For Stealing December, winning the 2006 Zippo Hot Tour proved one major point: Hailing from Delaware - the second-smallest state in the country - isn't necessarily a detriment in a national competition when the music clearly speaks for itself.
The band emerged from the contest's Philadelphia region before defeating finalists from nine other cities across the United States to earn the right to tour with five-times platinum Geffen recording artists Papa Roach, as well as metal veterans (hed)p.e., in front of thousands of new faces a night. While on the road for the 14-date trek, Stealing December's members - vocalist Brandon Langer, guitarist Ryan Mullen, bassist Eight Ristano and drummer Michaelangelo Ristano - quickly discovered that they fit right in playing with two bands with decidedly different musical styles than their own.
"Stealing December keeps it real," said former Papa Roach drummer Dave Buckner. "Real heartfelt and real loud. That's real rock."
After witnessing the foursome's dynamic live performance and energetic stage show, the fans across the country who chose Stealing December as their top unsigned band based solely on a demo and a photo now had first-hand proof that they made the right decision.
It's hard to decipher exactly when the musical roots of Stealing December were planted. Perhaps it happened when brothers Michaelangelo and Eight spent the first of countless hours together as kids wearing out cassette tapes by KISS, Motley Crue and Van Halen.
Or maybe it was when lifelong friends Eight and Ryan, who met in grade school in the late '80s, took the stage together at a talent show in Newark, Del. Ryan strutted like the late Michael Hutchence, as Eight strummed the licks of Tim Farriss. The song was "New Sensation," the band, of course, INXS. Whatever the case, Stealing December was officially born in March 2005, when bandmates Ryan, Eight and Michaelangelo responded to an ad placed on MySpace.com's Musician Xchange by Brandon Langer.
A native of Lincoln, Neb., Langer moved to Newark only months earlier. Mullen and the Ristano boys were merely looking for a new guitarist. Instead, they found the missing piece of their musical puzzle in the singing, songwriting and guitar-playing Midwestern prodigy.
"The chemistry was perfect from the start," Langer said. "Those first couple months definitely helped shape a great direction for the band. It's been amazing to watch this band grow and develop over the past couple years."
In the fall of '06 - a mere 18 months after the band's formation - Stealing December's driving rock n' roll sound not only took its rightful place at the forefront of the Delaware/Philly music scene but also emerged on a national level with its victory in the Zippo Hot Tour competition. The subsequent U.S. tour saw the foursome perform everywhere from Philadelphia to Orlando to Hollywood.
The triumph also brought Stealing December a barrage of local and national media coverage, including spots on MTVNews.com, MTV radio, Westwood One Radio, Pollstar, live Daily, the legendary 93.3 WMMR in Philadelphia and 93.7 WSTW in Wilmington, Del.
Additionally, Stealing December's performance shot in December 2006 at Sunset Strip's famed Viper Room premiered the following February on HDNet's True Music w/ Katie Daryl. The episode also featured Drive-Thru Records' New Found Glory and legendary alternative outfit Sonic Youth.
"Their popularity is no fluke," said Mark Rogers, host of WSTW's "Hometown Heroes." "They have a repertoire of solid, catchy songs that rock. Stealing December is made up of great musicians that are a lot of fun to see play live." When the band returned from the road at the end of 2006, it began writing and crafting a batch of edgier, heavier songs that reflected a reshaped and matured musical direction. Those tracks, coupled with a handful of old favorites, would eventually compose Stealing December's debut LP, "Put it To Flame."
"The sound went from more pop and less rock to more rock and less pop," Eight Ristano said. "We are still the same band, but now with more fire, passion and some dirt underneath our nails. We are just four guys who grew up having musical idols. Some the same, many different, but when you throw them all together, along with the experiences we've had the past two years, this is what you get." "Put it To Flame" was recorded in August 2007 at MilkBoy Studios in Ardmore, Pa., and produced by Tommy Joyner, whose credits include Grammy Award winners Dave Matthews and Digable Planets.
Released independently in February 2008, the LP features a revamped version of the immensely popular anthem, "Story," which has received continued airplay on radio stations across the country, as well as the TV Guide Channel on Demand. Just days after the unveiling of "Put it To Flame," Stealing December earned 2007 Artist of the Year and Best Band honors in the 2nd Annual WSTW "Hometown Heroes" Homey Awards, as voted by the station's Delaware Valley listeners. Throughout the same month, Brandon, Ryan, Eight and Michaelangelo hit the road again on the "Put it To Flame" promo tour, which saw them performing shows and visiting radio stations in Elkton, Md., Ocean City, Md., Wilmington, N.C., Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., before wrapping up in their hometown of Newark.