The idea of getting your band’s first song played on the biggest FM classic rock station in Southern California sounds like a dream to anyone who ever picked up a guitar in their parent’s garage. That’s what Ryan Reno thought when he pitched a song from his band Late Night Union to the gatekeepers of the weekly “Stay or Go” segment on the Heidi and Frank show on 95.5 FM KLOS last year. However, when the song actually made it on the air, their dream quickly turned into a nightmare.
“We thought we were all good, we had a cool tune, old school rock in roll, we sent it to the last rock station in the area,” Reno says with a smirk and a sigh. “We just got fuckin’ brutalized.”
Not only did the humorous hosts and audience not like the tune (which shall remain nameless), the band was told by call-in hecklers to fire their lead singer and stab their guitarist in the face (ouch!).
“Some of us took it in stride, some of us took it a little harder,” Reno says. “But it inspired us to hire a producer.”
You’d think after getting their asses handed to them on the radio, it would be a while before this gritty, blues-rock band from Huntington Beach would dare show their music to anyone. Thankfully, the Gods of Grunge decided to temporarily part the dark clouds of Seattle and shine upon them for taking one more chance. Reno and vocalist Christian Erik, who started the group in Erik’s garage in 2015, decided to email their demo to a handful of producers they admired just for the hell of it. One of them happened to be Adam Kasper, a platinum-selling wizard who recorded seminal albums for Soundgarden, The Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam and Queens of the Stone Age to name a few.
The band was gobsmacked when their email actually got a reply. To their surprise, Kasper did not want them to stab their eyes out, he actually wanted to help them.
“A day or two later he responds to us directly telling us he really liked what we were doing and dug the style of the music,” Reno says, admitting he was skeptical at first. Kasper agreed to work with them and record them up in Seattle at the late, great Studio X (recently shuttered last August and slated to be demolished ) where he recorded albums like Soundgarden’s Down on the Upside and assisted in engineering Nirvana’s In Utero alongside Steve Albini. “After getting torn apart on the radio in front of all my friends it was cool of someone like him to be that on board, especially someone of his caliber and worked on most of the music I grew up listening to,” Reno says.
The band (rounded out by brothers Sean Derksen on drums and Stevie Derksen on guitar) made the trip up the coast in July and found themselves on holy ground recording their fiery and soulful sound influenced by Chris Cornell in front of the producer who recorded the late rock idol in his prime and just a few years before his untimely passing in 2017.
To make things even more surreal, one of the dozen songs the band recorded called “Begin Again” was inspired by Cornell’s suicide and talks about a struggle to find another way to deal with inner demons. The band set up to record a live video, not realizing it was the exact spot where Soundgarden recorded a video for “Fell on Black Days” 25 years earlier . During one of their breaks in creating a soon-to-be-released album, Soundgarden/Pearl Jam drummer even came by the studio to talk to Kasper and shook hands with Reno and his band. For Late Night Union, this dream is still one they’ve yet to fully awaken from and a victory that FM radio naysayers can ever take away.
“It was crazy to record that song, meet the drummer of Soundgarden and use of the same amps Chris Cornell used,” Reno says. “I really still l can’t believe some this story how it all unfolded with this song.”
Late Night Union perform with Dead Poet Society, Graves & The Bad Weather, and Orange Blossom Special at The Wayfarer, Saturday, Jan. 12. 8 p.m., $5, 21+. For full info and tickets, click here.