Cut the cards, ante up
Spot--the pop trio that blossomed from the scorched patch of earth once known as Mildred--is sneaking up on rock stardom with the philosophical ferocity of Thomas Aquinas and the childlike wonder of Opie Taylor.
Or it would be if its much-ballyhooed joint deal with indie label Ardent and major Interscope wasn't disintegrating like Claude Rains in the Invisible Man. Just two weeks ago, in fact, the band members--guitarist Chad Rueffer and his bassist brother, Reggie (both of whom share vocal and songwriting duties), and drummer Davis Bickston--are in the courtyard behind Club Dada on a surprisingly mild summer night contemplating the impending marriage.
"Basically, Ardent thought it had a pretty hot property and they needed help getting it to the masses," says Reggie, whose straw gardening hat, John Lennon glasses, and wispy, goatlike beard seem rather Halloweeny in the fading twilight. "Ardent did all they could, a pretty good job for the resources they had. Interscope has always been interested in us because they keep their ears to the Dallas scene."
Chad, buoyant and crew-cut, peppering his frequent philosophical and literary allusions with obscenities, looks a bit like Seattle Mariners slugger Jay Buhner: "Interscope let it be known that they wouldn't hesitate to get in bed with Ardent--so to speak--and that's where we stand, with the two of them working out the finer points of who's gonna fuck the other."
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Not long thereafter it appeared that the only one eligible for a righteous rogering was Spot. Interscope, wanting Spot without the nuisance of Ardent, delayed. Ardent, tapped out, desperately needed the major's financial help. Stalemate.
Furthermore, Spot has no management, steering instead via a committee of its members and several helpful friends and business associates. Negotiations were maddening, frequently puzzling, and ultimately disconcerting; the Spot collective began to fret that whatever momentum was imparted by the success of "Moon June Spoon" would fall off. Spot was--is--dead in the water with a hit song and a promising CD.
Still, the band--bright, entertaining guys--seems confident this night; conversation is frequently interrupted by fresh drink, and tangential arguments rage about subjects including value, good and evil, and the psychology behind the repentance of the Catholic Church. The members of Spot were giddy and relaxed; no matter what lies ahead, good things had without question happened fast. After all, they'd scored the Ardent contract in their first year on the basis of a five-song demo sent to the label by a friend; less than a year later they had an album out and were touring. The success of "Spoon" was a surprising validation that their music might just be as special as they thought it was.
"We knew from the word go that we had some intriguing, muscular, rocking stuff," Chad says. "It seemed probable that someone would express interest."
Indeed. Spot's singular sound combines brainy pop-craft with strident, exuberant guitar rock; wry poetry with snide disillusionment; and soaring melodies with the howling harmonies of drunken choirboys, giving it a protean quality ideal for rock radio. But that "Spoon"--Reggie's breathless, driving paean to adultery crouched in crypto-T.S. Eliot imagery--would turn out to be a hit was a complete surprise.
"That song should never have been on the record," laughs Chad. "It was one of Reggie's ideas that didn't pan out--only it did."
"It was never a possibility that 'Moon June' would be a part of it," agrees Reggie. "But somehow it ended up on the album." When Spot came out, Ardent--savvy to the ways of college radio--scored air play of "Drop Down," "Absalom," and "Straight Through the Sun's Head."
"'Moon June' wasn't even on our BMI checks for the third quarter of last year," Reggie recalls. "Then Q102 [KTXQ-FM] got involved."
Enter Redbeard, shah of Dallas rock radio. Q102's influential DJ and program director sensed something special about the cut and began airing it with the sort of regularity reserved for new Sting or Pearl Jam releases.
"It wasn't just 'Moon June Spoon,' though," Redbeard explains. "In April of '95, Ardent sent me Spot, but I didn't connect them with Mildred at the time. I put it on, and the first song was really interesting. The second song was great, then the third song was great! The fourth song was great, and the fifth, 'Moon June Spoon,' was it, the Holy Grail I'd been looking for." It wasn't long before "Spoon" was catching on in other markets like Corpus Christi and Denver.
"Any success we've had had a great deal to do with Redbeard," Reggie admits. "He was the first disc jockey--or program director, for that matter--to believe in it."
