MESSAGE IN A BOTTLENECK DAVE STRICKER AND LENNY RANCHER MAY PRAY AT THE AMPS OF THE BEATLES AND STONES, BUT SLIDE GUITAR STYLINGS MAKER THEIR COMMERICAL SIGNATURE
TALK ABOUT LUCK. THREE YEARS AGO DAVE STRICKER and Lenny Rancher were playing in a Portland rock band called Lip to Lip and working out of a studio called Dead Aunt Thelma's when Wieden & Kennedy producer Bill Davenport-whose wife used to date Rancher's brother-requested a demo tape for a Nike Super Bowl spot still up for grabs. Though Stricker and Rancher lost the award-winning "Heritage" assignment to the more mellow piano strains of Ad Music in Los Angeles, their guitar-driven rock sound gained enough attention at W&K to land them an Anne Klein A-Line spot. "Wedding," about an uncertain bride, relied heavily on their Hendrix-inspired wedding march and began a string of projects for the agency, including several for Subaru and Nike, among which are the recent blues-oriented tracks for the David Fincher-directed Nike women's campaign.
Davenport and creatives like copywriter Jamie Barrett, who's worked with the pair on several Nike commercials, claim that the "honest, garage band sound" of Rancher and Stricker is tailor-made for work like Nike. Adds Branson Veal, a producer at McCann-Erickson/Seattle who hired the pair to work on a spot for Alaska Seafood, "There's a rawness and, at times, a violent elegance to their music that you'd never mistake for a P&G jingle."
Rancher, 32, and Stricker, 39, have a musical history that goes back 13 years to when they first played together in a local rock band called the Malchicks, a name they borrowed from one of Rancher's favorite films, "A Clockwork Orange." Known in the ad community as simply Dave Stricker Music, it's Rancher's slide guitar-influenced by the likes of Leadbelly and Guitar Shorty, he shows it off nicely in a prominent solo in the Alaska Seafood spot-that is the trademark of their reel. Rancher also writes most of the duo's music, which he simply describes as "organic." Stricker, who plays bass and doubles as producer, elaborates that their music, which ranges from traditional blues to punk, is more of a "stripped-back acoustic approach, without a lot of effects or manufactured sounds." The Anne Klein score, in fact, was taken directly from the cheap cassette tape that he and Rancher recorded on.
Unlike most advertising music, which Rancher calls "80 percent filler Muzak stuff," he and Stricker try to compose more song-oriented scores that they might combine with lyrics and store in their personal archives. Often, it works the other way. For example, Rancher wrote the music for the Nike women's campaign a couple of years ago, his compositions inspired by a forest that a local lumber company had recently stripped of most of its trees.
Portland natives and college dropouts, Rancher and Stricker learned to play guitar by imitating the Beatles and Rolling Stones albums they listened to as teenagers. Despite the occasional blues, reggae and Iggy Pop overtones to their music, the two rarely stray from the influences of rock idols like Paul McCartney and Keith Richards.
Or each other. The pair did separate in the early '80s after their two-year stint as the Malchicks; Stricker went on to play with a local pop group called the Unreal Gods and sign with Arista Records, while Rancher moved to Hawaii and joined a reggae band. In '89 the pair rejoined as Lip to Lip, combining the sounds of Bob Marley, David Bowie and the Stones, and for the last two years they've played in what Stricker calls a "punkish, Rolling Stones-like" band, Loyd Ruby. The name, interestingly enough, also has film origins; during a discussion of "JFK," Stricker and Rancher couldn't recall the first name of the man who killed Lee Harvey Oswald and eventually concluded it was Lloyd. The strange name belies an earthy, accessible sound, well-recorded on their first indie CD, "Noises From a Malchick Past," that Stricker hopes has appeal for "the common urban citizen." He says the main problem they face hitting it big on the local music scene is that "if we tried grunge, it would still reflect our Stones thing. We have to trick our way into clubs up here." Not that the two seem to care, considering they feel much of the Northwest sound is "basic noise." They'd prefer to nurture a small devoted following, a philosophy that also holds true for commercials projects.
But in the past two years, the work for W&K has undeniably broadened their appeal, landing them a mix of assignments with local and national shops, including a spot for Cole & Weber/Portland and the Oregon Lottery; another for J. Walter Thompson/San Francisco and U.S. Sprint; and one for JWT/New York and Lipton, their least favorite job because "we had to come up with 12 different versions of 'Aaah,'*" recalls Stricker. It also yielded a personal gig-last summer they played W&K copywriter Janet Champ's wedding.
The pair are currently working on two new spots for ESPN and one for Coke, both for W&K, and would like to score a film for someone like Stanley Kubrick, who, Rancher says, "shares our same weird knack and intensity and might find our sound appropriate."
Until then, Rancher claims that he and Stricker would settle for reaping the residuals of "a Chevy commercial where Bob Seger would sing one of my songs over and over."