Ryan Levine: lead vocal, guitar, and keyboards
Sal Cortez: drums, backing vocals
Agustin Sanchez: bass, backing vocals
R.C.: lead guitar
Andrew Ampaya: piano, keyboard, vocals
The story of Test Your Reflex begins in the rehearsal rooms of a teen center in Thousand Oaks, California and will probably end somewhere on the dance floor, the radio dial or on a mix tape passed between two people looking for something new and special to bestow upon each other.
The group is comprised of five musicians of various backgrounds all between the ages of 19-21. Together, this diverse lot trumps much of the macho banality of current rock with sweeping keys, textured guitars and cathartic ballads and--more importantly--bring the craft of songwriting back to the alternative pop world in explosive doses.
Test Your Reflex came together in early 2004 under what lead singer Ryan Levine jokingly describes as "less than glamorous conditions." Having played in various electronic and rock bands since grammar school, Levine decided he wanted to expand his musical palette and spent six frustrating months alone in his garage endlessly tinkering with new songs and arrangements.
Inspired by the sonic grandeur of classic albums like U2?s The Joshua Tree, Peter Gabriel?s So and Joni Mitchell?s Blue as well as all things Bowie and Eno, Levine quietly honed his love of song and melody while most of his peers reveled in the sounds of local acts like Linkin Park and Incubus.
Musical salvation came when Levine met magnetic drummer Sal Cortez through an ex-girlfriend. The two hit it off immediately and began the long process of finding kindred spirits to join them. After many months of searching they finally found guitarist RC, a former guitarist of local thrashy hardcore band R.O.H. Then came keyboardist Andrew Ampaya, a classically trained piano virtuoso whose influences meshed with their own. With innovative and like-minded bassist Agustin Sanchez joining shortly thereafter, the first and final line up of Test Your Reflex was cemented.
Here?s where things start moving fast. After being together for just several months, the word of their talent spread very quickly--with one industry enthusiast even wanting to sign them to a management deal based on his immediate belief in their talent. The only catch was that since Cortez was seventeen, the group had to wait until he was "legal" to sign the necessary paperwork. "It was like needing a hall pass or permission slip to play music," he jokes. A fitting metaphor for someone just out of high school.
Within four months of forming, Test Your Reflex performed their first show at the only place in town that would allow them to play since they were all under 21 and one that would become, as Ampaya kids, their own "CBGBs--but without the booze and the vibe,"--- the Thousand Oaks Teen Center. In the following months, "friends, friends of friends, girlfriends and former chem lab partners" came out to the Center and danced their asses off to the group?s highly combustible songs.
"The Center was the real birthplace of the band," adds Levine. "A few of us had been rehearsing in the practice rooms there with other bands since we were 12, so when everyone starting come out to see us, it was like a homecoming--the spark that really drove us."
After winning over even the most jaded of crowds in Hollywood and continually selling out and tearing the roof off of the Teen Center, Test Your Reflex headed to a boutique North Hollywood studio in January of 2006 to begin work on The Burning Hour. Intent on capturing the full spectrum of their electric sound, the group spent many months perfecting their craft and making sure every melody, hook and beat was just so. "It was very important to us to write a complete and developed album," says Levine. "We wanted the ballads to co-exist alongside songs that were more electronic and others that were full-on rock. We had so many songs already written that it was about choosing the ones that were most real to us and not over-thinking anything."
What resulted after all was said and done was a pure distillation of Test Your Reflex?s frenetic energy and raw yet tuneful sensibilities into eleven tracks that are as diverse and unpretentious as they are catchy. From the dreamy opener "I?m Not Sorry" to the anthemic "I Am Alive," and the impossibly infectious first single "Pieces of the Sun," The Burning Hour is a sublime synthesis of the accessible with the unexpected. All eleven tracks cleverly showcase the depth of this record on which every song will be someone?s favorite.
It?s an album for anyone looking to escape from sadness, boredom or the everyday and step into a danceable, hum-able, heartfelt daydream. It?s the pop life seen through new eyes. And now, it?s yours.