Longform

Schmidt happens

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The band released its only record for the label, the Sweetness EP, in 1993. The seven-song disc wasn't meant to be the band's be-all, end-all statement. (Good thing, because Sweetness became the lowest-selling record in Arista history.) It was just a means to an end, a way to get Arista to send them out on tour. All Funland really wanted was to be on the road; all they did was sit at home.

"Being on Arista didn't facilitate being creative," Schmidt says now. "I sat on my ass for most of the year we were on Arista. We did one six-week tour, and other than that, we sat on our ass the whole time. It was without a doubt the single most depressing year of my life. At the time, I was rationalizing. I didn't get a job: 'Hey, fuck it, I'm on a major label. I don't have to do this.' If I had to do it over, in retrospect, I would have gotten a job just to keep my mind occupied and keep myself sane. I was staying up all night playing video games, sleeping half the day, and then just not doing anything. We didn't even rehearse that much during the year that we were there."

Finally, in February 1994, the band asked to be released from its contract, and Arista happily obliged. Schmidt and the band went through a period of self-doubt: If they weren't good enough to be on Arista, were they good enough to even keep playing? It didn't help that so many local bands--the Toadies, Deep Blue Something, Hagfish, Jackopierce, and Vibrolux among them--were being snatched up by major record labels and were beginning to achieve some of the success Funland had been denied. It didn't seem fair. Schmidt was arguably as talented as any member of any of those bands, yet for the second time in his career, his chance had passed.

It was a career crisis that would have sent many other musicians running for cover bands and desk jobs. But Schmidt and Funland not only didn't give up, they got better.

"Now I look back, and I don't get really angry at it [the year on Arista]," Schmidt says. "It's the experience that brought me where I am today. I learned a lot, and it made all of us in the band focus on what we wanted out of music. For that reason alone, it was worthwhile."

The band signed to Sam Paulos' steve records in 1995 and released its first--and only--full-length album later that year. The Funland Band was the sound of a hungry band at the top of its game. Every song was a winner, from the loud foot-stompers such as "Impala," "Angry Girl," and "Garage Sale," to the subtler, quieter moments of "Down Stage" and "Sparkloser." When it was released, it looked like the last piece of the puzzle, the album that would finally turn record-label heads the right way. Instead, it turned out to be a farewell note. The band would break up eight months later, before friendship took a backseat to music-industry bullshit.

"I was proud of the fact that I think most bands would break up after an experience like that, and I'm glad that as a band we were able to bring it back to a higher note and then break up on that note," Schmidt says. "I loved Funland. I'm not kidding myself, I thought we were pretty much a straightforward rock band. But I think of the bands that try to do that thing, I honestly think that we were one of the best. We just wrote great songs."

Not enough people shared Schmidt's opinion, and so the band played its farewell show June 15, 1996. Will Johnson would go on to form centro-matic, a one-man project that would become a full-time band, and release Redo the Stacks on steve in 1997. Vogeler ended up joining the Toadies, replacing ousted guitarist Darrel Herbert.

In the end, Funland was too good not to have succeeded at a national level, too good to have been ignored locally. So the question remains: Why did Funland break up instead of break through?

"When Funland decided to call it quits, radio stations were happy with the success of 'Angry Girl,' show attendance was the highest ever, and they were actually selling records again," says Sam Paulos, who also owns Crystal Clear Sound and is an investor in a handful of Deep Ellum clubs. Paulos insists, in retrospect, that Funland was one song away from breaking on regional, then national, radio. But he is perhaps speaking with the optimism known only to owners of record labels and other gamblers waiting on the sure bet that never comes.

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Zac Crain
Contact: Zac Crain