Star maker

Can Interscope do for four local bands what it did for Nine Inch Nails and Snoop Dogg?

Four months after the Toadies began their careers as major-label artists, joining a roster that includes such superstars as Nine Inch Nails and Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre, the band members found themselves back in town last Christmas contemplating finding day jobs.

Their major-label debut, Rubberneck--which was originally scheduled for release in April of last year, then held up by the label to make way for releases by Reverend Horton Heat, Helmet, and fright-rockers Marilyn Manson--had sold only a few thousand copies nationally by Christmas. The video for the first single "Mister Love" aired on MTV only once, during the late-Sunday-night alt-rock ghetto "120 Minutes"; the label rejected the second video for "Backslider"; and the band had toured as an opening act for second-string alternative bands they didn't like.

Interscope was ready to let Rubberneck die. The label was ready to send the band back into the studio to record its second album and see if they could begin again. If that failed, then the Toadies would likely seek another label.

"Rubberneck got a little play, and it didn't explode," says Tom Bunch, manager of the Toadies and the Butthole Surfers. "Everybody wants the next Offspring or Nirvana, and it didn't happen. But you have to realize that Interscope gave it four or five months, which is a lot of time. Look at Samiam, which was supposed to be the next hot thing. The Toadies opened for them, they got six weeks of Atlantic Records' time, and look what happened to them. Nothing. Shit, they're nowhere."

But Bunch was convinced the record would take off if the band kept touring. At the very least, he hoped he could convince Interscope the record still had legs, as they say in the industry.

And he was right: three months after Bunch forced the band back on the road, at Interscope's expense, the record began to sell--by the hundreds, then by the thousands. One week earlier this spring, according to tle label, Interscope received orders for more than 6,000 copies of Rubberneck.

The label began to notice and launched a new push for the band, even landing them a slot on the syndicated "Jon Stewart Show" earlier this year, where they performed "Possum Kingdom" (the current single and video) and "Mister Love." The appearance and subsequent months spent on the road have finally paid off: last week, "Possum Kingdom" debuted at the No. 36 slot on the Billboard rock track chart, and Rubberneck debuted at No. 57 on the "Heatseeker" chart--the latter of which is based upon sales for artists not in the Top 200.

Most importantly, Interscope cofounder and co-owner Jimmy Iovine--who had previously produced albums for Tom Petty, U2, Bruce Springsteen, and Patti Smith, and managed Lone Justice--made officials from MTV watch the "Possum Kingdom" video in its entirety, telling them "this is our up-and-coming band"; the rare display of power by the label chief impressed even those who have known and worked with Iovine for more than a decade. If and when Rubberneck begins selling a few thousand copies a week--which Bunch and Ray Santamaria, the band's A&R man at the label, think is more than likely--Interscope will re-pitch the video to MTV, this time expecting the cable jukebox to play it repeatedly.

"One thing I always wanted to do with this band was take the slow approach, and it can be hard," Santamaria says. "I know the band is very talented, and I didn't want them to be the Vanilla Ice of rock. I wanted them to build up credibility--not indie credibility, but credibility as a real band. I wanted them to be out there, struggle, make friends, and build a career.

"We could have come out with a huge push and lots of radio right away. But if it doesn't click, you waste money and people are disillusioned. We put them on the road for nine months. The band complains, 'We're tired,' but they love it. It couldn't have worked out better."

Or, as Bunch says, "Now Interscope has the chance to prove to us they're the great record label they claim they are, and I think they're going to do it."

As Dallas bands continue to get signed by major labels--Vibrolux being the latest to Atlas-Polydor--Interscope Records hordes them like a child with Halloween candy.

First, artist-and-repertoire man Tony Ferguson managed to lure Reverend Horton Heat away from Sub Pop, cutting the renowned Seattle indie label a sweet deal in return. Then, Ray Santamaria signed up the Toadies, who in turn convinced Santamaria to bring Brutal Juice into the fold after a performance at the annual South by Southwest music conference in Austin. And just three weeks ago, in a move that surprised many local music insiders, Chuck Reid signed Deep Blue Something to Interscope, bringing the total to four local bands on one powerful major label.

Ferguson, who helped turn Bush into the first successful British grunge band, says it's "a fluke" that four area bands are on Interscope. Reid, who was turned on to Deep Blue Something by Dallas-based regional promotions director Kathy Romero, dismisses it as "coincidence."

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