By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
It's probably true in other cities, but it might as well be gospel in Dallas: If you can make it here, well, you've probably already made it somewhere else. Erykah Badu is the most infamous example: When her debut, 1997's Baduizm, finally hit local airwaves, it was well on its way to platinum sales everywhere but in her hometown. Dallas only started picking up what she was laying down after the rest of the country had been at it for months. Not the first time it's happened that way, and it won't be the last. Truth is, there's not a glass ceiling here. It's more like a brick wall.
Think about it: Most of the major radio stations in town are owned by Clear Channel, and most of the other ones are controlled by the way the San Antonio-based company operates, every one of them focus-grouping risk out of the equation so the shareholders who control the purse/puppet strings won't get nervous. That means only a handful of local artists will show up on radio playlists, and the majority of those are segregated to the point of invisibility. So radio's no help. A band might get added to a gig by a national act, but fans like to show up fashionably late (if at all) so their set ends up being little more than a dress rehearsal. (Yes, yes, we know: If a group can get even one new fan, then that show is worth it. Try telling that to your landlord at the first of the month when you're a little short on the rent. But call us first, because we'd like to watch.) Most local bands are left playing the same set to the same crowd at the same place they were at last month. Works for a while, but eventually, everyone you could possibly sell your record to will have it, and you won't be much better off than you were before.
There are, of course, ways around it, but many bands never see them. Maybe they have blood in their eyes from banging their heads against that brick wall, or maybe they just got tired of tending to all those cuts and scrapes and gave up altogether. Whatever, doesn't matter. The answer is simple, really, if you think about it: Don't worry about Dallas. Or, at least, don't worry about it so much. Treat it like another tour stop. (And by tour, we do not mean the loop between Dallas-Denton-Fort Worth. Please.) That's what Slowride does (see "On Their Own," page 73). That's what Ghetto Fame-Us is starting to do (see "Lesson Learned," page 65). And that's what Speedealer has been doing for years.
Plenty of local bands could learn from Speedealer's example. The band spent the first few years of their existence saddled with a name (REO Speedealer) that was clever at first, then not so much, stuck in a rut between here and nowhere. The group ditched the REO (thanks, in part, to a suit brought by joykillers REO Speedwagon) and got in the van, staying on the road and staying on people's radar. Living in a mobile home paid off: They eventually came to the attention of Palm Pictures (who re-released 1999's Here Comes Death in 2000 and just put out the band's best yet, Second Sight) and former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted (who produced Second Sight). Sure, at first they were probably only winning over one new listener at each show, but when you do that night after night in a new city, it starts to add up to something much bigger. "That's the whole deal: to get more and more fans each time," drummer Harden Harrison says, calling from Minneapolis, where the group is set to go on in a couple of hours. "And it seems to be working in that direction."
The group--which also includes singer-guitarist Jeff Hirshberg, guitarist Eric Schmidt and new bassist Rich Mullins--is out now with Superjoint Ritual (one of Pantera singer Phil Anselmo's numerous side projects) and Skinlab, on their way home to a stop at Deep Ellum Live on June 28. The tour wraps up a few days later in New Orleans, and a few more days after that, Speedealer heads out for another month or so with Fu Manchu. When that trip ends, they'll hook up with Mötörhead for more shows. In all, the group will spend some 300 days this year away from home, playing wherever, whenever.
"It gets to be a grind, and every once in a while, you like to go home for, I don't know, a little while," Harrison says. "But whenever we're home for too long, like, over a couple of weeks, we're always dying to go back out. We all really do love to travel. That's one thing that makes touring easier for us. We're used to roughing it, and as things go along, we get treated better and better. It only gets easier to stay touring. We've sweated it a lot worse than we're sweating it now."
If you want more out of your band than headlining gigs at Curtain Club or Trees or wherever, pay attention. And pack your things.