Mutual friends convinced U2 manager Paul McGuinness to attend one of Irish alternative rock quintet Scheer’s early gigs at the Baggot Inn in Dublin.
Band members knew he would be there and were prepared to bowl him over. Instead, they were the ones knocked down like silly wooden pins.
“That was definitely the worst gig ever for us, a complete turning point,” lead guitarist Neal Calderwood said recently. “Things had been going quite well because we had a development deal with Son Records (in Ireland), and they thought for sure Paul McGuinness would like us. And we thought, ‘Ah, no problem, this is our big step up.’ We were far too cocky about it.”
McGuinness called them mediocre and derivative. Calderwood said McGuinness was right, but rather than running away with their tails between their legs, Scheer was prodded into action. They rehearsed harder and longer, honed their songwriting skills and arranged the best material they could muster, coming up with “Infliction,” their debut album on 4AD/Warner.
Released stateside on April 19, “Infliction” will be issued in Britain and Europe on May 27. The early U.S. release, along with the heady single “Wish You Were Dead,” coincided with Scheer’s six-week tour with headliner Lush and Mojave 3.
“After that experience with McGuinness,” Calderwood said, “we were completely gutted. We thought for sure we had it in the bag. We bounced back, though, and we’re never going to let that happen again. It’s the best thing that ever happened to us. I don’t think we’ve really played a bad gig since.”
Scheer teamed in 1991, culling band members from two Northern Ireland towns only 9 miles apart. Calderwood, singer Audrey Gallagher, drummer Joe Bates, bassist Peter Fleming and guitarist Paddy Leyden had similar self-sufficient, uncompromising views about their careers. They didn’t want to move to London where their odds of being discovered were higher; they wanted to stay in their homeland, playing anywhere anyone wanted to listen and recording at their own pace.
“You may think that we were just signed to 4AD and have an album out just like that in America,” Calderwood said. “It may seem like an overnight thing, but it’s not like that. We’ve been together since ’91. We’ve done our apprenticeship, so to speak. We’ve paid our dues.”
Those dues led to luring Head (who did PJ Harvey’s “Dry”) to produce “Infliction.”
“We chatted with him and he seemed to have the same attitude, that he wanted us to create our own record and be as creative as we wanted to without so much control from him,” Calderwood said. “He did all the engineering and told us what we could and couldn’t do physically and technically. As far as ideas went, it was completely up to us. We experimented a lot.”
They experimented so much that residents near the former BBC studio they rented complained about the excessive noise.
“I like to have a lot of amps going at once,” Calderwood said. “It was a proper BBC studio, with walls a few feet thick and soundproofing. But we were asked to stop recording by 6 o’clock at night. The owner said ‘I don’t understand why you need these big amps.’ He just didn’t understand the concept of getting an amp and whacking it up to get the best sound out of it.
“After that, we went to a factory in London. We really added a lot more to the songs and ended up getting the album that we wanted.”