It’s not often that albums, discarded by indifferent record companies or caught in the middle of a corporate financial struggle, get a second life.
Members of the Australian rock trio You Am I and the Philadelphia-based power-pop trio The Interpreters happily are a few of the fortunate ones.
Down Under, You Am I is hugely popular. Two of its albums, “Hi Fi Way” (1996) and “Hourly, Daily” (1997), hit No. 1 and garnered several ARIA Awards, the Australian equivalent of the Grammys. U.S. release dates for both albums, however, were poorly timed and overlapped each other abroad, hurting potential sales and radio and video airplay.
Just as “Hourly, Daily” (Sire) was released stateside in November 1997, the band already had finished its fourth album, succinctly titled “You Am I’s #4 Record.” The publicity department for its new label, Warner Bros., gleefully championed “#4 Record” and sent out advance CD copies to the media in late January this year, anticipating an April 28 release. Then came another delay.
By then, lead singer-guitarist Tim Rogers and band mates Andy Kent (bass) and Russell Hopkinson (drums) were growing weary of continually playing catchup in the United States and asked to be released from their Warner contract. BMG entered the picture and finally issued “#4 Record” this fall, distributing it via You Am I’s Australian label Ra Records.
“You have no control over it,” Rogers said recently of You Am I’s past U.S. label problems. “You just try night after night to put on good rock shows and hope you leave people with a dribble of sweat that falls down the crack of their ass. That’s the most you can ask for. It’s a workmanlike approach to it, but that’s really all you can hope for. You just try to leave people with a smile on their faces and a swagger in their walk.
“I can’t deny it’s frustrating. It’s pretty much well-assured that every night, after eight or nine beers, that we’ll curse the living fucking ground that Warner walks on for wasting our time, but it’s really not going to get you anywhere. There’s 6 million bands who don’t have records out, and even the fact that it’s three years later our records do come out, you’re lucky to get anything out at all. Because we do quite well at home, that tempers our frustration, but we’re not going to let it ruin our enthusiasm for what we do. We refuse to let it get us down.”
“#4 Record” has a healthy dose of tuneful pop-rock, from the rhythmic “Billy” to the infectious “Rumble.” Recorded at various spots in Los Angeles, including the home studio of Rick Rubin, the album was produced by George Drakoulias (Black Crowes, Primal Scream) and features guest stints by the Memphis Horns and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
“We don’t scrutinize what we do very much,” Rogers said. “We just come up with the tunes and go ahead with them, not going into too much of a plan on how the record’s going to sound. It just seems to be a bunch of songs slapped together, so if something sounds particularly different from past albums, it must just be what was in the water that year or our diet or whatever.”
As You Am I embarks on another U.S. tour, Rogers isn’t banking on platinum success, but he does hope they get a chance to be heard.
“If middle America doesn’t respond to your music, look at what they do respond to,” he said. “I think it’s a bit of thing to wrap around you like a warm blanket. To complain that this country doesn’t get what you’re doing or doesn’t get to hear what you’re doing or know you at all … well, it seems a bit pointless, and maybe you should be concentrating on the people that are actually getting to hear it and making sure they go home with either an erection or have lost 5 pounds in sweat.”
The Interpreters’ story is slightly more unusual. A year ago, their debut Freeworld Recordings album, “Back in the U.S.S.A.,” was greeted with a five-star review in Rolling Stone magazine and an immediate impact at radio and MTV.
But the debt-ridden Freeworld, formerly known as Volcano Entertainment (which – stay with us on this – initially was known as Zoo Entertainment), folded within a month after the album’s release, effectively squashing any momentum The Interpreters had gained.
“We couldn’t do anything,” lead singer-bassist Herschel Gaer said recently. “Freeworld basically put itself on the auction block and got picked up by Jive. Meanwhile, we had all these other labels coming after us. We knew we would have a home elsewhere, and we assumed Jive wouldn’t want to keep us, because c’mon, Backstreet Boys and Jars of Clay, that’s really not our thing, as much as we are a boy band and as much as we are boy band fans.
“Suddenly, the next thing I know Freeworld drops everyone from the label except us, Tool and Matthew Sweet, so I thought, ‘Damn, now we’re going to be stuck here.’ Fortunately, we fought our way through and out and off and we had plenty of people with open arms and we liked the warm arms of RCA.”
A year later, RCA rereleased “Back in the U.S.S.A.” on Nov. 10, tacking on the first single “Shout!” (not available on the original U.S. album) and “I Should Have Known Better” as bonus tracks.
Gaer jokingly says he, guitarist Patsy Palladino and drummer Branko Jakominich cried a lot and consoled each other during their 12-month waiting game, but they actually kept themselves busy capitalizing on their intense European following.
“We toured there quite a bit and released singles,” he said, “and had some amazing things happening there. Also, we were rehearsing and writing songs; we have like two or three albums worth of stuff in the can. I’m also producing some other people and writing two feature (film) scripts.”
Gaer and Jakominich met in junior high school and later teamed with Palladino, all sharing a common boredom with the state of rock ‘n’ roll. They fashioned a classic guitar-pop approach that owes a great deal to The Who and the Kinks. Oddly enough, before The Interpreters signed with Freeworld, former Who-Kinks producer Shel Talmy caught wind of their demo tape and aggressively pursued them.
“He used to call me like every single day, just trying to get us to work with him,” Gaer said. “It was weird. He’d call and say, ‘This is Shel Talmy from Los Angeles.’ It was all I could do to get him to shut up and let me sleep in the morning. He must’ve gotten up at like 4 in the morning to call us from L.A. But he’s a brilliant guy and he had amazing stories.”
Talmy produced several tracks, a pair of which ended up on a seven-inch release last summer. For the album, the band went with fellow Philadelphian Ron A. Shaffer, a noted R&B engineer (Gerald Levert, Keith Sweat, The O’Jays).
“Once we signed, I met him through the guy who signed us at Freeworld,” Gaer said. “I have a lot of respect for R&B producers; they totally have the ear and know what sounds good and understand the audio spectrum. Rock ‘n’ roll guys, engineers and producers, by nature can be very sloppy; I’d rather be able to get everything exactly right the first time. He had such a great vibe and a great work ethic.”
Gaer isn’t about to make any predictions on the fate of “Back in the U.S.S.A.” the second time around.
“It could be fantastic, who knows,” he said. “I still believe it’s a great album. I have so much pride in that record, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Creatively, I’m ready to move on to the next record.”
More updates: Joe Henry, Marcus King, Lily Kershaw, Poliça, Sarah Brightman, Jerry Leger, Simple Minds, Grateful Dead, etc