At a Toad's pace
Since the Toadies' major-label debut Rubberneck was released, Barry Switzer began his first season as the Dallas Cowboys' head coach, won a Super Bowl, then got replaced by Chan Gailey. O.J. Simpson has been found innocent and guilty of killing his old lady. Bill Clinton has been re-elected, only to now await impeachment proceedings. The federal courthouse in Oklahoma City was destroyed by Timothy McVeigh, and the Unabomber was caught. And Princess Diana, Sonny Bono, Mother Teresa, Jimmy Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Phil Hartman, and Pol Pot are all dead.
It has been a very long time.
Guitarist Clark Vogeler hears about how long it has been "at least 10 times a day," he says, his voice full of amused exasperation. It has been so long since Rubberneck's release that frontman Todd Lewis is often asked, "Like, did you guys break up?" He answers no, but fewer people believe him. That question has lingered so long in the air, it almost doesn't exist anymore; make the people wait long enough for you, and they stop caring altogether.
So where in the hell is the new Toadies record? "Seriously," says Vogeler, who joined the band two years ago. "I get asked that all the time. It's kind of annoying."
But it's the inevitable query placed to any band that's not Boston or Hole, especially when more than four years have passed since the last album was released. Four years is a lifetime ago in pop music--long enough for the public to make a band platinum, and long enough for them to forget your name. And do not think the band doesn't know this. Lewis, when speaking of the delays, very often uses the word "frustrated"; he also mentions that the idea of playing any more shows without a new record to support is "just fucking depressing."
What makes it worse is that the second record is not even finished. It does not have a name. It does not have a release date. Likely, it will be in stores in the spring of 1999. But it was due out in the summer of 1998. Do not hold your breath. Even Lewis says, "I'll believe it when I see it."
The reasons for the holdup are multiple, and Lewis is happy (well...) to explain them--if only to get people off his back about the subject. He doesn't have time to answer the question anymore; he is too busy trying to finish the damned record, so he and his bandmates can get on the road and start playing new songs instead of the same ol' old ones, many of which date back seven years and at least three guitarists ago.
To begin with, Rubberneck may well have been released in August 1994--more than a year after it was recorded--but it did not begin to receive radio airplay or sell until almost a year after it hit stores. Initially, Interscope promoted the record with so little enthusiasm, you would have never even known the disc was out, even if you worked for the label; after all, the Interscope folks had Marilyn Manson, Bush, and Nine Inch Nails to foist on the public. By Christmas 1994, the band members were contemplating getting day jobs; Interscope had told the Toadies that perhaps it was time to record the second album and hope it would stick to the wall, because clearly Rubberneck wasn't going anywhere.
Yet by December 1995, the record had been certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, selling more than 500,000 copies--thanks, in large part, to a Florida radio station that began playing "Possum Kingdom" long after Interscope left the album for dead. By December 1996, Rubberneck had sold more than a million copies, and the band was still on the road playing "Mister Love," "Possum Kingdom," "I Come From the Water," and so many other songs that had been part of the set list since damned near the beginning of the decade. "And we never write on tour," Lewis says. "It takes a lot of time, and it's too hard to concentrate." Also in '96, guitarist Darrel Herbert was ousted and replaced by ex-Funlander Vogeler.
The band began writing and demoing new material throughout most of last year and into January 1998; Lewis estimates that they went into the studio and recorded about 20 songs, which were shipped off to Interscope for the label's approval. In January, Lewis, Vogeler, bassist Lisa Umbarger, and drummer Mark Reznicek went down to Austin to record 15 new songs with Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary acting as producer. (Leary had been behind the boards for most of the band's post-Rubberneck material, including the "Santacide" CD single and songs included on soundtracks for The Crow: City of Angels, The Cable Guy, and Escape from L.A.) By March, the record was completed.
But not really.
Because the album was actually finished later than scheduled, Andy Wallace (who had mixed Rubberneck, in addition to Nirvana's Nevermind) wasn't available to put the finishing touches on the disc before it was presented to Interscope. As a result, the Toadies ran into some unspecified "red-tape bullshit," as Lewis puts it, and ended up presenting the label with a rough version of the album--unmixed, unmastered, unsequenced.
"When we sent the tapes in to Interscope, we got the usual second-record spiel about how they wanted more singles and what not," Lewis says. "You know, just more stuff. I was initially pissed off about that, but you know how that is. We were not in a perfect zone anyway. The record was good--the stuff came out well--but it's not..." Lewis pauses. "At the time, we were using ProTools [a computer editing program] and electronic gadget shit that I hate, and I thought it worked, but it made it sound sterile...And I don't know if I would have loved it or not had Andy mixed it. I can still hear shit that needs to be tweaked on Rubberneck.
