Compassion fish

RainMaker's freshman band Soak slips through some walls

In RainMaker Records' lofty Deep Ellum offices, company co-founder Paul Nugent flashes a Jerry Maguire smile and announces, "Guys, you won a Clio."

The members of the Austin-based rock band Soak don't quite know what to make of this. "What the hell is a Clio?" asks singer-guitarist Jason Demetri. "Do we have to go to some awards ceremony?"

Bassist J.R. (John) Moyer jerks his head up. His long black dreadlocks flog the air like a matted cat-o'-nine-tails. "Do we get a trophy?"

Without looking up from the stack of CDs he's shuffling through, Heath Macintosh, Soak's drummer, murmurs, "And what exactly did we do for this?" Moyer holds up a finger and wags it Nugent's way. "No, the question really is, does each of us get our own trophy?"

Macintosh holds a cigarette up in the air. "No, the question is, can I smoke in here?" Meanwhile, guitarist Chal Boudreaux simply dismisses the hoopla with a shrug and wanders to the far corner of the room.

As Nugent tells it, the video for "Me Compassionate," the industrially charged, angst-heavy first single off Soak's self-titled debut album, released June 3 on Interscope Records, has picked up the award for editing. Although it seems odd that a music video--especially a relatively low-budget rock video filled with claustrophobic scenes of the band trapped in a human-sized ant farm--would win such an honor in a competition traditionally reserved for the Madison Avenue advertising elite, no one is affected enough to figure out exactly what it all means. There are more important contest results to get to the bottom of. Like how "Me Compassionate"--the song--did in a "Like It or Spike It" contest the previous night on an Atlanta radio station.

"C'mon, c'mon, it had to have done OK," Moyer says. "Didn't it win big last night?"

Soak's story is brimming with deus ex machina-type success. Wonderful things, both large and small, just seem to happen to the band. In fact, it all started as one of those "overnight success" fairy tales that--in the words of RainMaker's other chief, Mike Swinford--"makes all the other musicians who are out there busting their ass say, 'How could those bastards be so lucky?'"

The lucky streak started a little over a year ago when Soak finally decided to get its act together and mail out copies of its two-month-old, self-produced six-song EP Omniphonic Global Nova. The first "real" place they tried was RainMaker. "We knew about RainMaker's successes with The Nixons and Deep Blue [Something]," Moyer says, "but that wasn't the thing. C'mon, our style of music isn't anything like either of those bands. No, we had heard that they keep bands really busy with work, and that appealed to us. We didn't want to just sit around. We wanted a chance to get out there and show people what we could do."

One night, Nugent plucked Soak's CD out of RainMaker's slush pile--a box filled with hundreds of unsolicited demos that show up in the company's mail week after week. That same night, after playing it for Swinford, Nugent called the band to hear more. Not quite two weeks later, Soak drove up from Austin to play an early Tuesday night slot at Trees so Nugent and Swinford could see them live. Although only five or six people were in the venue, Soak blew Nugent and Swinford away. "I know you hear that all the time in this business," Nugent assures, "but that's what happened."

Immediately following the show, RainMaker agreed to represent Soak and to release a refurbished Omniphonic once some additional songs were recorded. And that should have been that. "We were ready to start the long process of working the band and developing an audience base around this region," Swinford says. "This band had a zero following. Nobody had heard of them, except, for some reason, a few people in Victoria [Texas]."

As chance would have it, however, the next day Nugent flew to Los Angeles for a day of meetings involving RainMaker's two big bands and their respective labels, MCA and Interscope Records. While at Interscope, talk eventually turned to RainMaker's other projects. Nugent, "for fun," popped Soak's disc into the CD player. After a few minutes, a guy stuck his head in the room and asked about the music. Nugent identified it, and the guy disappeared back down the hall. A couple of songs later, the same guy returned. As it turned out, the guy was an assistant to Interscope Records honchos Jimmy Iovine and Ted Field, and Nugent was wanted in their office immediately.

Relating the anecdote, Nugent shakes his head in disbelief as his winning smile telegraphs the punch line. "I walk in, and they basically ask, 'What do you want for Soak?' They had heard it through the wall."

Swinford groans at the retelling of the "overnight success story," but smiles nonetheless. "This really is an exception to how things happen," he says. "Usually, you have to work hard for every little break. Even when you hear a story about some band suddenly getting signed, you should assume that really there was a lot of work done on some level before it happened." He laughs. "But here's Soak. Still, they are a baby band. Sooner or later, dues have to be paid."

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