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Getting out of Fort Wayne can be tough. Especially when you’re from Ligonier. But against the odds, or perhaps because of them, Jeff Rains and his band Rains has managed to escape the gravitational pull of the Summit City to play among the stars in the galaxy of hard rock. Having just completed the Share the Welt tour, headlined by Five Finger Death Punch and including All That Remains and Hatebreed, Rains are preparing to hit the road again, this time with Black Stone Cherry and Cavo. The tour includes a stop at Piere’s Entertainment Center on February 2.
“It’s been a pretty crazy 10 months,” Rains said in a phone interview from Los Angeles where he and the band have been doing promotional work. “We went from being a small club band to playing for 10,000 people every night. We had to kind of transform. There’s a certain way to do it. You handle 10,000 people differently from the way you handle 300. I never thought we were a great live band or even a good live band. Now I think we are a good live band.”
With one independently produced CD, Stories, the singles “Liar” and “Look In My Eyes” moving up the charts and work on a second release underway, Rains have seen their fortunes rise with a combination of persistence, good business and luck.
The road from Ligonier to Fort Wayne and beyond may have been long for Jeff Rains, but it’s been one without significant detours. At 27, Rains has been around long enough to watch as other local bands took their turns on the big stage only be stomped on and discarded by the cruel realities of big stage record labels. The trajectory those bands followed was one controlled by the suits at the top: a band signs with a major label, gets money fronted to make a record, gets little or no support from the label to promote the record, then gets dropped if a single fails to take off.
“I went through such a learning process about this whole thing,” Rains said. “It’s good and bad that it took so long to learn so much about the business. But I run it how I want it to be run. I’m not in it for the money. But there’s no easy way, unless you’re Nickelback. You can’t spend $100,000 on a record and not expect to get your money back.”
The music bug bit Jeff Rains in 1994, when the concert 25th anniversary of Woodstock grabbed his attention.
“It was the Green Day mud fight,” he said. “My brother (Rains drummer Joe Schultz) and I decided we wanted to play music. He wanted a guitar and I wanted drum kit. Our grandpa bought them for us. But after a while we decided we were terrible so we switched.”
From Woodstock Rains started getting into the Seattle-bred bands. In high school his dad agreed to buy him an electric guitar with one condition.
“He told me I had to learn a new song every week. He had a list of these songs by bands from the 1970s – Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty, the Eagles, stuff like that. I didn’t care about those bands. I didn’t know it at the time but it gave me a good background in music. I just wanted to play Korn and Tool.”
Rains formed his band when he was 15. The name “Rains” has stuck. For the first eight years Rains was basically a solo act with a revolving cast of players called in as needed. His first show at Piere’s was as the opener for Crossfade.
“I didn’t want to be considered a local band,” he said. “In my head the less we played the more people were going to want us to play. We played Piere’s about five years ago, then started touring on a national level, the whole van and trailer thing.”
Rains said he didn’t like being away from his family, but in order to have a career he had to travel. The travel and time away from their families forced his brother to rethink his options and bow out. His former bass player, Evans Blue bassist Joe Pitter, quit at the same time. As it happened, the chance to tour with Five Finger Death Punch came just days after his rhythm section left.
“Everything just got so bad,” he said. “I was thinking this can’t be what music is supposed to be like. We decided to give it one more try. I called Matt Hopkins, who played bass with Sirface, and he got a drummer (Andy Ryan) and so we were able to do the tour. There were a lot of points along the way where we wondered if we were doing it the right way. Everything just turns around very quickly. I never would have believed it.”
After the tour Rains’s brother Schultz rejoined the group. Guitarist Jason Anderson rounds out the band.
Flexibility and a loyal fan base, as well as having roots in northeast Indiana, have been keys to Rains’ success. Through the website kickstart.com Rains is relying on that fan base to help fund their next project. It’s a move that could only happen through a strong relationship between band and fan. Had he signed to a major label, as nearly happened a few years back, such a relationship would never exist. The project reaffirms Rains’ commitment to independence.
“I think I’d get really bored if I just had the music,” Rains said. “The business side occupies my brain in a different way. I’m not necessarily a control freak but after 12 years I want things going a certain way. I have to run it like a major record label while not being a major record label. And being from Indiana, we learned hard work and how to be humble. I didn’t realize how big of a deal that is. On the Share the Welt tour the other bands would say, ‘What’s your problem? You’re the nicest band on the tour.’ And we’d say, ‘We’re from Indiana.’ Indiana is just one of those places. When I started touring I had a chance to see how people have to live. Coming back to Fort Wayne I see that it is a fantastic city. I’ve got a good feeling about Fort Wayne.”