Running on full

No, they haven't met David Letterman.

The members of the Huntington Beach-based band Runner Runner get that question a lot. After all, the King of Late Night played an indirect part in their rise to fame, and a Google search of the terms "David Letterman" plus "Runner Runner" netted 15,600 matches as of last week.

Singer Ryan Ogren, guitarists Nick Bailey and Peter Munters, bassist Jon Berry and drummer James Ulrich are still a few degrees of separation from the talk-show legend. But that may change soon. They hope to appear on Letterman's show by the end of this year, and they joke that they always leave a spot for him onstage.

Runner Runner, which formed two years ago, is slated to have its self-titled debut album released this fall on C.E. Music, a new label overseen by Letterman's media company Worldwide Pants Inc. The band's manager, Jim Recor, is a partner in Worldwide Pants, and "Runner Runner" will be the label's first release.

Considering that Letterman helped launch Hootie and the Blowfish's career when he declared them his "favorite new band," that seems like a powerful connection. As Runner Runner prepares to embark on a national tour next week, though, the members are doing their best to put their success in perspective.

"I look in the mirror and I just feel intensely grateful that we get to do what we love," Munters said.

And so, in the Letterman tradition, here are the Top 10 Things You Should Know About Runner Runner:

1. They will rock you. The "Runner Runner" album doesn't offer much in the way of slow, introspective ballads. From the pounding opening beats of the first track, "So Obvious," the band establishes a groove and rarely lets up.

Listen closely throughout the album and you'll hear echoes of other Southern California bands, from the Beach Boys to Sugar Ray. You'll also hear lyrics that veer from be-all-you-can-be earnestness ("When you think you're falling/Just get up") to loopy humor ("Loving you only gave me paper cuts").

The "So Obvious" single is scheduled for radio release June 15.

The band's spokeswoman, Heidi Ellen Robinson-Fitzgerald, considers it an ideal summer tune.

"It's the kind of music that you want to put it on in your car, crank it up as loud as you can crank up the radio and go as fast as you can down Pacific Coast Highway," she said.

2. They really are in it for the money. Not just for the money, mind you. But Munters is quick to note that unlike some hardcore bands, Runner Runner doesn't shun the notion of a wide audience. Although the word "punk" shows up liberally in the band's press materials, the songs on "Runner Runner" are long on ear candy and short on grunge.

"Working on these songs has made me realize there is a thin line between punk and power pop, and that is a No. 1 song," Munters said. "And we're going to cross that line."

A No. 1 song may be in the offing for Runner Runner, but the band, which has appeared in the Vans Warped Tour and other festivals, still has a ways to go before it headlines stadiums.

On the tour starting next week, Runner Runner will open for Amber Pacific and Cartel at medium-sized venues; the first Southern California stop will be June 8 at Chain Reaction in Anaheim.

One hopeful sign, according to Robinson-Fitzgerald, is the more than 8 million plays the band has garnered on its MySpace page.

Bailey, meanwhile, is under no delusion that it won't be hard work.

"People think if you're in a band, you just party and do drugs," he said. "But like any other business, when you're self-employed, you put in a lot more hours than the guy who just clocks in 9 to 5."

3. They're a Surf City band by choice. Unlike Avenged Sevenfold and other bands that grew up in Huntington, Runner Runner hand-picked its base of operations. Berry is the only Southern California native in the bunch, while Ogren hails from New Jersey and the other three started out in Virginia.

They met while touring the country with different bands — Berry with Rufio, Ogren with Don't Look Down and the other three with Over It.

Over the years, they gravitated to each other as their common musical tastes emerged.

When it came to choosing a home, Runner Runner opted for Surf City — in part because of the area's musical history, and in part because it offered connections.

"We loved Orange County," Bailey said. "There's a lot of venues here like the House of Blues and Chain Reaction, and we were still close enough to L.A. that we could network and play the venues there. But O.C. has a little more room to breathe."

4. They know the right people. As Runner Runner began to amass a following, it hooked up with Recor, who has worked as a road manager for Loggins and Messina and other artists. Berry had played in the backup band for singer Lucy Walsh, Recor's stepdaughter, and she introduced Recor to Berry's group.

Recor recommended the band to friend and fellow industry veteran Jack Ponti, who runs Merovingian (MRV) Music, a label affiliated with EMI/Capitol Records. When Ponti expressed interest in Runner Runner, Recor and fellow Worldwide Pants partner Fred Nigro created C.E. Music to release the album.

If the above paragraph sounds like a music-industry mouthful, well, those are the connections that lift a band out of playing neighborhood bars.

The headline of the band's latest press release reads as follows: "Runner Runner Signs With EMI's Capitol Records Worldwide Pants Inc./MRV Alliance."

Recor, who credits the band's work ethic for much of its success, is convinced all those dealings will pay off.

"There's a lot of bands like this out there, but no one writes the songs like these guys do," he said. "These guys are great songwriters — a lot of radio appeal, good, hooky choruses, melodies."

A label executive hooked the band up with Los Angeles producer Dave Darling, who has worked with the Stray Cats, Brian Setzer and Soulive. Even the band's publicist is an old pro; Robinson-Fitzgerald counts System of a Down, Van Halen and other legends among her clients over the years.

5. Their name comes from poker, not sports. "It means things lining up perfectly for your hand to work," explained Ogren, who once dreamed of being a professional poker player. "Runner runner means you have to get two perfect cards to beat your opponent. I think that concept worked for our band."

6. They can still stand to be in the same house with one another. So far, success hasn't marred the friendships that hold Runner Runner together.

A few years ago, all five members rented a home together in Surf City; Bailey, Munters and Berry still live there, while Ogren and Ulrich have their own apartments nearby.

They're communal with songwriting, too — all the tracks on the album are credited to the entire band.

7. They may have once tutored your kid, delivered your medical bills or buttered your bagel. All the members work as full-time musicians now. But back in the day, Berry worked as a courier for a medical billing company, Munters as a private tutor, Ogren as a pizza delivery boy, Ulrich as a morning manager for a bagel shop and Bailey as a model for Hot Topic.

8. They live by an obscure Japanese proverb — or, at least, their lead guitarist does. "Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare" is Bailey's favorite quote.

9. They really, really like the color black. Meeting with the Independent at Perqs Nite Club & Sports Bar on Friday, all the members wore black, and several sported shades.

They also quoted lines verbatim from the rock movie "This is Spinal Tap," in which the fictional band finds its new album released with an all-black cover when the record company deems the original design too racy.

"I love black," Berry said when asked if it was his favorite color. "Hell, yeah."

"I prefer dark black," Munters said.

"I prefer anything Johnny Cash," Ulrich added.

10. They're hoping for beginner's luck. "Runner Runner" is the first full-length album the band has made, although the members produced some independent EPs in the past.

And they've already got the follow-up in the works, at least as far as songwriting goes.

"It's a daily process of writing," Ogren said. "Our album's done, and we're still writing every day."

At least, the band has already gotten a thumbs-up from the man at the top — or so its publicist thinks, anyway.

"My understanding is that David Letterman has heard the band, likes the band and is certainly excited about having the band on the label," Robinson-Fitzgerald said.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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