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Baseboard Heaters - Fire down below

It's a typical follow-your-dream story. Rob Stroup was in tenth grade and Matt Brown in eighth when they started playing music together in the small town of Newberg, Oregon. Brown went off to Denton, Texas, for college, where he caught the live music bug following a local band called Ten Hands. His other favorite artist of the time was a Midwestern outfit, Uncle Tupelo.

Stroup studied for the ministry and was nearing ordination when he decided to apply to law school instead. But on the eve of enrollment, in the summer of 1997, Stroup bagged law school and elected to chase his true dream. He called Brown and asked him to move to Portland so they could form a band together.

Brown says it took no convincing: "I was already planning to get something going, but I couldn't imagine playing in a band without Rob. We always had this sort of unspoken musical language between us, that had built up over 12 or 14 years or whatever it was of being friends and playing music together."

Upon landing in Portland, the two singer-guitarists placed a newspaper ad seeking a rhythm section "interested in a rock/funk/surf/twang project." Bassist Matt Souther and drummer Jason Krzmarzick, who together had been looking for a band to hook up with, answered. Each duo felt remarkably comfortable with the other, and the Baseboard Heaters were born.

The band gives off a great energy, and both Stroup and Brown sing well. Stroup, who has written most of the band's 30-plus original songs, admits his near brush with the ministry is a source of conflict "that leads to a lot of lost religion in my songs....I grew up on gospel and country. I especially loved Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. I wanted to merge that with the energy of my favorite rock bands."

Stroup and Brown cite the Posies and Wilco as particular influences. While they obviously aren't the only band out there with this "a lot of power chords and a little country" approach, their earnestness in both songwriting and musicianship is the heart of the Baseboard Heaters' appeal.

The band got impatient with the record-label mating game and in April self-released Seeing Red, which features six studio cuts and three live tracks. The release captures the band's good-times/high-energy vibe. "We really think of ourselves as a live band," says Brown, "and we wanted that dimension on the record. But mostly we were just itching to get something out there for people." Stroup adds: "We were a little tired of recording music that only industry people ever hear."