(Nov. 6, 1997)
Fred Eaglesmith doesn't need a sampling of retail store and rack sales reports collected and compiled by SoundScan to tell him how well his Razor & Tie debut album, "Lipstick Lies & Gasoline," is doing.
The Canadian troubadour has his own barometer.
"I'm selling a whole lot outside my bus. That's good to me," Eaglesmith said during a recent stop in his lengthy North American tour. "That's how I think in terms of record sales, how many we sold last night.
"That's my living and that's my life. I pack the bus with records and I sell them off the stage; it goes from my hand to their hands, signed and with a date on it. I believe in that life."
It's no wonder that life has garnered a flock of self-professed Fredheads throughout his homeland and well into the U.S. heartland. His grit and determination finally paid off last year when he was given a Juno Award (Canada's Grammy) for best traditional roots album, for the first-rate "Drive-In Movie" (on Vertical). Eaglesmith then won over Razor & Tie, which signed him last spring and issued "Lipstick Lies & Gasoline" on Oct. 21.
After eight albums in a 17-year career, it's easy for Eaglesmith to pinpoint his greatest achievement.
"It's all about the fans. They talk to me," he said. "One woman last night, a mid-wife from Saskatchewan, she has tears in her eyes, says to me, 'You play my heart.' You know, how could I ask for anything more than that as a musician?
"Listen, our bus is breaking down, there's snow on the road. We're jumping in a van, racing to gigs a half-hour before show time, and we're all just laughing our heads off. Is this not the best life? We're really happy."
And why not? Eaglesmith is doing exactly what he wants. He's not a slave to a big label; he's not hemmed in by an overzealous manager; his fans haven't made him a prisoner of his own success. In turn, he delivers.
"Lipstick Lies & Gasoline" will keep them coming back for more. Across 13 raw and tuneful tracks, the working-class hero weaves potent tales of heartbreak, life on the road, redemption, the price of fame and alcohol abuse. And he injects them with a twist of humor and irony and plenty of Americana sensibility.
"We recorded a lot of songs for this record, maybe 42," Eaglesmith said. "We made it over a year, and we let the album do exactly what I like albums to do: It took on its own life, and it became something that neither (producer) Scott (Merritt) nor I had ever dreamed of. I'm really happy with it, that it's not safe. I'm happy that it challenges my fan base. I'm not going to do what they want me to do; I'm not going to do what my record company wants me to do or my manager.
"What are we to do these days anyway? It's all been done. Record companies are so calculating these days; producers are so into math and figuring it out. Scott's so much into what's going on, he reads the books and he knows his stuff, and he says to me, 'We better use these sounds now, because in two years everyone is going to be using them.' It's amazing, I think this record doesn't sound like a lot of records out there, and that's real important to me."
Still, Eaglesmith is best experienced live. He truly is in his element onstage, where he can interact with fans and explain the origins of his songs in a fanciful, down-home manner. The recording studio is a different story.
"What I try to do onstage is tell the truth," he said. "I'm very much into the show and being in control of things and making sure those people who paid money to see me are having the best times of their lives. It's really my job to do that.
"In the studio, what's my job? First of all, I don't control the arena; the producer does, or it might even be the engineer's arena. I'm not sure who's arena it is. Therefore, I'm a participant. Again, I'm trying to tell the truth, but I have to put it through a funnel. You have to put your eye to that funnel and look through it, as opposed to seeing the whole moon, as you do when you see me live. And is that ever a different thing to do.
"When you're going to put my thing under a microscope and look at it, you get to do it again and again. Whereas, in my show, the mistakes go by so fast, you can't tell, or the mistakes that you can tell, you forget about them in two minutes. There are so many mistakes in my show which no one realizes; my show is a totally imperfect show and that's the charm of it."
BWF (before we forget): Soar with Eaglesmith on the Web @ www.pobox.com/~eaglesmith. ... The Eaglesmith album discography - "Fred J. Eaglesmith" (Boot, 1980); "The Boy That Just Went Wrong" (Woodshed, 1983); "Indiana Road" (Sweetwater, 1987); "There Ain't No Easy Road" (1991); "Things Is Changin' " (1993); "From the Paradise Motel" (Barbed Wire, 1994); "Drive-In Movie" (Vertical, 1996); "Lipstick Lies & Gasoline" (Razor & Tie, 1997).
