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The sound of a good time

Editor's note: The following story about was published Feb. 22 in Tempo. The growing music scene in Southern Oregon has produced a notable batch of new bands, among them the Dead Sea Pedestrians, a group whose originality and commitment to defying the restrictions of genre-labeling is rivaled only by their extremely busy show schedule.

Dead Sea Pedestrians will perform at 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 7-8, at Habaneros Mexican Restaurant, 142 N. Front St., Medford.

The group got its start when founding member Dan Wood (rhythm guitar and lead vocals) rounded up friends William McCarthy (bass) and Ben Jennings (lead guitar) to start a new project. The then-trio quickly managed to string together several local gigs.

Before they could play them, however, they were in need of a drummer. After auditioning a long line of potential prospects, the band met Luke Mattern, who was already a member of another local band. The Pedestrians' relentless urging ultimately paid off, as Mattern eventually agreed to join the fledgling group.

"We auditioned a few good drummers and played with a few bad ones before meeting Luke," Wood recalls. "We auditioned him and then forced him to play. He walked straight through."

It wasn't until a trip to a local karaoke bar, though, that the group's current lineup became set in stone. It was at this karaoke bar that Wood and Jennings first encountered vocalist Stephanie Herch.

"Up on stage was a lovely brunette with powerful, dynamic vocals. We thought, 'Wow,'" Wood remembers. "Being the extroverts that we are, we introduced ourselves and asked if she would be interested in auditioning. She said yes, and the group was off."

While the Pedestrians often hear comparisons to the likes of Dave Matthews Band and Pearl Jam, they are quick to point out that those influences only go so far in defining their sound, especially since Herch's arrival.

"With the addition of Stephanie, we have evolved into a new genre of music," says Wood. "We are literally able to play almost anything."

Intent on pushing themselves creatively and making the most of the musical balance within the group, each member of the Dead Sea Pedestrians contributes to the songwriting process. As a result, the band has amassed an impressive catalog of original music. However, wise to the general desire for familiar material, especially within the bar scene, the Pedestrians focus the majority of their live sets on cover songs, while still allowing an hour's worth of their own music to seep into the mix at each show.

"In this valley, the people and the pubs like to hear the hits. So we play a good three hours of cover music that we make our own, and an hour of original music, which is our own," says Wood.

The Pedestrians' creativity and sonic flexibility have allowed them to blur the usually-clear line between a cover band and an original act. Rather than simply replicating the recognized arrangements of others' songs, the band instead opts for tailoring well-known material to fit its own musical style.

"The most important aspect to our music," Wood says, "is that we make the cover material our own."

Anyone hoping to check out the group will have plenty of opportunities. The Dead Sea Pedestrians have a long list of local club and bar shows scheduled in and around the valley.

"Together we've played about 35 shows, and we have around 50 more throughout the year," says Wood.

There is no cover for the show at Habaneros. Call 779-9770.

Dead Sea Pedestrians are, clockwise from left, Dan Wood, Luke Mattern, William McCarthy and Stephanie Herch. - Bob Pennell