"And to Interscope's credit, they really said, 'We think there's more in you than this, so give us more.' It took me a while to stomach that, but I think it's true. What do I do? I'm not a salesman--I am a songwriter, so I will write more songs. It's not my job to sell them, but to write them. Since then, I have learned from people at the label it's Interscope's protocol for second records. A lot of bands either get that spiel or get zero, so we're not on the downside of that, anyway."
In the meantime, Lewis was preparing for his upcoming wedding to former rubberbullet frontwoman Beth Clardy; the couple tied the knot only a few weeks ago, though they have put their honeymoon on hold till the record is done. The band continued to rehearse almost daily, Lewis continued to write, but the members began to grow edgy with all the waiting. They wanted to get on the road; after all, no one joins a band to stay home and play video games all day--not even Vogeler, who is spending his downtime creating Internet sites.
The process has taken so long that Lewis says he's "tired of being frustrated with it." Yet he has had to keep Umbarger, Reznicek, and Vogeler from becoming too antsy, from wanting to pack up the bus and hit the road. To do that would be to become sidetracked, even distracted, and tie up the release of the record even further. Even though there is no set date for release...or even a scheduled time for the band to go into the studio to record at least two of the new songs Lewis and the band have written since the initial recording of whatever the hell the new record's going to be called.
"The stuff we've written since [March] blows me away, so I want to put that on the record," Lewis says. "I hope the label agrees with me. We have to record two or three new songs and mix them, so it's a good month's worth of work. We just want to get it done and get it out. I am tired of playing shows without having a record out, because it's so fucking depressing. We'll probably do a New Year's Eve show in Texas, but we won't really play much till the record comes out, which might be in the spring. That's when it looks like it should happen, if everything snaps right along, but I'll believe it when I see it. I will say this, though. When it comes out, it's going to rule, because I've busted my nuts on it for so long." And he's not done yet.
Exhibit No. 234,449 that the apocalypse is upon us: Tommy Stinson, ex of the Replacements (the greatest rock-and-roll band of all time, at least till they sobered up), is now the bassist for Guns N' Roses. It is a fact, no longer just whispered rumors circulating among the few remaining fanatics who hope that one day Paul Westerberg will fall off the wagon, remember that he doesn't have to suck, apologize to Chris Mars, and rehire the only band that matters. How do we know this, despite the so-called "gag order" surrounding the band? Because Marc Solomon, the Booker T. Washington High School graduate (and my former Hebrew-school classmate), tells us so. "Tommy was being wooed by Guns N' Roses, and [bassist] Duff [McKagan] decided he would give them a couple of months, but he had prior commitments. It was a friendly parting, but they needed a bassist, so Tommy's now in the band." Unbefuckinglievable.
As a result, the long-completed full-length debut from Perfect--the band featuring Stinson, Solomon, and bassist Robert Cooper (another Dallas boy)--will likely never be released. Solomon explains that once Stinson joined GN'R, the honchos at Restless Records, Perfect's label, decided they didn't have much interest in putting more money into the record if Stinson wasn't going to be around to tour behind it. To make matters worse, Peter Jesperson (the man who discovered the Replacements and signed the band to his Twin/Tone label) became frustrated with Restless' decision and dropped off the project as well. So now the disc (produced by Jim Dickinson, who helmed the Mats' masterpiece Pleased to Meet Me) sits on the shelf, abandoned.
"The record is done, ready to go, and I bet it never sees the light of day," Solomon says. "It's unbelievable. We made a good record. I mean, they [Restless] spent more than they should have spent, and it was cool. I enjoy putting it on and listening to it. I think songwise Perfect came into their own, but Restless has decided they don't want it anymore. Our manager wanted to know if we could shop the record around, and Restless said that was fine, but the price was so fucking high, it's not going to happen."
