Frequently compared to Matchbox 20, 3 Doors Down, and the Verve Pipe, Pay the Girl epitomizes the slicker, cleaner, more polished side of alternative pop/rock in the 21st century. The Cincinnati, OH-based band caters to listeners who like their rock laced with a lot of pop; Pay the Girl's tuneful, highly melodic work has strong power pop instincts. But for all their polish and gloss, Pay the Girl isn't without an edge. The Midwestern outfit is fronted by lead singer Jason Allen Phelps, who started performing solo gigs around Cincinnati in the late ‘90s (when he often accompanied himself on acoustic guitar in coffeehouses, clubs, and book stores). After Phelps grew tired of playing by himself, he decided that he wanted the camaraderie of a band and formed Pay the Girl in 2001. The band's name was sort of an inside joke; when Phelps and his fellow alt-rockers were poor and struggling and a waitress would deliver a bill, they would look at one another and say, "Go ahead, pay the girl."
Pay the Girl's original lineup included drummer Josh Seurkamp and bassist Mike Georgin, who had played with the Southern Ohio bands Over the Rhine and Plow on Boy. But when Seurkamp and Georgin ended up leaving Pay the Girl, a new lineup was formed -- one that consisted of Phelps on lead vocals and guitar, Mark Cooper (not to be confused with the Los Angeles-based journalist/political commentator Marc Cooper) on guitar and background vocals, Dave Harris on guitar, Drew Phillips on bass, and Greg Braun on drums. With that five-man lineup in place, Pay the Girl put out a five-song EP and created a local buzz in and around Cincinnati (usually attracting a largely female audience). Pay the Girl's EP caught the attention of TVT Records, which signed the band in early 2002 and included their song "Clueless" on the Swimf@n soundtrack (released in August of that year). It was also in 2002 that Pay the Girl attracted the attention of Colombian rock en español/Latin pop star Shakira, who hired them as an opening act on an international arena tour. To some listeners, Shakira and Pay the Girl might seem to be an unlikely combination -- Shakira appeals to a predominantly Latin audience, and she performed in Spanish exclusively prior to 2001's Laundry Service (her first English-language album). One would expect a Latin act to open for Shakira. But in fact, Shakira was looking for an English-speaking, non-Latin rock act for that tour, and she decided that Pay the Girl was right for the job. So after at least a year of playing small clubs in the Cincinnati area, Pay the Girl suddenly found themselves performing in large arenas and stadiums in different countries. In March 2003, TVT released Pay the Girl's first full-length album, a self-titled effort that includes the very radio-friendly single "Freeze." ~ Alex Henderson