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.

Just as he had done after Three on a Hill disintegrated, Schmidt re-emerged onstage, alone, backed by his acoustic guitar. Over the next few months, he began taking baby steps back into music, playing a handful of solo shows, usually playing only after someone asked him to. By June, he knew he wanted to be in a band again, but this time, it would be on his terms. The project would be his vision, his songs performed the way he wanted to hear them. He had no idea what he was getting into.

Schmidt sits at a table at Magnolia Bar B-Q, recounting exactly how the recording of his "debut" solo album--under the name Legendary Crystal Chandelier--went from full of possibilities to impossible, nearly destroyed in a cloud of lost money and empty promises. His hair is shorter and flecked with gray now, but other than that, he looks the same as he did 10 years ago.

It's March 1998 now, and the sessions for the album wrapped up a few weeks ago, but the frustration remains, as evident in his voice now as it was on that December night at Pence's studio. There are a million things left to do, though: The album has yet to be mastered; artwork hasn't been approved; a band needs to be put together. He remains understandably apprehensive. He won't feel satisfied until he's holding a finished copy of the CD in his hand.

"There's still so many opportunities for crap to go wrong," he says. "I don't believe anything now until I see it. I'm not trusting anyone."

It's clear that Schmidt won't be the same again. He's seen and done too much in the time it took to record Love or the Decimal Equivalent to ever go back to the person he was before. He's a little more cynical now, less willing to put his life in someone else's hands. When the album is finally released this month, it will have been more than a year in the making--a year that broke his bank account and almost broke his spirit.

"I ran out of money," he explains. "When I quit my job, I had saved up $3,000, thinking, 'Well, that'll easily get me through the summer in comfort, and then I'll get another job.'" He smiles at the memory. "I ran out of personal money and ended up borrowing, and that's what mostly hurt me. The budget for the record...I got screwed there a little bit, just because I had planned to do it one way and then had to, at the last minute, just totally change how I'd budgeted the money. If I'd planned to do it the way I ended up doing it from the beginning, we could have done it a lot more effectively and cheaper, but it just didn't happen that way."

The original plan was simple: Schmidt and Pence would record some basic rhythm tracks together at Pence's studio, then Schmidt would record the bulk of the album at Course of Empire drummer Chad Lovell's studio near downtown Dallas. Lovell had already established a good working relationship with Schmidt, starting with a remix that he did of Funland's "Angry Girl" (which appeared on the "Bleed Like Anyone" CD single), and continuing with the cut-and-paste cover of Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It," which the duo collaborated on for the Come On Feel The Metal compilation released last year. Lovell even supplied Schmidt with tape loops to augment his occasional live performances.

But the relationship quickly soured once Schmidt and Lovell began to record the album. Lovell was beset by technical problems from the start, problems that never seemed to get fixed, and the project was delayed interminably. Stuck in a limbo between recording and waiting to record, Schmidt lost a little more money and patience with each passing day. Eventually, Lovell and Schmidt dissolved their partnership, but only after Schmidt had wasted about $4,000 and more than three months. When he discussed the project in July 1997, he was excited about the prospect of working with Lovell and Pence. Now, he sounds shell-shocked, as though he still hasn't come to grips with how he could have been so let down by someone he considered a friend.

"Every day, there was a promise that it was going to get fixed tomorrow, so I'm not going out and getting a job, because I'm always thinking that I'm starting the next day, or at the very least, two days from now," Schmidt says. "I think Chad's a really talented engineer, but I mean, when it comes down to it, I double-checked on everything: 'Are you sure you're going to be able to do this? [Are you] sure everything's working, because I'm not quitting my job?' When it came down to it, I don't think he took his responsibility seriously at all. I offered--and we came up with--a lot of different scenarios on how to work around the problem, potential solutions, and he vetoed them all, when they could have worked and we could have gotten an album done. It was a shame."

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