NO MOUNTAIN TOO HIGH

Hot new band Emerson Drive weathers a personnel change, crosses the Canadian border and climbs the country charts to come out on top in Nashville

With two hit singles from their self-titled debut album, Emerson Drive has found success at a time when many other groups and solo artists are struggling to get on the charts. But don't say they've "arrived."

"I wouldn't say we've 'made it,' " notes fiddle player Pat Allingham. "If an artist ever feels they've 'made it,' that's when they start falling backwards. Yes, we've had great success with the first two singles. But our band has always had a good work ethic. We've toured a lot, building our fan base one fan at a time. We just did our best to pick good songs."

Last year's hit "I Should Be Sleeping" and this year's "Fall Into Me" gave the group a strong toehold in the ultra-competitive jostling to get played on radio. The success of those singles also helped the boys from Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada, snag their first ACM nomination for Top New Vocal Duo or Group, and their first CMT Flameworthy Award nomination for Breakthrough Video of the Year for "Fall Into Me."

Being relatively new to the game, lead singer Brad Mates admits the band looks to other more seasoned artists for advice. "When I was home over Christmas, Toby Keith's tour came through Canada," he explains. "I went to a couple of his shows. We usually never get a big star like that who comes through our part of the country. One night Toby and I talked for about ten minutes. He's been around for such a long time now and had great success. It's nice to know someone like that can stil have a normal conversation with someone who's still coming up in the business.

"I also had a good chat with Michael Britt from Lonestar last fall," adds Brad. "Being a band, too, you always like to hear about the situations they've gone through. It's neat to see that each band does the same thing along the way – whether it's music or a member change – and to see what they did when they got to that point in their career."

Nine months ago Emerson Drive was at that "member change" point, when bass player Jeff Loberg left the band to pursue a songwriting career. His replacement was Patrick Borque, a former classmate of drummer Mike Melancon.

"We're still good friends with Jeff and we wish him well," assures keyboard player Chris Hartman. "The transition was easy. Patrick and Mike have been best friends through college, so they've already played together."

"Patrick's a great guy," acknowledges guitar player Danick Dupelle. "From the time we met him at the airport in Nashville, he was already welcome."

"One day Mike called and said, 'Do you want to join the band?' " remembers Patrick. "He told me I had three days to come to Nashville. So I left everything in Montreal and learned the songs on the plane. We were playing the next day."

Patrick learned to play the songs quickly – and is learning to speak English almost as fast. The Montreal native knows the language, but grew up speaking mostly French, as did fellow Montreal natives Mike and Danick. While Danick and Mike are fluent, Patrick is heading in that direction.

"I'm the only one in the band who doesn't speak French," laments Brad. "I dropped it after the sixth grade. I wish I was still with it now because these guys can talk behind my back any time they want!" he laughs.

Emerson Dive is following up "Fall Into Me" with their third single, "Only God (Could Stop Me Loving You)," written by Shania Twain's husband Mutt Lange. But even though they're still releasing songs from their debut CD, they're already going back into the recording studio to record their next album, with pop singer/songwriter Richard Marx producing. They all agree that this tie in the studio will be vastly different from their first experience.

"I'll be way more confident," declares Mike. "On the first album, I was intimidated by the whole room and the people in there. But we feel really lucky. They don't put a lot of pressure on us. They let us try what we want to do."

"At the time of the first album we were all pretty green," recalls Brad. "We were all around 21 years old, recording an album in Nashville on a major label with big-time producers watching us from behind the glass. We just hoped that what they saw live was going to come out on the CD."

Apparently, it did. And what did the Emerson Drive mates do with the fruits of their labor – their first big paycheck?

"What big paycheck?" chuckles Danick. "I cleared my debts last December. It was a good Christmas."

"The thing about a band is, you can get a big check, but when you split it between six guys there's not much of a big check left," reveals Brad. "We've been touring together for eight years. It's nice to see that there's a little more money in what we're doing now than in years before.

"And," he adds with a smile, "it's nice to be able to eat at different restaurants besides McDonald's and Subway every day!"

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