PARTY CROWD

Emerson Drive play 'home wreckers' in their latest video and make friend with fellow Canadian Shania Twain as her opening act.

The six members of Emerson Drive are standing in a Nashville house and surveying the damage. The place is trashed with stale pizza crusts and empty plastic cups, and the stench of beer hangs thick in the air.

But as lead singer Brad Mates reveals, it's all for show - to capture the party atmosphere of the clip for their new single, "Last One Standing."

"When we first walked in there," says Brad, "we saw the house as it was - clean. We left to change clothes, and when we came back they [the production crew] had turned it into something that looked like a big party after a few hours. It was wrecked!"

Brad was also impressed with the home's '60s retro decor. "The lady who owns it hasn't done anything with it since she bought it," he explains, "so it's got the old shag carpet still there and a big round bed with a blue velvet comforter on top of it. It was hilarious!"

As in the video of their recent hit "Fall Into Me," Brad was again recruited to be the band's "lead kisser" - the guy who gets the girl. "All the other guys are upset because they want a turn!" laughs Brad. "I just found out about [the kissing scene] the night before. There's no real preparation for it.

"The director told us, 'OK, I want you to come in the room and you guys kiss at the end of this part. Action!' You just try to make it look as natural as it can be, but you're thinking, 'Oh my God - this is a complete stranger and I have to do this for about twenty-five minutes!' "

All in a day's work for a song that almost didn't make it on the band's upcoming album, What If?, to be released May 18.

"We had already finished the album and 'Last One Standing' came in from Richard [Marx], our producer," says Brad. "We all fell in love with it and three days later we were in Nashville recording the song. Now it's the first single off the new CD. Good things happen with us recording at the last second. 'Fall Into Me' was our biggest hit off the first CD - hopefully this one can get a little bit higher."

It was the success of Emerson Drive's self-titled debut album that secured the group the opening slot on Shania Twain's 2003 tour. After their first show in Toronto, the band was celebrating in their dressing room when there was a knock at the door.

"It was Mutt Lange," Shania's husband and producer, recalls Brad. "He came into the room and all of our jaws just dropped to the floor. We're huge fans of all the music he's produced. He said, 'I want to welcome you guys on the tour. We were really pulling for you guys to be out here.'

"And then he said, 'By the way, I was walking backstage when you guys were playing "Only God (Could Stop Me Loving You),"' " a tune written by Mutt and recorded by Emerson Drive (and also by Billy Ray Cyrus and Lari White). Mutt told the band he stopped in his tracks because he'd forgotten that Emerson Drive had ever cut the song.

"It was very surreal with him sitting there talking to us," says Brad, "about the song he'd written that we played that he forgot about. It was an interesting moment!"

From that day on the band chatted with Shania and Mutt daily, even sharing meals with the couple. "We talked about where we're from, how the group got started, and our plans - and about where Mutt's from, what he's done. And Shania - you can talk to her about anything. She's almost like your next-door neighbor. She's that nice and down-to-earth."

Shania was even more pleased to learn that the guys - including bassist Patrick Bourque, drummer Mike Melancon, keyboardist Dale Wallace, guitarist Danick Dupelle and fiddler Dave Pichette - were fellow Canadians.

"She didn't even realize that," says Brad, "until one of the guys spoke French to her and she was like, 'Oh my God, where are you from?' We said, 'We're all from Canada,' and she said, 'No way!'"

The bond between Emerson Drive and Shania Twain continues - the band will once again open for her on her 2004 tour dates from April through July. The group's logged countless miles on the road but they wouldn't have it any other way.

"We love it," confesses Brad. "We took six weeks off last year during Christmas and after the second or third week, everyone was antsy to get back out on the road again. It just goes to show you - the amount of time you spend out here really becomes a part of you."

-- Wendy Newcomer

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