watching from afar.

I have known Ralph Malanga forever.  Seems like forever; actually, it’s more like eighteen years, but we met him back in 1992 when we first started working with Footstone and became good friends along the way.  Ralph was the guy that it broke my heart to tell when we went on hiatus in ’97 or so.  Despite the discomfort of that, he was there at the surprise party that Sandy had for my 30th birthday, and after he returned from Texas and formed Stuyvesant, he was not only happy to play a hayseed bar in rural NJ for Sandy’s 40th birthday – for free – but he also helped re-form Footstone for the reunion/birthday show that Sandy planned for my 40th.  Which they also played for free.  In my backyard.

By the time we released Footstone’s Lippy in the mid-90s, I felt that Ralph had the best voice in indie rock, and that Footstone was an infinitely better band than the commercialized alt-crap that was all over the radio at the time.  By the time they’d recorded the followups to Lippy, eventually devolving into a three-piece, I thought Ralph was one of the best power pop songwriters going.

And when Stuyvesant self-released their first EP, Quit More Often, I was in the audience at Maxwell’s, still like an overprotective dad (I’ll never forget some guy approaching them with a contract to record and release the show – a show that’s available out there on the internet for sale on most major e-tail sites – and how I almost tore the contract out of the guy’s hands as soon as I saw it.  These were my guys, even when I had no label).  I was in the audience for Linden Calling as well.  And one night in late 2009, Sandy and I were out at Louise & Jerry’s in Hoboken – where Stuyvesant bassist Brian tends bar – with friends.  Brian and I were talking about our reviving the label, and Brian casually asked “So, umm, would you be interested in signing Stuyvesant?”

My head nearly exploded.  At the time there was no band I was more interested in signing.  They were among my favorite bands, their pop songwriting was masterful and their playing rocked.  They had pop/punk qualities without being a lame-ass pop/punk band; they had ’90s indie rock qualities without being derivative; they had straight-up rock and roll qualities without being a shitty bar band.  They were great.

Fast forward to this week, when we released Stuyvesant’s new album, Fret Sounds.  As much as a tiny label like mine – a hobby, really – can have its ducks in a row, we had them in a row on this one.  We began preparing this release six months ago, worked on it relentlessly, carefully chose our marketing strategy and began laying groundwork early.  We had manufactured CDs in our house in February (the record came out in June!) and had all sorts of ancillary materials available for retail and radio.

Because people need to hear this band.

So now it’s out (digitally, at least – the physical CDs come out next Tuesday), and the press has been pretty strong.  A great review in CMJ (a publication that has historically irritated me beyond belief because it’s been impossible for any of our bands to even be mentioned), a feature in NJ.com.  Great placements in Magnet, and a host of additional placements on the way.

Months ago, when Ralph was planning the tour, I asked him if he’d mind if I tagged along.  I’m 41 and haven’t been on tour, ever.  That’s something I’ve always wanted to experience, and I doubt I’ll have another opportunity.  So I asked, and I offered to drive, to work the merch table, to help lug instruments.  Ralph agreed, and that was it – I planned to go.

Except once in a while, fatherhood squares off to do battle against punk rock, and as agile and talented a fighter punk rock may be, fatherhood has a devastating left hook.  So fatherhood wins, and instead of eating pop tarts and driving through the American Midwest with ringing ears, I’ll be coaching a little league baseball tournament in rural New Jersey.

I am, however, watching from afar as the band played Dayton, Ohio last night with a band called the Dirty Socialites (and I missed the opportunity to hook up with a lot of Ohio friends).  Tonight, they play a session at Ardent Studios in Memphis (owned by Jody Stephens of Big Star; Ralphie singing into the microphone of the late, great, GREAT Alex Chilton) and then later, a show at the Buccaneer with the Burning Sands (a band fronted by our old friend Jeremy Scott of almost-Dromedary band Blenderette).  Tomorrow, it’s down to Raleigh for a show at Slim’s.

And I’ll be flashing the bunt sign and counting pitches from the first base coaches’ box.

No place I’d rather be, but still.  Tour.

~ by Al on June 17, 2011.

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