They formed in Nashville in 2005, signed with Jive in the fall of 2008 and are having their breakthrough moment with their infectious pop/rock single, "Tonight Tonight." That song has climbed steadily on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching No. 13 in its 11th week on the survey. The band is Hot Chelle Rae - lead singer/guitarist Ryan Keith Follese, his brother Jamie Follese (drums), Nash Overstreet (lead guitar, vocals) and Ian Keaggy (bass, vocals).
The foursome has had a champion since day one in Joe Riccitelli, executive vice president of promotion for the Jive Label Group. "I saw real musicianship right when we started the project," he told Billboard.biz. "We showcased them in the spring of 2009 for MTV and VH1 and key New York radio people, and that summer in Los Angeles at the Roxy for a lot of pacemaker people."
Hot Chelle Rae's first album, "Lovesick Electric," never made the Billboard 200, but the label didn't consider it a failure. "We got great feedback on the video for the first single, 'I Like to Dance,' from MTV," says Riccitelli. The channel named Hot Chelle Rae as one of the top 10 artists to watch for 2010. "Dance" didn't chart, but the follow-up, "Bleed," peaked at No. 31 on the CHR tally.
" 'Bleed' was one of the songs that stood out on the initial demos," says Riccitelli. "We worked it to radio for six months." The ballad won airplay support from 107.5 The River in Nashville, KISS FM in Seattle, WKRZ in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., WSTW in Wilmington, Del. and WJBQ in Portland, Me.
With "I Like to Dance" and "Bleed" both missing the Hot 100, the label still needed a breakout hit for a band that executives believed in. At the end of 2010, Eman, a writer/producer who has worked with Selena Gomez, David Archuleta, Whitney Houston and the New Kids on the Block/Backstreet Boys collaboration, brought the folks at Jive a rough demo of a song. Songwriter Evan Bogart, who has written hits for Rihanna, Beyonce, Sean Kingston and Enrique Iglesias and is an executive producer on Bravo's "Platinum Hit" series, worked on that rough demo (the song is credited to him, Eman and the four bandmembers). "He changed some lyrics around and cut the track," explains Riccitelli. "When I heard it for the first time, I said, 'I think you've got a smash here.' "
The song was "Tonight Tonight."
Riccitelli was in Nashville having dinner with Rick Davis, program director of The River, when he played the unfinished demo. "We went right to the studio and the song went on air," Riccitelli says. "The station got requests right away, and we saw immediate sales on iTunes." Davis continued to play the rough track for a week until he was handed the finished master. When airplay increased to 30 plays a week, Jive saw iTunes sales jump up over 40 per cent, according to Riccitelli.
"Tonight Tonight" has been gaining stations like WMKS in Greensboro, NC, KMVQ in San Francisco, KKHH Hot 95.7 in Houston and KDHT Hot 107.1 in Denver.
"We're finishing up with rhythmic-leaning top 40 stations and taking the song the distance at Hot AC," says Riccitelli. "The goal was to have real success at iTunes and sell a half-million singles." The single moved 136,000 downloads last week, pushing it 14-9 for a breakthrough into the top 10 on the Hot Digital Songs chart. A physical EP, named after the hit single, was released June 21. It debuted on the Heatseekers chart at No. 31 this week. Plans call for another new single before a second full-length album is released.
Hot Chelle Rae is currently on tour with We the Kings through Aug. 15. From Sept. 1 to Oct. 13, HCR will open for the Script. Upcoming television appearances include "Live! With Regis & Kelly" and "America's Got Talent." The video for "Tonight Tonight" is listed among MTV's top 20 most popular and features "Glee" star Chord Overstreet, brother of Hot Chelle Rae's Nash Overstreet.
"Chord has been great right from the beginning," says Riccitelli, who also cites the band's managers, Don Ienner and John Hamlin, as forces behind the quartet's success. "Their expertise has been so beneficial." Riccitelli also gives credit to Jeff Fenster, who was Jive's senior VP of A&R before heading to Warner Bros. as executive VP of A&R.
Riccitelli praises the members of Hot Chelle Rae for working hard for their success. "What was so exciting to me, was doing a live performance for KZCH, the top 40 station in Wichita, Kan., and watching the girls in the crowd singing the lyrics. The guys were really excited, and we could all really see the growth in the band. These types of journeys still happen."