By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
In the end, the roster included members of Cafe Noir (including Hess, Jason Bucklin, Lyles West, and Norbert Gerl, who co-produced the album), New Bohemians (including drummer Matt Chamberlain, guitarist Kenny Withrow, and bassist Brad Houser), Ten Hands (Earl Harvin was in the band back then), and Fever in the Funkhouse (Claridy and Wakeland play on one tune each).
Yet Restrepo pulled out during the recording of the album, which would come to be known as Pluto. He and Brisco began fighting about the direction the album was headed in--or directions, in this case. Brisco says Restrepo kept worrying the project was running over budget. "I'm like, 'I'm not going to go over budget, Alan, I just need you to keep the fuck out of the studio, and I need to be able to pay the musicians,'" he recalls.
But Restrepo says he pulled out halfway through the recording simply because he could no longer stand to be around Brisco. The label owner says he was tired of trying to figure out whether Brisco was brilliant or nuts, so he bailed out after sinking, by his estimation, about $3,000 into the album.
"Halfway through, I just couldn't take it anymore, so we went our own way, and I was supposed to get paid back, but I never did," Restrepo says. "It was a fiasco emotionally. I just couldn't take him. There's some brilliance and genius there, or it's total craziness I can't comprehend. He borders on that area. I don't know him now. He could be a different person now. He's an artist at heart in some ways, but sometimes he's hard to get along with."
Brisco finished recording the disc, with David Castell and Gerl producing, and the result is valiantly ambitious and wildly eclectic at best, frustratingly random and absurdly incoherent at worst. With song titles such as "America's Not Free" and "God vs. Government" and "Life or Death (Which Do You Fear?)," Pluto is Brisco's socio-political manifesto set to some of the most stunning music ever made by Dallas musicians; the performances are wonderful enough to, ofttimes, sneak you past some of Brisco's freshman social-studies lyrics ("If I were the president, I would pray, 'Assassinate me' / Take me out of my misery") and sing-speak monologues ("How I long to see the ocean / I remember a time when me and my four closest friends / We went and we did see the ocean").
"I listened to it about a month ago, and I personally think Nick should have sequenced it differently," says Cafe Noir's Norbert Gerl. "The record's all over the place stylistically. It goes everywhere, and that would throw a label off. He should have pulled a demo of the four most accessible songs and shopped it. But it's a good record."
At the beginning of 1992, with Brisco feeling like an outcast in his homeland, he set out for Los Angeles with a few copies of Pluto in hand; there, he hooked up with former KERA-FM music director Chris Douridas, who by then was working at KCRW-FM, the top public-radio station in Southern California. Douridas was also working with Geffen Records, sending prospective bands to producer Tony Berg, who had produced the New Bohemians' second and final album, 1990's Ghost of a Dog. Douridas sent Brisco to see Berg, and the two hit it off like fire and ice. The same thing happened when Brisco had a meeting with executives from Private Music, which was then a new-age label home to Tangerine Dream. Douridas would get Brisco in the door, and Brisco would proceed to burn the building down.
"I pissed Tony Berg off," Brisco recalls. "And Private Records was dying to sign me, but when I met with them, I told them I wanted to direct my own video and if I couldn't do it, I wanted Gus Van Sant. I told them I wanted to put out a video album. They asked me who my influences were. I told them Jelly Roll Morton and Motsrhead, and they never called me back again. Chris' quote to me was, 'Calm down, this is not a boxing match.' I got offered a couple deals on the small level. They wanted to give me only $5,000 to $10,000 for the record, which was not enough to pay for it. No, I want $100,000 for this record.
"I'm a little more calm now, but back then, I was more like, 'Goddamn it, you don't see what's going on!' Tony Berg told Chris I was an asshole...I think my stance was that I was a little too ready to be discovered, which sometimes works for you. I knew it was a risk when I took that attitude, 'cause it worked for Bob Dylan, and I thought it might work for me. I had this great album with these great musicians on it, and then...You know, I thought it would work, but it didn't. It didn't. If you're Nick Brisco, you find a way to make it not work."
Pluto now sits in Gerl's studio-office, unreleased. It will likely remain that way for a very long time.