plans sometimes have a way of making themselves.

We had chosen the three cuppa joe songs that would be on the botany e.p. and had actually started planning out how we would release it in October.  The songs we chose had come from two different recording sessions, and so when doug sent me the DAT of the songs, I wanted to listen to it before sending it off to United Record Pressing in Nashville – the company that we had selected to produce the records.  We were still a few months premature, but I wanted to make sure we had everything ready – we were pinching pennies at this point, and I didn’t want to get a test pressing back and find something bad on it that required me to pay extra to fix.

So one night I went to Ray’s house to play the DAT.  Ray was the only person I knew who actually had a DAT player.  So I sat in his basement with him while he played the tape – I figured it was also proof of concept, as nobody but Sandy, Rich, Frank and I had actually heard “bottlerocket.”

“Boy, those drums are loud,” Ray said.  “I wouldn’t mix the drums that loud.”

“But there’s nothing I can do about that,” I said.  “What do you think of the song?

“I think the drums are too loud,” he laughed.  For Ray, the production was as much a part of the song as the instruments themselves.

We hung out for a while longer, and then I hopped in the car and left.  When I walked back into my apartment, Sandy said “Ray called.”

I had just left Ray’s house a half hour earlier, so I thought that was kind of strange.  I called him back, thinking there was some sort of problem.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey.”

“I was thinking – it doesn’t look like there’s going to be any record deal any time soon, and even if we sign something tomorrow, it will be forever before we get a record out.”

“What about March Records?” I asked.  Ray had been talking to the owner of March about doing a CD EP for a while at that point.

“I think we’ll wind up doing that,” he said.  “But he would have to fit it into his release schedule.  You’re at least talking about next spring before something comes out.”

“Why don’t you do another 7″?” I asked.

“Well, that’s why I’m calling.  It makes more sense to have someone else put out a 7″, rather than us release it on our own.  I was thinking that maybe you might like to do it.”

“Put out your 7″?” I asked.  “On Dromedary?”

“On Dromedary,” he confirmed.

My head spun for a second.  I loved Melting Hopefuls. Ray had gotten to be my closest friend in the local music scene, and we were also developing a nice relationship with the rest of the band as well.  I loved their music, and we loved seeing them live.  I wanted them to be successful, and I sincerely saw them as having the potential to be one of those successful alt-rock bands that maintained their credibility, similar to bands like the Pixies.  They had a great fan base, and there was no doubt in my mind that they were going to wind up on a bigger label.  Being affiliated with them was good for us, and helping them made me happy as a friend.

On the other hand, if we put out another 7″ with them, that would mean that three of our first four releases would have been with the same band, and I thought there would be more value in having a catalog that contained some variety.  I was certainly more interested in doing something with Ditch Croaker, or Uncle Seymour, or some other, as-of-yet unknown band, than putting out another Melting Hopefuls 7″.

“When would you want to put it out?” I asked.

“Like, now,” he responded.

That presented another problem: we had no money left.  After the cuppa joe 7″ was done, we’d be flat broke.  And I had learned the hard way that invoicing my distributors was a bad idea, unless I wanted to get back a giant box of unsold records.  So, for all practical purposes, Dutch East and TCI were holding my money for as long as they wanted to keep it.  Now, Ray wanted to put out a 7″ with us, and he wanted to do it now.  

I asked him if he would give me a couple of days to think about it.  I think this surprised him; at this stage, his band was definitely bigger than my label, and I think he expected I would jump at the chance to put out his record.

But there were a lot of reasons why I actually didn’t want to put out that record.

Sandy and I talked about it.  We agreed that it would be good for us to put out another Melting Hopefuls record, but bad for our catalog to have 75% of our titles come from the same band.  At the same time, we knew we could sell Melting Hopefuls records.  We knew there was no doubt that they’d be moving on to bigger things, and we could be their first label.  

Sandy made a suggestion.  “What if you asked them if we could put out a CD?”

“We can’t afford a 7″, how are we going to afford a CD?” I asked.

“No – not now, later.  After they sign with another label.  We put out this 7″ now.  But then we ask them for the right to take the five songs we will have done with them, and put them onto a CD EP.  This way, when they get their record deal, we’ll have a Melting Hopefuls CD that we can put out.  So basically, we help them now, and they return the favor later.”

That sounded like a great idea to me.  

Now, I just needed to come up with the money to make another 7″.  We were planning on pressing only 500 cuppa joe 7″s, but I knew I would need to press a thousand for Melting Hopefuls.  It was going to cost a lot more money.  Plus I’d need more money to market it than I was planning on spending for cuppa joe.

I started putting a pencil to paper, and realized that if we released the Melting Hopefuls 7″ and the cuppa joe 7″ simultaneously, we would save a lot of money.  We would save postage costs and advertising costs.  Our phone bill would be less because I could make calls asking about both 7″s at the same time.  We might even be able to get a break on manufacturing the 7″s if I sent United two records at the same time.  More importantly, though, I thought it would be possible that the strength of two simultaneous releases might help them both – people who liked Melting Hopefuls might be inclined to pay more attention to the cuppa joe 7″, and vice-versa.  Plus, with two releases in the same package, both from different bands, we’d somehow appear more like a real label and less like someone’s vanity project.

