By: Mike Cummings, Journal Inquirer
Mike and Shawn Franklin recall nervous butterflies when they took the stage at The Worcester Palladium in 2002.
The brothers' band, The Scallions, was opening for Public Enemy, a groundbreaking rap group that gained international attention during the 1980s and 1990s for its controversial stands on race and politics.
The Scallions don't rap. The Franklins, who grew up in Enfield, describe their sound as "avant garde power pop."
Mike sings and plays the drums while Shawn plays guitar. When they perform live, the brothers have two friends join them - one plays bass and the other plays keyboard and guitar - otherwise The Scallions is a two-member band.
The Scallions' influences include Brian Wilson, The Beatles, and The Residents, a legendarily obscure San Francisco art-rock group.
It was unclear how the crowd of Public Enemy fans would react to The Scallions' music.
The band launched into its set with an instrumental number that ends abruptly. A moment of stark silence followed the song's final cord.
"It felt like the longest 10 seconds of my life," said Shawn during an interview last week at his Windsor Locks home. "You could hear crickets chirping."
But the silence didn't last. Applause pulled the band from the brink of humiliation.
The cheering grew stronger as the gig continued.
It was a great experience for the band, which forged a tight bond with Chuck D, Public Enemy's forceful front man and an iconic figure in the music industry.
The Scallions will release an album, "Agony Through Ceremony," in May through the rap artist's record label, Slam Jamz.
The brothers recorded the album over five years in the basement studio of Mike's Willington home.
They co-wrote the 12 songs and play all the instruments on the record themselves.
Mike, 37, and Shawn, 34, don't aspire to rock stardom. They simply appreciate the opportunity to market their music to a larger audience.
"We just want to get it out to as many people as we can, and hope they enjoy it," Mike said. "We want to go as far as we can and still keep our day jobs."
The brothers began making music together as kids. Their father, who played in bands, got them involved in music.
Mike, who works as a purchasing agent, said he performed his first gig at seven years old, playing Creedence Clearwater Revival songs on guitar at his father's office Christmas party.
"I got paid 10 silver dollars and an Evel Knievel play set," he said, smiling.
Shawn, a technician at Pratt & Whitney, remembers making a drum set out of empty coffee cans as a little boy. He used pencils as drumsticks. One of the cans was filled with coins to simulate a snare drum.
Their musical talents developed over the years, and they joined various rock bands beginning in middle school. They continued playing in bands after graduating from Fermi High School in Enfield.
A mutual appreciation of The Residents drew the brothers' closer.
The Residents are incredibly eccentric.
Its members refuse interviews, do not identify themselves by name, and perform in disguise, often wearing white tuxedos and large eyeball masks.
Since forming in 1971, The Residents have cut nearly 40 albums of wildly experimental music.
The band's 1980 release, "The Commercial Album," contains 40 minute-long tunes that evoke advertising jingles, though they don't endorse any products.
The Residents were pioneers of the music video. Shawn recalls watching a video by the band on MTV in 1985.
In 1990, the brothers started tinkering in Mike's basement studio, recording one-minute pop ditties that emulated "The Commercial Album."
Shawn and Mike played in separate bands at the time and had no intention of forming their own group. They were simply having fun.
The brothers soon recorded more than 50 songs based on the one-minute formula. They decided to form a band as a side project.
Mike takes credit for the band's name.
"It kind of started as a joke," he said. "I went the fridge, opened it, and the first thing I saw were some scallions."
The brothers continued performing with their full-time bands, pursuing record deals. The Scallions were an afterthought.
Then Mike upgraded his primitive basement studio, replacing its four-track recording system with an eight-track system in a control room with a vocal booth.
The new studio, named 6 Feet Under, expanded the brothers' freedom to experiment with a range of instruments and sounds.
Their songs grew longer and more intricate. Using a sampler, they made music from a variety of offbeat sources, including pots, pans, television noises, buzz saws, boxes of nails, and crunching dog biscuits.
Over the years, the brothers' individual bands dissolved and they began to focus full-time on The Scallions.
Shawn, the band's promotional talent, cultivated connections within Ralph Records, The Residents' record label.
He began corresponding with the label's owner, Tom Timony, sending him tapes of the band's work.
A few years later, Timony asked the brothers if they were interested in cutting an album for Esoteric Music Group, his new record label.
The Scallions released their first album, "Mud Pie," on Timony's label in Jan. 2000.
Esoteric Music Group shut down before the band could release a follow-up.
Its record label gone, The Scallions' future was in jeopardy.
The brothers sent promotional packages to several independent labels, but none were interested in signing the band.
Despite the bleak outlook, the brothers didn't give up.
Shawn, a longtime fan of Public Enemy, e-mailed Chuck D on a whim, asking the rap artist to visit The Scallions' Web site.
Chuck D visited the site, signing its guest book and downloading one of The Scallions' songs.
In January 2002, Shawn attended a lecture Chuck D gave at Wesleyan University in Middletown.
He approached the rap artist after the speech ad asked for an autograph.
Chuck D matched Shawn's name to The Scallions. He'd enjoyed the song off the Web site. A few days later, he invited The Scallions to join his record label.
The rap artist said he appreciates the band's avant garde aesthetic.
"They'll be my rock guys," he said of The Scallions in a phone interview last week. "I like their sonic approach. I dig their attitude as well."
The brothers spent the past few years completing the album, recording songs in their spare time.
"If I get a free moment, I'll run downstairs and work on some sounds," Mike said.
At times, inspiration comes unexpectedly.
Shawn, whose wife is expecting their first child, recalls calling home to sing a melody going through his head into his answering machine to preserve it for use on the record.
Finishing the album was a huge relief and the brothers are obviously proud of their work.
They hope the record catches on, but achieving fame and fortune isn't their primary goal.
Ultimately, they simply enjoy making music together.
"We have albums' worth of material that's just for us," Mike said.
Al Remlinger, a Somers resident and the brothers' friend, played bass for The Scallions during the live performance in Worcester.
He credits their success to persistence and talent.
"I just hand it to them for being patient and persistent," he said Tuesday. "Mike's an absolutely amazing producer. They're both great songwriters. It was a matter of time."
He said Shawn's enthusiasm and well-rounded appreciation of music opened doors for The Scallions and allowed the band to stay faithful to its creative vision.
"They never had to sacrifice the integrity of their music," he said. "And sooner or later time catches up to the music."
©Journal Inquirer 2006