more demos.

Tail Spins was a great zine from Chicago that blew my mind with every issue.  It was just the right dose of sarcasm, cynicism and humor for my tastes, but unlike some zines that had that kind of tone, the publisher was not an asshole.  Brent was a good guy who was pretty nice to us, although I don’t recall receiving any reviews in the zine itself.  I just loved it so much that I wrote him a note once, and he responded with a tape of his band, The Great Brain.

The Great Brain was, in many ways, like Gapeseed. A cool blend of math rock and plain, old, indie rock, the two demos he sent almost immediately went into heavy rotation in my tape deck.  And onto the list of stuff I wanted to release.  I don’t think I ever formally asked Brent if he was interested in putting something out on Dromedary; I assumed that by virtue of the fact that he sent me two tapes, he was.  So I put them aside, exercising restraint, because I was up to my ass in stuff to put out.

Tail Spins had a cool way of reviewing records – they had a series of cartoonish icons that signified different types of music.  They’d have an icon, say, for metal.  And another one for douchebag singer.  And maybe another one for noodly guitar solos.  And when it came time for them to review the new Metallica record, they’d just put those three icons together, next to the album name.  No words, no descriptives, just the icons.

Despite being hysterically funny, they were also probably the most accurate zine reviews in indie rock.  They had no icon for “I predicted this song would be a big hit back when I saw the band open up for Foghat at the State Fair,” or “I heard this band was about to sign a deal with a Midwestern indie label.”  The icons actually clued you into what the music sounded like.

Oddly enough, my favorite Great Brain song was called “Ray.”  Here it is.

About the same time, I got a call from Ron, telling me that he was going to send me another tape. By this time I knew that anything Ron was going to send me was part focus group, part “you should put this out on Dromedary,” and given the unreal quality of the last tape he sent me, I was looking forward to it.

This one, however, was a little different – it was the band of his business partner, Larry. The band was called Nana, and judging by Ron’s tone when he told me about the band, neither he nor Larry were sure if they liked the band.

Then again, hearing that from Ron was more like hearing “I’m going to send you something that I know you’re going to love, because that’s what I do. But I’m going to tell you I’m not sure if I like it, so that you’ll tell me exactly how much it blows you away.”

Nana were really good, right up my alley at the time, in that they were a great blend of pop and punk, heavy but not noodly, melodic but not stupid. If the songs were a little long, they more than made up for it with hooks and charm.

When I was in college, the Goo Goo Dolls’ Hold Me Up was one of my favorite records, because it recalled the Replacements without being too derivative (okay, it was derivative, but the songs were too hooky for me to turn my back). By the time I got Nana’s demo tape, the Goo Goo Dolls were a full-blown alt-rock phenomenon, with their music popping up on Fox network teenybopper TV shows, playing over the shopping mall Muzak, and generally being annoying.

Nana reminded me of that other Goo Goo Dolls; the one that emulated the Replacements. I really liked them.

This is called “Magazine.”

 

I was a little intimidated by Nana in that I had a lot of respect for Ron and Larry, and didn’t like the idea of putting out Larry’s music for fear of fucking something up. Ron had told me that in Surefire’s first year they had sold $40,000 worth of records – $40,000 sounded like an absolutely ridiculous amount of music for a first year (particularly since it wasn’t a full year), way more than Dromedary could have done even if we had gotten all the breaks we had hoped for.

From a distance, I could make nebulous statements to people about cuppa joe being our biggest-selling band, or about a particular record picking up steam, and when “biggest-selling” meant a few hundred copies, they didn’t need to know that detail. I could tell them that Dutch East was my biggest distributor, without having to mention that they ordered 25 copies of my records on consignment, and closed out my titles when I wanted to get paid. I couldn’t bear the thought of putting out a Nana record that sold 89 copies like Elizabeth did, and then having to actually go back to Larry and apologize for that. So I never actually spoke to either of them about putting out a Nana record.

I figured someday I would be selling more records, and then I’d be more confident about stuff like that.

 

These songs are more indicative of the types of demos we were beginning to see – bands that were on the periphery of the national scene, from all over the country, looking for ways to get their music out. Many of them worked with other indie-type companies, like Brent with Tail Spins or Larry with Surefire. I was beginning to realize that building a scene in New Jersey, while a decent goal, was not the endgame – there was a larger community out there, with lots of really nice people, and everyone was willing to help each other out.

I was hoping I could continue to grow into that community.

~ by Al on April 30, 2009.

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