Econoline Crush gets a rush out of third single
(April 18, 1999)
All single people should have a roomie like Econoline Crush singer Trevor Hurst. He figures he spent 60 days max in his Vancouver apartment last year, yet he still mailed a rent check to his roommate every month.
"No wonder he doesn't complain when I come home and make a mess," Hurst said recently.
Hurst isn't grumbling either. He likes the position he and his band mates are in: "All That You Are (X3)," the third single off its Restless album "The Devil You Know," is climbing Billboard's mainstream rock tracks chart; they have toured with Kiss and Stabbing Westward; they shared the stage with Green Day, Foo Fighters and Creed in an eight-city tour of Canada, and they appear in the April 24 episode of the Vancouver-based syndicated TV series "The Crow."
Not bad for a guy from very, very rural Manitoba.
"I grew up in a town of 40 people, a two-room school from grades one through six," Hurst said. "There were four kids in my grade, and there were two teachers and they each had a room with three grades of kids in three rows. I spent the rest of my middle school and high school in a town called Burton, which was 2,500 to 3,000 people, a very small community."
His parents knew early on that they couldn't keep their son on the family farm and hold him back from his musical dreams.
"They kind of saw it coming," he said, "because right from the beginning I had a Jolly Jumper. I can remember the plastic radio on the table and being fascinated by the sounds coming out of it and jumping to the beat and my mom washing the dishes. Then she had me doing musicals, and I sang a lot in choirs and festivals. I also played hockey; I was very involved in sports, so they were always driving me around to different events. It's the same now; record company guys drive me around to different events.
"It's very interesting thinking back to it now. I used to date this girl that lived 7 miles from my parents' farm, and I would drop her off. There's a section of land my dad had that was being drilled out by oil companies, and there was like drilling rigs all over the place. It was all lit up. It looked like a mini-city. I used to stop, because it was halfway to my parents' house, I would stop and put a tape in, whether I was listening to The Cult, AC/DC, Billy Idol or U2, crank it and imagine it was a big city and that one day I was going to be in the big city."
The bright lights of Seattle lured Hurst in 1989, but he moved to Vancouver shortly after answering an ad for a band seeking members equally interested in rock and electronica. There, he teamed with guitarists Robbie Morfitt and Ziggy, bassist Don Binns and drummer Nico Quintal.
It took a while, but eventually they developed a fan base across Canada, reaching new heights last year with their second LP "The Devil You Know." Produced by Sylvia Massey (Prince, Tool, Red Hot Chili Peppers), the album was certified platinum in Canada, and a pair of singles - "Home" and "Surefire" - made an impact at U.S. rock radio.
The sweat and toil came at a price. Several band members succumbed to the rigors of heavy touring. (Bassist Don Yaremko and drummer John Haro now handle the duties.)
"We've gone through a lot of changes band-wise," Hurst said. "We had always hired a rhythm section; our original bass player left for a while and came back at the end of the Kiss tour. Rob Morfitt, who's been the guitar player since almost the beginning of the band, he left the band when we got back off tour before this tour started.
"It was mainly road things; it does take a toll on you. Some people can handle it, some people can't. You have to have a certain personality, it has to be 'water off a duck's back,' you have to be very easy-going, because a lot of things happen on the road that can frustrate you and if you let them get to you, it can make you crazy."
The tour with Kiss last year made it all worthwhile, Hurst said.
"They were just amazing," he said. "I had dinner with Gene (Simmons) a couple of times, and he gave me some great advice. I think over the course of the summer, though, the best was when we took a portion of the summer and did this Canadian tour called Edge Fest, and it was headlined by Green Day and the Foo Fighters. It had Creed, ourselves. It was about eight dates across Canada, and it lasted about two weeks.
"The highlight was getting to know Dave Grohl but also playing Winnipeg, which is the closest big city to my hometown and having my parents come out and having 14,000 kids going nuts and holding up signs, 'We love you, Trevor,' and having my parents see that. They realized, 'Hey, he's actually doing something with his life.'
"Still, it's not very tangible, money-wise. I'm still sort of hand-to-mouth. It's hard to see results, like 'Hey, I got a promotion' or whatever. This has been a tough thing for them to sit through this as parents and have their son be an artist. It probably wasn't something they were hoping for when I was a kid, but at least I'm doing what I love."
