that Vander Ark would be selling more tickets if he were touring under some incarnation of The Verve Pipe brand.

Another guy who had a one-hit wonder in 1997, Ben Folds, released some of his best work after his band, Ben Folds Five, split. But, what Folds already had his name built into the brand, so I suspect it was a bit easier for him to parlay that into a solo career.

As much as I prefer Folds to Vander Ark, rock n’ roll was never about selling tickets. So, good for both of them for doing what they want—and good for The Format.

One quick anecdote:

About a year ago or so I went to Stage Door Dance Studio in Manassas to interview some of the dancers, prior to a trip to China. As they were warming up, “Interventions and Lullabies” was blasting on their system. This was surprising—I thought most of The Format’s fan base was out west, closer to their hometown of Phoenix, Az. The girls gushed at how much they loved this band.

And for us fans? We’ll still have The Format’s two albums, 2004’s polished debut “Interventions and Lullabies” and 2006’s feel-good break-up record, “Dog Problems,” to play in memoriam. Then we’ll move on. There’s plenty of good music competing for our attention—and we can always scroll back to The Format on their Mp3 players.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072

New to The Format? Staff writer Josh Eiserike picks his six favorite songs:

One Shot, Two Shots (EP)
Let’s Make This Moment A Crime (Interventions and Lullabies)
Tie The Rope (Interventions and Lullabies)
Oceans (Dog Problems)
Wait, Wait, Wait (acoustic) (Snails)
She Doesn’t Get It (Dog Problems)
 

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