By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The group's burning vision of a world where complex, worthwhile music is once again revered--that, and sheer stubbornness--has kept them from the graveyard littered with talented bands who never fulfilled their promise. In fact, the early negative industry response created the opposite effect--it made them even more confident, more uncompromising, and more determined to succeed on their own terms. The forthcoming record may be the band's first joint venture with another label (since the deal isn't final yet, Kekaula won't get into specifics), but whatever happens, it seems likely that they'll have the upper hand.
"People think we're entirely about industry bashing, but we're not," Vennum says. "When you're in a line of business, you start pointing out bad business practices. All of a sudden the record labels get up in arms."
Kekaula and Vennum claim that once record companies put an end to the concept of long-term artist development, they in effect slit their own throats. "They've made musicians have to learn how to manipulate and understand a market base," Kekaula says with a snicker. "Once you have that knowledge, you'd be a fool to sign most of their contracts. It's like, 'Oh, can I give you my songs and everything that makes me unique, and then you tell me what you want it to sound like?'"
The couple thinks the future bodes well for renegades like themselves. "I think we're at a really good point in the record industry right now, where things can go in any direction, " Kekaula says. "They're so scared of the independent thing now that they're willing to look at business dealings that they weren't willing to look at five years ago."
However, they also admit they lack the finances or support to get radio play. Still, it seems unlikely that even high-powered promotion could help land the BellRays between Creed and Christina Aguilera. For Kekaula, the airwave exclusion is a backward compliment. "I think that what we're doing is too intelligent and challenging for anybody to really want it on the radio, because we're raising the bar," Kekaula says, matter-of-factly. "If people start to like what we're doing, then maybe they won't like the pap they've been given for so long. There are also a lot of bands on labels right now that have meaty ideas that they want to get out, and are being told that the public isn't ready for it. And that isn't the case at all."
For a band so concerned about its integrity and ability to affect the public consciousness, what's the ultimate goal? "Utter and complete world domination" jokes Kekaula, adding seriously, "I wanna sell a million records. If I've got to sell them one at a time, a million it will be."
And though the band's homebase, L.A., is at the seat of the music business, they've found no shortage of like minded local comrades, many of whom participate in their annual Vital Gesture Christmas Shows--among them The Streetwalkin' Cheetahs, Hellbenders, B-Movie Rats, White Trash Debutantes. "We're aligning ourselves with other bands that have the same ideas," Kekaula says.
"We'll form a cartel, have a monopoly on the rock," Vennum says. "Radio can have Kenny Wayne Shepherd."
"I think people have already stopped paying attention to the radio; now if they can just turn it off," Kekaula muses. "If they can start getting angry enough to say, 'You're not playing what I want to hear.' All they have to do if they really want to stir things up is to buy our record."
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