WEST HOLLYWOOD, California — It's a quiet Tuesday evening on Santa Monica Boulevard, save the ubiquitous traffic and sketchy sidewalk strollers who are either homeless, wannabe stars or somewhere in between. Suddenly, the sight of comes into view, as they all stand in line outside a small club.
Welcome to the world of Jackson Rathbone and 100 Monkeys. Mixing fame and grit, unpredictability and the familiar, the 24-year-old rising star has spent his recent days working on the sets of movies like "Twilight" and M. Night Shyamalan's "The Last Airbender" and his nights unwinding with his band — which will release its first two albums later this year.
"Our band started off as an improv, a duo piece with just my roommate and I, Ben Graupner, who is also an actor," explained the man who plays Jasper Hale in the "Twilight" series. "We had a lot of ideas and just kept making music and recording and singing improv and just listening back and being like, 'Hey, this is kind of fun!' "
On this night, Rathbone is hosting an event at the 24K Lounge. Working the crowd like a true master of ceremonies, he thanks everyone for coming, sits in with an opening act, and then takes the stage himself with the buzz-building MySpace phenomenon that got an even bigger boost after his latest film opened to a near-$70 million weekend.
" 'Twilight' has helped give a much greater awareness to people about our band — that's pretty fantastic," grinned the actor, who is eager to shoot "Twilight" sequel "New Moon" in March. Nevertheless, when asked why he thinks so many young girls are in the audience, he looked down at his clothes and offered a tongue-in-cheek answer: "It's gotta be the suits."
"This is 100 Monkeys, and I hope you like our music," he'd later say as he took the stage. "We're going to start off with a little song about girls who are really superficial — please don't get offended by the term — but it's really about superficiality, and the song is called 'Ugly Girl.' "
Screaming "Go!," Rathbone hops behind a keyboard, motions to the band like a conductor for the drums and bass to kick in, and then greets the "Strokes"-like riff with a singing style that seems to mix Iggy Pop with the Raconteurs.
"The 'Hundredth Monkey Effect' is a really cool scientific experience," Rathbone told us about the very real principle that gives his unusually smart, unpredictable band its name. "All these monkeys, they gave them sweet potatoes. And the monkeys learned themselves how to wash them in a stream to make them taste better. ... It's basically the idea of the collective consciousness. As soon as so many people have one idea or one belief, it affects the greater majority of that breed of animal, human or insect."
Now, Rathbone and his bandmates wrestle with their own sweet potatoes nightly, hoping to similarly deliver some tasty treats to their loyal audience.
"We've had a lot of ups and downs with the improv ideology," he admitted of the band's free-wheeling jam style. "Sometimes you forget to listen to what the drums are doing, and you change earlier than anybody else. I think the worst time, for me, was when everybody else stopped right at this perfect moment, and I was [determined] to sing the big note. I just kept singing, and everybody else was stopped! It was very, very awkward.
"We're releasing two albums this year. The first one is coming out in January, and it's all improv sessions," he explained of the band's big plans for 2009. Pointing to himself, he added: "Both are gonna feature some new, original artwork by this guy."
Later in the evening, Rathbone took turns singing, playing guitar and bass, happily jamming until the wee hours of the morning. But, like any good vampire, he knew to call it a night shortly before the sun came up again.