By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
For many bands, signing a major-label deal is like trying to date two girls at once: It hardly ever works, people hate you for doing it, and although the pitfalls are well-documented, it's tempting enough to try anyway.
When a Dallas band signs to a major label, it's even more hazardous. The list of bands from Dallas that have signed on the dotted line, only to have the label stab them in the back with the pen, is long and getting longer, counting Funland, Vibrolux, Bobgoblin, Hagfish, and cottonmouth, tx among its growing number. Yet bands keep coming back, smiling through busted lips like battered wives who think that this time, this time, things will be different.
Things are different: They're bad and getting worse. Record contracts these days are only good as long as the person who signed you can keep from getting fired, and since the music business has a turnover rate roughly equal to that of drug smuggling, the contracts might as well be written on toilet paper. The music business is not even about album sales anymore, although that remains a big part of it. It's more about politics, about how many people you have on your side when the inevitable street fight breaks out. The bigger the label is, the bigger the chance that a band will find itself on the curb with the garbage once it's time for spring cleaning. Bobgoblin's deal with MCA Records was squashed before its record even had a chance to flop, as the band was cut loose a month after its debut album for the label hit stores.
Baboon is the latest band to belly up to the major-label bar, even though it knows all too well the headaches that record labels--big or small--can cause. The band is more familiar with the wicked games that record companies play than anyone, having spent the last few years trying to wriggle out of a bad deal with New York-based indie Wind-Up Records. Wind-Up is the same company that held Slowpoke for a $1 million ransom and continually delayed production of Baboon's second album, last year's Secret Robot Control. The band asked out of its contract after Grass Records, Baboon's original label, was sold and became Wind-Up. The label turned down the band every time it asked, then dropped it anyway. Now that Baboon has been freed from its abortive deal with Wind-Up, why would it want to enter into a potentially worse contract with an even more powerful company?
"We never got a chance to go for a major label," guitarist Mike Rudnicki explains. "We were on Grass, and then it got bought out, and our contract turned over to Wind-Up. We were kind of stuck on that [label]. So, we're trying to go for a major label now, even knowing all the risks involved. We feel like we have to give it a try, see what happens...And if that doesn't work out, we'll try to put it out ourselves, or wherever, if someone wants to put it out independently. It'll come out, we just don't know where or when."
Rudnicki is referring to Baboon's long-awaited third album, which is part of the reason why the band is looking for new digs. The band, which also includes singer Andrew Huffstetler, drummer Steven Barnett, and bassist Mark Hughes, began recording demos for its follow-up to Secret Robot Control a year ago, putting more time into the songwriting process than ever before. The songs that resulted from those sessions, such as the unbelievably pretty "Tidal Wave" (featured on this year's Scene, Heard compilation), were somewhat of a departure, containing less malady and more melody.
"I think it still has that energy and emotional intensity," Rudnicki says of the new material. "It has that in common with the older stuff. It's not as abrasive. There's a couple that are a little abrasive, but overall, Andrew is singing more than screaming, and there's not as much noise. It's still distorted guitar, rhythmic drums, same kind of drony bass style that was on some of the older stuff."
Early on in the recording sessions, Wind-Up paid the band to do nothing but write songs. When the label got a chance to hear the end product, though, it wasn't impressed. Riding high on the fluke success of Creed--the band that helped turn alterna-rock radio into a collection of Pearl Jam B-sides--Wind-Up wanted Baboon to smooth its rough edges even further, making itself more palatable to radio program directors. Executives at Wind-Up even suggested that the band listen to the radio more often, so they would have a better idea of what the label wanted. After that recommendation, the band knew it wouldn't be long before it could add "ex" in front of "Wind-Up recording artist."
"One day I just decided to call our A&R guy and ask him what was going on, try to get things moving, start looking for producers, [find out] what we needed to do to get into the studio," Rudnicki says. "He got really quiet and nervous. I mean, we knew him and were friends with him, on a certain level at least. He got kind of nervous, and said, 'Well, this is really hard for me to do, but...' I kind of figured it out from there.