Waymon Boone remembers Splender’s first visit with J Records founder Clive Davis as if it were yesterday. The scene was so surreal, he felt like he was in the middle of a Francis Ford Coppola film.
The New York rock quartet had just come off two years touring in support of its 1999 debut Columbia album, “Halfway Down the Sky.” Their A&R man, James Diener, had just jumped ship to J, Davis’ fledgling post-Arista label. News of Diener’s departure, Boone recalls, took all the wind out of their sails. It seemed to the lead singer and his band mates – James Cruz (bass, vocals), Jonathan Svec (lead guitar) and Marc Slutsky (drums) – that all the progress they had made, including having a pop hit with “I Think God Can Explain,” was for naught.
Diener quickly allayed their fears.
“We were freaking out,” Boone said recently. “We thought that was the end of our run when we found out (Diener) was going to work for Clive Davis over at this new label that didn’t have any acts signed, an office or a name. Our relationship with James is as close as a band member; he’s the first person who walked into CBGB’s and said, ‘I get it,’ and for that, we’re eternally grateful. We couldn’t live without him.
“Then James told us that Clive loved the band and wanted us. Somehow it went from the worst day of our lives to the next day being one of our best, because we were like ‘He does?!’ We didn’t care that they didn’t have an office or a name; as long as these two guys are going to be there, that’s good enough for us.”
Then came the introduction to the patriarch of pop.
“Clive was very serious about us,” Boone said. “It was a very ‘Godfather’-like meeting, very weird. The doors were closed, and two people came in and opened the two doors; ‘Mr. Davis will see you now,’ and he was sitting at a desk exactly like the scene in ‘The Godfather.’ He was just as intimidating, but he was very sweet. The only thing missing was a furry cat in his lap.”
It took considerable legal footwork to get Splender out of its Columbia deal and into the J camp, but Boone says it bought them extra time going into their second album. Turns out they needed all that time and more: Splender’s world was crumbling all around.
Boone had a serious case of writer’s block; he had been misdiagnosed as having cancer; two close friends died of heroin overdoses, and there was tension within the band.
“It was the first time in my recording career where I actually lied to my A&R guy,” Boone said. “He kept calling and asking how the songs were coming along, and I was suffering from writer’s block for a year; I was saying, ‘Oh, everything’s great,’ knowing I hadn’t written one bar of music in a year.
“One of the things, unfortunately, that helped me snap out of it was that we’ve had a really difficult year. I lost two very close friends to heroin, which is strange for me, being a straight-edged nondrug-taker. One of them died before I was able to start writing again, and the other died the day I stepped off the plane to start recording our record. It just put a 10-ton weight on my neck. It definitely fueled the light to start being creative again; from that moment, I knew I had stuff to say.”
Boone lays it on the line on Splender’s impressive sophomore album, “To Whom It May Concern” (released Sept. 3). On the first single, “Save It For Later,” his urgent call to live for today is fitting in post-Sept. 11th America. He celebrates love in “High,” touches on moments of despair in “No Big Deal” and counsels a friend in “The Loneliest Person I Know.”
He likens the songs to conversations with or letters written to family and friends, hence the album title, “To Whom It May Concern.”
“Like ‘Save It For Later,’ ” he said, “that came from a conversation I had. I found that once I lost friends (to drugs) that it brought me closer and further from my remaining friends.
“One of the conversations I had was with a person who was having a lot of difficulty in his life because he had come to a crossroads where he realized – or maybe I made him realize – that everything he was doing in his life was not for himself, that he was always trying to please his father. At a time when life is so precious and short and there’s no time to please anybody but yourself before you can make anyone else happy, I told him basically to fuck everything, ‘you’re never going to make him happy. You have to make yourself happy.’ “
Boone heeded some of his own advice, helping to bridge the gap between he and his band mates.
“I’m still not sure what keeps us going,” he said. “We definitely fight all the time, and we came to the brink of being so disgusted with each other and not sitting in the same room or having conversations for months at a time, but I would drop dead without them.
“People see you on Leno or they see you at a show, but they don’t know what’s really involved or rightfully maybe don’t care what’s involved. It’s a lot of stress to be out on a bus or a plane or a car 24 hours a day for years at a time. We spent more time together than married couples do; at least married couples can go to work and have eight hours away from each other. Our work is together; we had to learn to respect each other more; we already know how to push each other’s buttons. It was an accomplishment to stay together foremost and then also to set up a higher bar to do this record.”
Boone is thankful that he and Splender overcame their many obstacles. He even jokes about it.
“If you had interviewed me a year ago, you’d tell me to take some Ritalin,” he said, laughing. ” ‘Here’s the number to a shrink, dude. Take some Prozac and chill out.’
“After all that shit, we’ve never gotten along better, to the brothers we started out being, and we’ve never been happier with our record.”
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