THE NEW CARS
It’s Alive
Eleven Seven Records
by Todd K Smith

There was a time between 1979 and 1984 that the Cars ruled the airwaves. In some cities and retro-radio markets they still do. Yet, since the late eighties, no one has seen the band play their hits live. That was almost twenty years ago and a couple of the original members of the Boston-based hit makers want to change that. “We’ve been sitting around long enough,” says keyboardist Greg Hawkes from his Cambridge cottage. “We actually tried for a couple years to get Ric (Ocasek) onboard, but it’s difficult these days. He’s busy with his family and producing, so schedules didn’t match.”

With more that two-dozen top 40 hits to their name, fan demand for a full-blown Cars tour has been building over the last decade. Lumped in with the same pre-new wave pile as Blondie, Talking Heads and Boomtown Rats, the Cars clashed between proto-punk, garage rock and bubblegum pop. That was what made them the most successful radio entity of the late seventies. Their influence has spilled over in buckets to today’s hipsters like the Vines, the Killers, Interpol and Fountains of Wayne. “When you write songs that are ageless, timeless, and considered by all accounts to be classics,” says VH1 Senior VP Eric Sherman, “your audience never fades. It only grows stronger.”

Enter a room full of accountants, lawyers and VH1 execs. Original Cars guitarist Elliot Easton had spent the last few years in Creedence Clearwater Revisited. Greg Hawkes was becoming a ukulele specialist, Ben Orr had sadly lost his battle with pancreatic cancer (October 3, 2000). Ric Ocasek never seemed that interested and drummer Dave Robinson - who really knows? – last anyone heard he was an art collector. Yet the wheels started turning. VH1’s idea was to pair the Cars with Blondie who were fresh off their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and call the tour “Road Rage 2006.”

“It took some doing but we finally all arrived at the same place mentally and musically,” says Hawkes. To understand how it all came about you need to connect the dots. The Cars had played with Utopia (MKII) in the late seventies hence introducing Todd Rundgren (producer/musician/songwriter extraordinaire) and bass/vocalist Kasim Sulton to the group. Rundgren produced the Tubes thus connecting him to drummer Prairie Prince. The two have been inseparable since. When the idea of a Cars reunion was mentioned, Rundgren already had a built in rhythm section, making it an easy deal.

After the ink was dry on the contracts, several lengthy rehearsals took place. Says Hawkes, “The songs came together relatively easy. Todd comes from the same place I do from the Beatles to Kraftwerk and Devo. He knows every element of the music business and has proven himself as a musician. It was almost too easy.” For Hawkes and Easton connecting with Sulton and Prince was refreshing and invigorating. “They are both seasoned pros,” continues Hawkes. “Amazing musicians that find there way very quickly.” So quickly in fact that the band wrote three new tracks almost effortlessly. They decided to call the group the new Cars, not only out of respect for the band but also to introduce the lineup to a whole new audience.

For Hawkes, The New Cars are more than just a band built by the industry to promote a greatest hits package. It’s a hard working, remarkably contemporary outfit committed to rolling out the goods for the fans. “Audiences know these songs,” says Rundgren “and want to re-experience them in a live context. As The New Cars, we want to pay homage to the Cars knowing that the best-known songs are the essential core – that’s what we’re hanging our hats on.” To promote the Road Rage Tour 2006, The New Cars have recorded It’s Alive, an 18-track compilation of highlights including “Shake It Up,” “Let’s Go,” “Just What I Needed” and “Best Friend’s Girl” to name a few. They have also added their three new studio songs “Not Tonight,” “Warm” and “More” which will see their live debut during the tour.

“Playing with this band has brought back a flood of memories for me,” says Hawkes. “All the way back to when I was first rehearsing with Ric (Ocasek) and Ben (Orr) in Boston – playing The Rat club before it burned down. Todd, Kasim and Prairie, these guy’s musical history goes back just as far – that’s why it’s such a good fit.” Elliot Easton later comments, “We’ll do some Cars stuff live as well as some of Todd’s songs, but what were most excited about is the new material we’ve recorded and that we have the ability to move forward as a new band and do new studio albums of new material.”

With each ticket purchased through VH1classic.com or Ticketmaster.com, concert goers will receive a confirmation email with a code to redeem a ten-song free download (five Cars, five Blondie) plus a new track from each artist. The New Cars It’s Alive hits stores June 6th. In our area The New Cars Road Rage Tour ’06 arrives at the Reno Event Center May 26th, show starts at 8:00PM. Tickets are going fast.

Website: The New Cars