As a result, Solomon and Cooper have formed their own band, Clumsy. It began as its own side project amongst roommates: Solomon, Cooper, Mike Malinin (ex of Last Rites, currently in the Goo Goo Dolls), and another rock-and-roll buddy all share an apartment in Los Angeles, which is usually a good deal, since at least one of the roomies is always on tour. But one day, the four of them found themselves at home at the same time and discovered how quickly they can get on each other's nerves. So they decided to find a studio and begin recording songs Solomon had begun writing; soon enough, they made a few tapes and gave them out to friends in the biz (which is, like, everyone in L.A.). But Malinin was too busy with the Goo Goo Dolls to make Clumsy a full-time project, so Solomon and Cooper added and subtracted a few members, and boom, a new band was born. Solomon has also been writing and recording some with another childhood buddy and Arts Magnet classmate, Aaron Comess, the drummer for Spin Doctors (who, believe it or not, have actually been signed to another label, Universal).
"The timing of it was great for me, because it was like, 'All right, am I quitting [Perfect]?'" Solomon says. "Puff Daddy ain't calling me. It's gone well. I'm happy, and I love singing and writing. It's great it happened the way it did...I'm just taking the motor [from Perfect]. Clumsy is just more pop songs [turned up to] 11. That's pretty much what I do."
Unlike Tommy Stinson, who has apparently become a musician-for-hire. Hey, a guy's got to pay the rent and feed his little kid--you can't knock him for that--but do you have to sell your soul to make the down payment? Apparently so.
Clumsy will open for Slobberbone on October 30 at Rick's Place in Denton.
Topaz or not to be
I've tried like hell to avoid writing about the debacle that was the Topaz Awards, held at the Granada Theatre on October 15. I figured enough's enough, I made my point, and drove it right through everyone's head. But I have received literally dozens of phone calls and e-mails from outraged (no exaggeration) local musicians who want to know just how in the hell did Cresta's Jenny Esping win three Topaz Awards--when she sits on the freakin' board of directors of the North Texas Music Festival, which hands out the fetching doorstops. (Which we gracefully accept.) Some of the missives have referred to the event as a "fiasco" and a "fix"; others were not so kind. If you want to see for yourself, we refer you to the One Ton Records Web site (www.oneton.com) to "listen in" to the discussion, which is cruel enough to (almost) make you feel sorry for Jenny Esping.
It's funny: No matter how hard some people in this town try to validate themselves and their "scene," they always end up shooting themselves in the foot and a few bands in the head. What began as a well-intentioned two-night showcase of local talent five years ago has evolved into one more elitist affair that alienates the very people it's meant to support and celebrate. In the words of one local musician seen wandering around Deep Ellum before his NTMF set on October 16, "I'm going to get drunk, very drunk. Why am I here? I have made a terrible mistake."
Hey, you want to give out more music awards? Fine--knock yourself out. (Though we would love to meet the 1,600 local industry "insiders" who voted for this thing. This ain't the Grammys.) You want to call yourselves the North Texas Music Festival and bring in shit bands from Austin and Oklahoma and Arkansas to play the awards (Austin's Sinus, and the mind reels) and headline local clubs for major-label A&R execs (yeah, right)? Whatever. You want to charge 65 bucks for a dinner with rock dinosaur Eddie Kramer? Ka-ching.
But even Esping, who was one of the few winners at the event to accept her award, was said to be embarrassed by the three trophies she won (including one for songwriter of the year, as if). As well she should have been, especially when the NTMF sent out a list of winners with a cover letter that reads: "The North Texas Music Festival Executive Board consists of Sam Paulos, Paula Moore, Jenny Esping, Jeffrey Yarbrough, and Teresa LaBarbera-Whites." What gall. Did anyone think of kicking Esping off the board, or taking her name off the ballot?
"I think the bottom line is, she's the only person who lobbied, who told people to go vote for her," says Paulos, who owns Crystal Clear Sound. "That's what it comes down to...But I didn't have much to do with putting it together, and I feel guilty I didn't take control of it or change it. To me, that was a mistake. When I saw Jenny on the [list of] nominations, I told Paula she shouldn't be eligible or should take herself out. I don't think Jenny or Paula realized how damaging this could be."
And apparently no one has actually heard Cresta, which only last week sent out copies of its four-song The Trick EP, which sounds like Garbage. (And you can take that any way you want.) The organizers have since sent out an e-mail to local writers wanting to know how to improve upon this year's awards. My suggestion: Don't have it.
The second Future Beat showcase (and thank you for dropping the "z") takes place October 30 at the Curtain Club. Terror Couple, the Falcon Project (which features members of Mazinga Phaser), and Kitty (an Aphex Twin-Moby kind of combo from Austin) are scheduled to perform, and DJ Chris Brody of Floor 13 will funk it up between bands.
Send Street Beat your suggestions on how to improve upon our fiasco to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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