Schmidt happens

After 10 years of being told he was the Next Big Thing, former Three on a Hill and Funland frontman Peter Schmidt makes the best record of his career. And he did it, for the most part, all by himself.

Finally, in February 1994, the band asked to be released from its contract, and Arista happily obliged. Schmidt and the band went through a period of self-doubt: If they weren't good enough to be on Arista, were they good enough to even keep playing? It didn't help that so many local bands--the Toadies, Deep Blue Something, Hagfish, Jackopierce, and Vibrolux among them--were being snatched up by major record labels and were beginning to achieve some of the success Funland had been denied. It didn't seem fair. Schmidt was arguably as talented as any member of any of those bands, yet for the second time in his career, his chance had passed.

It was a career crisis that would have sent many other musicians running for cover bands and desk jobs. But Schmidt and Funland not only didn't give up, they got better.

"Now I look back, and I don't get really angry at it [the year on Arista]," Schmidt says. "It's the experience that brought me where I am today. I learned a lot, and it made all of us in the band focus on what we wanted out of music. For that reason alone, it was worthwhile."

The band signed to Sam Paulos' steve records in 1995 and released its first--and only--full-length album later that year. The Funland Band was the sound of a hungry band at the top of its game. Every song was a winner, from the loud foot-stompers such as "Impala," "Angry Girl," and "Garage Sale," to the subtler, quieter moments of "Down Stage" and "Sparkloser." When it was released, it looked like the last piece of the puzzle, the album that would finally turn record-label heads the right way. Instead, it turned out to be a farewell note. The band would break up eight months later, before friendship took a backseat to music-industry bullshit.

"I was proud of the fact that I think most bands would break up after an experience like that, and I'm glad that as a band we were able to bring it back to a higher note and then break up on that note," Schmidt says. "I loved Funland. I'm not kidding myself, I thought we were pretty much a straightforward rock band. But I think of the bands that try to do that thing, I honestly think that we were one of the best. We just wrote great songs."

Not enough people shared Schmidt's opinion, and so the band played its farewell show June 15, 1996. Will Johnson would go on to form centro-matic, a one-man project that would become a full-time band, and release Redo the Stacks on steve in 1997. Vogeler ended up joining the Toadies, replacing ousted guitarist Darrel Herbert.

In the end, Funland was too good not to have succeeded at a national level, too good to have been ignored locally. So the question remains: Why did Funland break up instead of break through?

"When Funland decided to call it quits, radio stations were happy with the success of 'Angry Girl,' show attendance was the highest ever, and they were actually selling records again," says Sam Paulos, who also owns Crystal Clear Sound and is an investor in a handful of Deep Ellum clubs. Paulos insists, in retrospect, that Funland was one song away from breaking on regional, then national, radio. But he is perhaps speaking with the optimism known only to owners of record labels and other gamblers waiting on the sure bet that never comes.

"In the end," he says with a shrug, "the public has a lot of music being thrown at them all the time. As a result, their attention spans are limited, and a band like Funland can succumb to a what-have-they-done-for-me-lately? attitude. The band waited a long time between the Arista record and The Funland Band--too long without anything bright, shiny, and new to attract their attention. My hope is that Clark, Will, and Peter with his new release will all get the public and critical acclaim they deserve. Then Funland will be viewed retroactively as the super group that it was."

If they do, it will be too little, too late, and way too far in the past.

After Funland broke up, it looked as though Schmidt had given up on the music business for good--again. Hell, the business had already given up on him two years ago. He went to work at Internet Media, designing Web sites.

"It was great," he says. "It was the first year of my adult life that I really had money, good money, on a regular basis. I liked the job; it wasn't a bad job at all, but I finally just quit because I really wanted to do this again."

This--making music--actually began again at a December 31, 1996, show put together by then-UFOFU bassist Brandon Curtis. Schmidt had never stopped writing songs; he just wasn't sure whether he wanted to play them for anyone anymore.

"I had mentioned to Brandon that it was probably going to take someone booking a gig first--someone making me do a gig--and then I would have to sit down and come up with a set to do," Schmidt says. "So he went ahead and told me he wanted me to play on this New Year's Eve show, because he said, 'I know you won't get off your ass and do something unless you do that.'"

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