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: "U2's 'October.' I always liked the (title) song 'October' because of the piano. It's the album that nearly killed the band. Apparently, they were thinking of quitting when they made that record, because the record business was kicking them around; they were frustrated with being pushed and pulled, and Bono thought everybody hated them."
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: "Van Halen in 1984. I had to drive all the way to Winnipeg to see it, and that was mind-blowing. There were lights and David Lee Roth running around, and we all owned that record. Because I grew up in such a small town, there is no escape from all types of music. You couldn't just go and hang out with heavy-metal guys or goth people, because there just isn't enough people in the community. You have to endure your friends who like 38 Special. Every once in a while, you had to let them put the tape in."
BWF (before we forget): Take a hit of Econoline Crush on the Web @ www.econolinecrush.com. ... Upcoming Econoline Crush tour dates - May 2, Tampa, TBA; May 3, Orlando, Volcano; May 5, New Orleans, Howlin' Wolf; May 6, Corpus Christi, Texas, Buckets; May 7, San Antonio, White Rabbit; May 8, Austin, TBA; May 9, Lubbock, Texas, The Library; May 10, Amarillo, Texas, Midnight Rodeo; May 12, Lafayette, La., Grant Street; May 13, Shreveport, La., Malibu Beach Club; May 14, Little Rock, Ark., East Pavilion; May 15, Jackson, Miss., TBA; May 16, Memphis, TBA; May 18, Spartanburg, S.C., Ground Zero; May 19, Atlanta, Cotton Club; May 21, Boston, Paradise; May 22, Asbury Park, N.J., TBA; May 23, Norfolk, Va., TBA; May 26, Fayetteville, N.C., JR's Lightbulb Club; May 27, Wichita, Kan., TBA; May 28, Dallas, Starplex; May 29, Somerset, Wis., TBA.
Mark Eitzel looks to the 'West'
(May 1, 1997)
After a solo show last year at the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle, former American Music Club frontman Mark Eitzel was approached by a fan who wanted to say he enjoyed his show.
"Hi, Mark, my name is Peter Buck."
Eitzel was taken aback that the R.E.M. guitarist was "mesmerized" by his music. Think about it: Eitzel's dark, brooding songs run contrary to R.E.M.'s shiny, happy tunes.
"I think Peter's genuine," Eitzel said recently. "Some people, you can tell when they're full of it, but I could tell he really liked what I do. He had an appreciation. After a few beers that night, we decided to get together and write some songs, never expecting that anything would come of it."
The all-out writing sessions at Eitzel's San Francisco home resulted in "West," his second solo album for Warner Brothers, out on May 6. It was recorded at Buck's suburban Seattle studio, and backing up Eitzel were members of Tuatara, an instrumental supergroup featuring Buck, Young Fresh Fellows sideman Scott McCaughey, Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin and Critters Buggin' saxophonist Sherik. Also lending a hand were Pearl Jam's Mike McCready and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos.
Eitzel handled the lyrics and Buck did the music. Simple as that.
"Peter showed up with a guitar and I was expecting to use him for one of my tracks," Eitzel said, "but then after we finished 11 songs so quickly, he suggested we do a whole album.
"We both come from the punk-rock thing, but we're very different. He's more knowledgeable about music, pop music and hooks. I'm more into the dark side. But somehow it all meshed. I really trusted Peter's take on things."
Though the tone is decidedly more upbeat than Eitzel's '96 debut "60 Watt Silver Lining," it's still very much a lyrically somber Eitzel album.
"I write what I like to write about and they just so happen to be sad songs," he said. "People are threatened by any challenge to inertia. This image of me always being downbeat is exaggerated. People say, 'Oh, I can't believe he's so depressed.'
"I'm tired of apologizing for the way I write. I come from a time where life should be lived; I really prefer life as it comes. I'm not concerned with new-age growth. Everything's not hunky-dory."
Eitzel, looking forward to his upcoming tour with Tuatara and the McCaughey/Buck side project Minus 5, said he has other tricks up his sleeve, no matter how well "West" does. He has another album, "I Lost My Humor," waiting in the wings.
