My Uzi weighs a ton

Uzigato is caught between rock and a soft place

Most record labels are populated with frustrated musicians, people who didn't have the talent or the guts to stick it out over the long haul. Some just got tired of being screwed over by labels and decided to switch positions. Others never got further than their bedrooms, but they all believe they can and should meddle in the projects of the bands on their respective labels. They do everything from instructing them to fire the drummer and come up with a hit or three to riding shotgun in the studio. Sure, they may not be able to sing or play an instrument with much proficiency -- or any, for that matter -- but they feel it's their right to tell someone else how to do it. Kind of like music critics, only with actual power.

Rarely does one of them put his mouth where the record label's money is and actually do it himself. Joey Salerno, drummer for Uzigato, is one of the few. After a couple of years working as an artist-and-repertoire (A&R) representative for Ignition Records, a subsidiary of Tommy Boy Records, Salerno decided to cross the line. Now, at 30, he's in a band for the first time, and he's picked an estimable group of players to work with: singer Rachael Strauss (Pervis), guitarist Richard Paul (rubberbullet), and bassist Richard Garcia (The Caffiends), making Uzigato into what is called, occasionally with a straight face, a local supergroup. Which, for the most part, just means that its members used to be in bands that didn't make it. With Salerno's knowledge of the game, the band is hoping that its members won't be listing Uzigato after their names in a couple of years, after this project flames out like all the others. For now, Salerno and the band are concerned only with finding their niche in Dallas. The rest will come soon enough.

"Right now, we're sort of in the process of trying to promote the CD," Salerno says. "We'll continue with that. So far, the response has been pretty positive. All of our songs, even though they're in the rock-and-roll vein, are different. Pretty much, radically different. Our set is definitely not repetitive. The hardest part was trying to figure out what four songs we were going to put on our promo, because of the different styles of rock-and-roll songs that we have."

Uzigato tries to figure it out at Bar of Soap.
Uzigato tries to figure it out at Bar of Soap.

The disc Salerno is referring to is the band's self-titled debut EP, released in September. The EP, recorded by Dave Willingham, is a commendable first look at a group still trying to find itself a little more than a year after it formed. Of course, it's so short that it's more of a glimpse than a look, only long enough to get you interested. Salerno says that was the point. Besides, they can't really paint the entire picture if they're not sure what it's going to look like yet.

"I think it gives you a taste, but it definitely doesn't give you a bite," he says. "You know, the rest of our songs are sort of in a rock-and-roll vein, but we have a couple of atmospheric songs, which tend to be slower. I can't sit here and say that those four songs represent the band, but I think those represent the band's best ability, as far as putting four songs together. It was pretty difficult, because the first five shows we had, we had so many different types of songs that it was difficult trying to make a setlist. After the first five shows, we kind of got an idea of which avenue we wanted to go down."

One thing that does stand out on the EP is Strauss' vocals, which are much more commanding than they were during her seven-year stint in Pervis, especially on the disc's leadoff track, "My Foot Your Ass." Without a little luck, Strauss might not have been in the group at all. When Salerno, Garcia, and Paul first began playing together, they knew that the voice they wanted to sing on top of the songs they were writing should be a female's, and they were pretty sure they knew which woman to ask. But at the time, Strauss was still a member of Pervis.

After a few months of looking, Salerno says, no viable candidates had surfaced; still, the three were convinced that their original instincts were right. But they continued to wait the situation out. It was only after word began spreading of Pervis' imminent split that the nascent band decided to make the first move.

"She just came over to listen to the type of sound that we were presenting to her, and she was into it," Salerno remembers. "At the time, it was a side project. Two months later, Pervis decided to break up." He laughs. "It worked out really well. For us, at least."

It remains to be seen whether the band will work out long-term. The next few months should clear things up a bit, when the band plays out of town for the first time, and waits for the labels that received copies of the EP to make a move, which Salerno is pretty confident about. He's not thinking about major labels, but major independent labels aren't out of the question. After being in a position where he could sign bands, he knows how to play the waiting game. And maybe, when he and the band are through waiting, they'll know what Uzigato is supposed to sound like.

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