Here’s a rock ‘n’ roll story you don’t hear very often: An unsigned band records its indie debut, a program director for an influential FM station latches onto it and puts two songs into heavy rotation, then a major record company swoops in and inks a deal and the group has a bonafide mainstream rock hit.
Strange but true for the Sacramento rock quartet Oleander.
“There aren’t very many people as cutting edge as Curtiss Johnson, the program director at 98-Rock (KRXQ),” singer-guitarist Thomas Flowers said recently. “We gave the CD to a friend that works there; he loved it so much, he took it to Johnson, and if that’s not enough, he loved it so much he literally asked us how we would feel about him playing it on the radio. To which we said, ‘Uh, yeah, that would be cool.’ He believed in it so much that he started playing one of the songs, and it didn’t blow up right away, but he stayed with it. He really saw something. We’re extremely fortunate to be in the 1 percent.
“Curtiss Johnson had done it twice before. It’s kind of a little pet hobby of his to, once in a while, when he sees something he can honestly break. He did it with the Gin Blossoms and the Refreshments. He’s a respected P.D. across the country; he not only knows how to work his station, but he also knows how to do things to make other P.D.’s feel like, ‘Duh, why couldn’t I do that?’ “
Johnson now can add Oleander to that list, because it has a Top 10 hit on Billboard’s mainstream rock tracks chart with “Why I’m Here,” the first single off the band’s debut Republic/Universal album “February Son” (released Feb. 23).
Flowers and bassist Doug Eldridge met 10 years ago and drifted through several bands together before finding guitarist Ric Ivanisevich and drummer Fred Nelson Jr. Like all new bands, Oleander had lofty goals: getting a big-label deal.
“But it got to a point where we decided we were going to stop jumping through hoops for the labels,” Flowers said. “First of all, it’s embarrassing, and it’s probably the most counterproductive thing you can do, to worry about it so much.
“That’s when someone from Republic came out and saw us open for Sugar Ray. First off, it’s the personality and you have to trust the people you’re working with, and it was there from the get-go. Then we started talking about business and their ideas, which were very different from the rest of the industry we had met at the time. The rest of the industry was kind of schmoozing us and then letting us down. They made it very clear that their company was not like that and they were going to allow us the opportunity and the integrity of earning our status. They were very meat and potatoes in philosophy and I just loved it.”
Oleander then rerecorded its indie album, hooking up with producer Steven Haigler (Fuel, Local H, Jimmy’s Chicken Shack).
“Not many bands get this kind of opportunity,” Flowers said. “We plan to take advantage of it and feed it.”
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