It’s “a surreal time” for John Vesely — who’s better-known by his adopted nom de rock moniker Secondhand Serenade.
That’s because with the release of his second album, “A Twist in My Story,” Vesely has watched his modestly conceived musical career explode into rising-star status. “Fall For You” — a keening, heart-writing paean in the mode of Plain White T’s “ There Delilah” and the Fray’s “How to Save a Life” — slipped into the Billboard Top 40 and has sold a million copies, partly thanks to TV placements on shows such as MTV’s “The Hills” and “The Real World,” the N’s “South of Nowhere” and E!’s “Living Lohan.”
The song has also vaulted the profile of “A Twist in My Story,” which was released in February, and Vesely is finding himself dealing with a level of success that’s “gotten a lot bigger and further than I had expected.”
“You know, I’m feeling great,” Vesely, 26, says. “Anybody would be ecstatic when they create something and find success with it. I’m just working as hard as I can to make it grow.”
Secondhand Serenade’s rise is, in fact, a case study in developing an act do-ityourself style in music’s new world order.
The California-born Vesely started Secondhand Serenade four years ago in the San Francisco Bay Area, after a tenure in a local band and then a duo project with that group’s guitar player. He chose the alter ego name “because, obviously, I’m writing about someone specific and they’re usually the first ones to hear my songs. Then, when I go out and play around the world it’s kind of like giving them the secondhand serenade.”
The first Secondhand Serenade album, “Awake” — recorded solely by Vesely, who multi-tracked the various parts — came out first as a demo in 2005, and was a grass roots sensation. Promoting himself heavily on MySpace he was the networking site’s top independent artist for several months running, selling 15,000 copies of the album himself and taking in up to $20,000 a month from downloads.
“It’s continually an amazing resource,” Vesely says of MySpace. “I’m still getting 500,000 plays a day, which is dumbfounding. You can’t buy that kind of exposure. It really allows you and has allowed me to reach masses without really spending a dime, and just really having the music out there for people to find.”
Record companies found Vesely, too, and he signed with Glassnote Records in early 2007, which re-released “Awake.” The album charted on the Billboard 200 and had a minor hit in “Vulnerable,” stoking expectations for what Vesely would do next.
He decided on a change-up, making “A Twist in My Story” — whose songs were inspired by Vesely’s divorce — as a fullblown studio effort with other musicians and a high-profile producer, former nine inch nails member Danny Lohner. “I had that core fan base from the first album, so it was definitely scary living up to it,” notes Vesely, who wrote some of the album’s songs, including “Fall For You,” on piano rather than guitar. “I definitely didn’t want to upset the fans with something they couldn’t relate to.
“So I didn’t want to stray too far away, but I did know I wanted to do more full production and take it to different places. It was an interesting process trying to balance that, but I’m actually really happy with how it turned out.”
Vesely and Glassnote continued to use MySpace to Secondhand Serenade’s advantage, but the TV licensing for “Fall For You” kicked things into an even higher gear.
“It’s really effective,” says Vesely, who has 6- and 2-year-old sons. “Not only does the song provide some sort of connection in itself, but now you have some sort of event going on in the (TV show) that relates to that song and people can remember it by that.
“It’s a great way to have the music come out, and it just makes the connection that much huger, I think.”
With a second single, “Your Call,” out, Vesely feels he’s “just tapped the surface” of “A Twist in My Story.” He has a full schedule of international touring set into 2009, and in February he’ll be release a deluxe edition of the album, including a different version of “Fall For You” and a cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You,” along with a behind-the-scenes DVD from the road. But he’s started working on his next album, too, with “almost half the album kind of written out” and plans to start recording next summer.
That’s the future, however. Vesely’s now is all about being on the road and enjoying the “surreal” experience of being a rock star.
“I just love playing shows and being out there,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun being able to personally connect with people. It’s kind of an interesting place, being that guy, ’cause I was never very popular in high school or anything, and I never got that kind of attention. So it’s a little bit different for me now.
“But I do like it.”
Secondhand Serenade, Cute is What We Aim For Rocket to the Moon and Automatic Love Letter perform Sunday (Nov. 16) at Clutch Cargo’s, 65 E. Huron St., Pontiac. Doors open at 5:30 pm. Tickets are $18.50 in advance, $20 Day of show. Call (248) 333-2362 or visit www.clutchcargos.com.
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