The long-silent Bickston speaks up, briefly interrupting a continual set of finger-paradiddles he's executing. "Then Z-Rock discovered 'Moon June,'" he says, referring to the syndicated nationwide heavy-metal network that added the single to its far-reaching playlist. "They have been so behind it; every time we've played a Z-Rock town the support has been amazing."
"We've had so many great shows," Reggie exclaims, leaning forward intently. "We'd just sold out a 2000-seat hall in Denver," he relates. "Red Rocks [Amphitheater] asked us if we wanted to play two shows, Saturday and a Sunday, opening for Bush and No Doubt."
There were, unfortunately, problems with those shows.
First, Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale insisted on going to a stereo store and checking out the band's music, making sure it was cool enough before he allowed the band on the bill; Spot passed. Second was the promise the Rueffer brothers had made to their dad, a country-and-western musician: They'd agreed to sit in with him that Saturday at a gig in West Texas. As much as playing Red Rocks meant to them--easily the biggest shows of their career--they felt they had to honor the commitment to their father.
"Once we explained that, the promoters were actually kinda touched," Chad says. "So we worked it out so we could at least do Sunday. We flew to Dallas Saturday morning. Mom picked us up and drove us to West Texas. We did the gig, had a great time, then Mom drove us back to Dallas. We flew back to Colorado and went straight to Red Rocks."
"It was like a scene out of a movie," Davis laughs. "I was backstage with my drumsticks in my hand, waiting along with 10,000 people. All of a sudden, Reggie and Chad run up the ramp, throw on their guitars, and we run out into this wall of noise. Reggie just goes straight to the mike and says, 'It's about goddamned time, isn't it?' and the place just went nuts and stayed nuts through the whole set."
"It was so rewarding," Reggie says. "We sold $1,100 worth of Spot T-shirts at that show--and the vendors weren't even displaying them. Our shirts were in a box behind the counter. People had to ask for them, which is a flattery not to be taken lightly."
After Red Rocks came an outdoor concert with Cracker and Candlebox in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, before 18,000 people; several dates with Dishwalla; and a sold-out performance at San Antonio's Sunken Gardens. Is a new comfort near? After all, the boys are already flying to and from rock festivals.
"Hardly," Reggie snorts. "Are we doing well? Is Spot, at this point, supporting our lifestyle well? The answer is 'no,' and we're pretty low-budget...Our lives depend on the next single."
But there won't be a next single--at least not for the foreseeable future. Spot is still with Ardent (an official spokesperson had no comment on the implosion of the Interscope deal; Interscope didn't respond to queries), yet Ardent still lacks funds. Either Interscope will buy out Spot's contract, or Ardent will keep Spot as bait for another major-label merger.
Chad takes a cheery attitude. "If Interscope wants us and can work it out with Ardent, well, that's terrific," he allows. "We're grateful for Ardent's part in our careers, and all principals can move forward in strengthened capacities. If Interscope can't work it out, it gives us new bargaining power and enables us to talk to some of the other majors that wanted to play ball with us all along," he explains, dropping names like Atlantic, RCA, and MCA. A third scenario diplomatically goes unmentioned: Ardent simply goes bankrupt, freeing the band.
The main question is, how quickly? Spot has been out for more than a year now, and the "Moon June Spoon" buzz is indeed abating. Ironically, the very record-biz mechanisms that could have moved Spot to the next level might ensure that the band misses a crucial opportunity.
As Redbeard said pre-stalemate, "Q102 is still poised with a hair trigger to play any of the Spot songs I mentioned, if the label will just pick one and get the PR machine cranked up. For whatever reason, I'm moving at a different speed than the labels, and until they're ready to move forward it's difficult for me to do anything, which is a shame, because I would add any of those tunes. The band's that good."
And they have a good--exemplary, even--attitude. At a post-show autograph session, headliner Dishwalla refused to appear. "They were too big to sign autographs," Chad says disbelievingly. "Fuck that! We're not gods. If we're lucky enough to have someone's attention for the length of a CD, or if someone wants to see Spot play, I want to meet these people, because the audience is part of what we do; there's something beautiful about the communication between artist and audience. And to have someone say, 'Let's go home and get high and listen to Spot'--that's the most incredible honor I've ever had."
Spot plays at Club Clearview September 1.
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