I still needed money to make the records, though.

The relationship I have with my father is very complex.  I don’t care to discuss it here in this blog, as that’s not what this blog is about.  Suffice to say that I came up with what I thought was a compelling case for him to invest the money necessary to manufacture the 7″s, and brought it to him.  I asked him for a loan, and showed him how I would pay him back, with interest.

“This record company thing is a waste of time, and you’re throwing away all your savings,” he told me.  “You’ve been married a year now.  Have you even saved a penny?”

I sighed.  “Listen, Dad,” I reasoned.  “I’m 22 years old.  I’m trying to start a business.  You started a business.  You know what it’s like.  I’m not asking you to give me money – I’m asking you to loan me money.  I will pay you back, with interest.”

He was quiet for a minute.  “Don’t try and convince me you’re going to pay me back,” he said.  “I know it’s bullshit.  I will give you the money.  But just this one time, and then that’s it.”

“I will pay you back,” I insisted.  “I’m not interested in taking money from anybody.”

He handed me cash.  I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I regretted taking it; I fully expected to have that loan thrown in my face for the rest of my adult life.  I did not want to be held hostage like that, so I promised myself to pay it back, with interest, just as I had proposed.

I got home and called Ray.

“Listen, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought.  You know I love you guys,” I began.  “But I’m also trying to start a company here.  I want it to be successful.  I want to be able to do this for a living.”

“I know,” he said.  “I want to help you.”

“I know you do.  But I think it’s going to hurt me to have Melting Hopefuls on three of my first four releases.  I don’t want people to start thinking we’re Melting Hopefuls’ vanity label.”

He was quiet.

“At the same time, I can see why you really need to have a record out.  And if it’s going to come out on some label, I’d just as soon have it be mine.  So I talked to Sandy about it, and we have a proposition.”

“Okay, tell me what it is.”

“We’ll put out your 7″,” I said. “But after you sign your record deal, whether it be with March or somebody else, we want to take the compilation track, the two tracks from the ‘Suck My Heart’ 7″, and the tracks from this new 7″, and put them on a CD.”

After we get signed?” he asked.

“When you get signed, you’re going to become pretty popular.  As much as we love you, we’ve spent a lot of time and money working on promoting the band.  With this 7″, we’ll be spending even more.  A 7″ record can only sell for $3; a CD can sell for $10.  A CD will give us the ability to make some money, especially after you sign with someone and put out a higher-profile record.  Like Albert Garzon did with 10,000 Maniacs.”

After I used the 10,000 Maniacs example, I cringed at myself.  Natalie Merchant.  “Or like Bar/None did with They Might Be Giants.”

“I have no problem with that,” Ray said.  “I can see what you’re thinking.  I agree.”

“Well, okay.” I said.

“What song do you want to put out?” he asked.

Way back in March, at the Nothing Smells Quite Like Elizabeth release party, Ray had given me a cassette tape.  The opening song on the tape was also the song that generated the most enthusiasm from the crowd at that show – the song about masturbation, “Pulling an Allnighter on Myself.”

The song was usually played in a straight-ahead, 4/4 time signature.  However, on the tape Ray had given me that spring, he had re-recorded the drums with a Motown-flavored, 1960s beat reminiscent of the great Crystals song “Then He Kissed Me,” written by Phil Spector.  He had also gotten Renee to sing lots of “Sha-la-la” backing vocals over the song.  It was magnificent.  That’s what I wanted to put out.

“That’s the song Skippy wants to put out,” Ray said.  Skippy was the owner of March Records.

“I’m sorry, Ray, if I can’t put out ‘Allnighter,’ I don’t want to put out anything else,” I said.  “That’s your best song, and that’s the one I want to use.  I don’t think it’s fair to us to hold back that song in case you get a better opportunity.”

“Fair enough,” he said.  “You’re jumping to put out our record, and he’s not even committed to it yet.  He’ll have to put out something else.  It’s not like we don’t have any other songs.”

“Okay.  You pick the B-side, then,” I offered.  

“Which version of ‘Allnighter’ do you want to put out?” Ray asked, “The real version, or the 1960s version?”

“The 1960s version,” I said.

“I’ll have to talk to Renee about that,” he said.  “She doesn’t like that version.  It’s not representative of the band.”

A few days later, Ray called me back and told me that he was right – Renee didn’t want to put out the Crystals version of the song.  It’s a shame – even though “Allnighter” was a great song, the Crystals version truly was much, much better.  The Phil Spector drum beat and tambourine during the verses really gave the chorus, bridge and guitar solo – all of which returned to straight, 4/4 time – much more punch and drive. Plus, Ray had mixed the drums just right – they were booming.

Regardless of which version we used, though, the song was a great song.  Ray chose “Coming” as the flipside – a pretty funny play on words, I thought, given the A-side, although the song had nothing to do with anything sexual.  

So we went four months without having a clue what project would come next, and suddenly we were borrowing money because we had too many records to put out.  It was nice to have plans.

I thought about posting the Phil Spector version of “Allnighter” here, but that wouldn’t be fair to the band, who asked me not to release it.  So even though I’m planning to be as open as possible with this story,  I’ll continue to keep that one just for me.  Trust me, it was great.  I’ll post “our” version in a later entry.

~ by Al on February 12, 2009.

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