They are an engrained part of the "American Idol" audition programs: heartfelt tales of personal hardship that manage to separate one contestant butchering a Stevie Wonder song from the rest of the field.
In that regard, Vivion Smith has a whopper to tell: The future of her band, Juniper Lane, was thrown into uncertainty when Smith was involved in a near-fatal rock climbing accident at Great Falls. After nearly a week in a coma, and nearly a year of rehabilitation, Smith and her bandmates reconnected and forged ahead with a new CD called "Wake From Yourself," which will be celebrated at a release party at the 9:30 Club in D.C. on Saturday, Aug. 18.
After that show, Juniper Lane will head to Las Vegas to compete for a coveted spot on "The Search for the Next Great American Band," a competitive reality show on FOX from the producers of "American Idol." Smith hopes her story can help bring added attention to her band. "Good Lord, I had to almost die, it seems like there should be a pay off somewhere," Smith said, tongue in cheek. "It does seem like it should be an interesting story. The band went through a lot when it happened."
Juniper Lane — Smith on vocals and keyboard, Chris Bonavia on guitar, Brian Frederick on bass and Eddie Pasa on drums — will be the representative from D.C./Baltimore in the Las Vegas auditions after submitting its material and winning a popular vote. "It’s the actual competition to see who gets on the show," said Smith. "They’ll probably air some of it, like they always do: the really, really terrible bands and the really, really good bands. And we really hope we’re not in the first category."
As far as the other bands in the competition, Smith isn’t sure what to expect.
"They said they were accepting all genres of music. Maybe nobody will sound like anybody else there…which makes me wonder how they will possibly compare us," she said.
SMITH SAID Juniper Lane has been following the trends set by British bands like U2 and Coldplay. "We can probably chase those bands forever and never really sound like them," she said. "They compare us to any band that’s ever had a female vocalist. Sometimes we get bands that we’ve never even heard of."
Smith’s been told she sounds like Gwen Stefani; in reality, her singing voice is less a match than her speaking voice — sounding like the sassy girl who can hang with the boys, with a relaxed and positive tone. When Smith sings, she has the clarity of a Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley with some of the poignant heft of a Sarah McLachlan.
Her voice conveys the emotional landscape of "Wake From Yourself," the follow-up to the band’s successful "Sirens from a Mile Back." The songs cover everything from her climbing accident ("Coma") to the frequent cruelty in human competition ("All the Desperate People.")
A Northern Virginia band — Smith and Bonavia live in Arlington, while Pasa lives in Springfield — Smith said the 9:30 Club was an obvious choice for its CD release party.
"It’s a fantastic venue. It’s my favorite place to play in the entire Mid-Atlantic region. It’s a huge venue for us, but it’s still an intimate venue," she said.
Locally, Smith said she loves hanging out at Galaxy Hut, IOTA Club and Café and the Java Shack in Clarendon. But she and Juniper Lane will leave their favorite haunts behind when they head out to Vegas to compete for television superstardom — as soon as they figure out how to lug all of their gear on the plane.
"I think we’re going to be a nightmare going through security," said Smith.