Some people know when opportunity knocks, and Chris Clemence — an East Hampton native and the bass player for the band the RapScallions, who will play at the Stephen Talkhouse tomorrow night — is one of those people. But opportunity didn’t exactly knock. It arrived as a misaddressed piece of junk mail.
Mr. Clemence was about 14 when he went to the mailbox at his parents’ East Hampton Village house and found a catalog meant for another address. He started looking through it and fell in love with a picture of a bass guitar.
“I wasn’t even exactly sure what a bass was,” he said. No matter. His parents, Debbie and Mike Clemence, who were very supportive of his semi-musical intentions, bought him the bass for his birthday.
Then, because of more support he received, most notably from Troy Grindle and Marilyn Van Scoyoc at East Hampton High School, Mr. Clemence became an accomplished bass player. “I was in jazz band in high school,” he said. “Dr. Van Scoyoc really helped me a lot.”
He also tipped his hat to Johnny Blood, the guitarist who plays with the Nancy Atlas Project. “He was really helpful,” he said.
Mr. Clemence received the Kris Dalene Music Scholarship, in memory of a young drummer who died in 2003, and he also acknowledged the encouragement he received from the Dalene family of Wainscott.
When it came time for college, Mr. Clemence ventured out to California and the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, a leading school for contemporary musical studies. It was there that he met his band mates — Matt Still (vocals), Dario Forzato (guitar), and Adam Fisher (drums).
But it started with a friendship. “We were friends first,” he said. “And then we realized, ‘Wait a minute — you play drums, you play guitar, you play bass.’ ” He laughed and explained that when they finally got around to playing together, the chemistry was immediate.
Playing original tunes, the RapScallions started gigging at the school and quickly became a popular party band. “Getting the respect of other musicians felt really good,” Mr. Clemence said. “It validated us.”
The venues started getting bigger, from house parties to the Roxy and other clubs on the Sunset Strip. This led to national touring. The RapScallions have opened for Fishbone, Chris Cornell, the English Beat, Bone Thugs N Harmony, and others, sometimes playing to crowds of over 10,000.
The band’s sound has been compared to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sublime, and 311, a combination of funk and rap with a strong guitar presence. The band’s single “California Brain” will be included in Ubisoft’s latest video game, the eagerly anticipated Rocksmith, which premieres in October. Unlike the ubiquitious Guitar Hero, Rocksmith allows gamers to plug into real guitars instead of plastic, guitar-shaped controllers, and can help them learn to play guitar for real.
The RapScallions have been busy, Mr. Clemence said. The band recently performed at the VHI Save the Music benefit concert and the Official N.B.A. All-Star Block Party. They’ve been listed by Music Connection as one of the top 100 live bands of 2010, and were featured in the magazine’s March 2011 issue.
And now a new force has been thrown into the RapScallions mix — Wendy Starland, a producer who “discovered” Lady Gaga and has worked with Moby, Wu Tang Clan, and others.
“We met her a few years ago,” Mr. Clemence said. “She thought our stuff was raw, funky, cool.” Ms. Starland is honing the group, both musically and in the image department.
According to Mr. Clemence, she has no compunction about saying what works and what doesn’t. “She’s not afraid to speak her mind,” he said. “We’ve learned so much from her. And the proof is in how much more professional we sound.”
The RapScallions were recording a four-track demo at Interscope records, and before they were done had secured an independent recording deal.
The band will release its first album in October, concurrent with the release of the game featuring their music and a planned college tour.
But Mr. Clemence couldn’t be more excited about playing at the Talkhouse tomorrow. “It’s like a homecoming show,” he said. “Our first East Hampton venue.”
The show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. For more information about the RapScallions, or to get a taste of their music, their Web site is reverbnation. com/rapscallions.