BWF (before we forget): The American Music Club/Mark Eitzel album discography - "The Restless Stranger" (Grifter, 1985); "Engine" (Grifter/Frontier, 1987); "California" (1988); "United Kingdom" (Demon, 1990); "Songs of Love Live," Eitzel (1991); "Everclear" (Alias, 1991); "Mercury" (Reprise, 1993); "San Francisco" (1994); Eitzel solo - "60 Watt Silver Lining" Eitzel (Warner, 1996); "West" (1997); "Caught in a Trap and I Can't Back Out 'Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby" (Matador, 1998).
Emilia takes on the 'Big, Big World'
(Jan. 31, 1999)
A few years ago, Swedish pop singer Emilia grappled with a decision most teenagers don't face: Should she stay in her R&B-inspired; group Ahunda People, recently signed to a recording contract, or strike out on her own?
She made the big, big step, and now her first single, the pensive pop song "Big, Big World," is an international hit and she's nominated for best song and best newcomer at this year's Swedish Grammys.
"It was a big decision for me," Emilia said recently, "and I felt really bad about it, because we were all very close friends, but I guess we just didn't want to do the same things. We wanted different things. I wanted to do my songs, and they didn't like them. They felt (the songs) were a bit too girly.
"Everything was really bad for a moment, but then when Yogi (aka Lars Anderson, son of the late Stig Anderson, who discovered and managed Abba) came, I said, 'Yeah, this is what I want to do.' He had many ideas, and we connected really good, so I decided it was this or nothing."
Anderson produced Emilia's debut Universal album, "Big, Big World" (released Dec. 8), a collection of catchy, mellow pop tunes that examine the turmoil of lost loves and moving on.
"When I wrote the (title) song, it was all about love," Emilia said, "but I hear all kinds of different stories from fans, like maybe they have a big fight with their parents or they're having problems with school or a friend they don't see anymore. It's different stories. The song sounds sad, but it is positive, like you will survive and you will probably get stronger by the experience.
"It's crazy, I'm doing interviews with people in Asia, places that I've never visited and they're so far away, but still they like the song. I guess we're not that different in the world; we all have the same experiences."
"Big, Big World" was one of the fastest-selling singles in Swedish history, going gold only six days after its release last year. It's No. 1 this week in Germany and also went Top 10 in Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Norway and Austria.
How it fares in the United States is up in the air. Emilia says she will do her best to avoid the dreaded "one-hit wonder" syndrome.
"That makes me really, really sad," Emilia said, "but so what if I am a one-hit wonder. I get to travel around all over the world, see a lot of people and I get to do, at least for the moment, what I love. If I am a one-hit wonder, that's what I am, but I'm going to continue doing music, writing music and making sure it won't happen."
From 'Arlington to Boston,' emmet swimming has seen it all
(Aug. 22, 1996)
Somebody up there must be watching over emmet swimming.
The Fairfax, Va.-based alternative rock quartet survived Sony's downsizing late last year and has had the good fortune of Don Dixon producing their second Epic, "Arlington to Boston" (released July 16). Even their luck with a Ryder truck, converted into a touring van, hasn't run out on them.
Since playing to 1,200 people at a CD release party in Washington, D.C., singer Todd Watts and his band mates - guitarist Erik Wenberg, bassist Luke Michel and drummer Tamer Eid - have trekked across America in search of wider acceptance.
"We've driven so much," Watts said recently. "All across northern Nevada, there's like 450 miles of nothing. It looked like Mars. And Reno is the town before California, the only town along that road that has any kind of population at all, and the truck chose to break down in Reno. We were so happy it happened there and not in the middle of the state."
It's not all luck for emmet swimming: They are one of the hardest-working acts around, performing nearly 50 shows a month, many of them in-store appearances.
For "Arlington to Boston," emmet swimming recorded in a church owned by Reflection Sound Studios in Charlotte, N.C. Dixon wanted to capture the group's raw live sound and give the album a natural reverb.
"He's a real fast worker," Watts said of Dixon. "He never takes more than three weeks to make an album and ours was done in about two and a half weeks. It was a great experience. Playing live like that, I don't know if we could go back into the standard studio experience where you're in a little room by yourself."
BWF (before we forget): Wade with emmet swimming on the Web @ www.internext.com/emmet, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Better late than never for Everything But the Girl's 'Missing'
(Nov. 30, 1995)
Finally, after 12 years and nine studio albums, the British folk-pop duo Everything But the Girl has its first Top-40 single in America.
But it wasn't easy.
"Missing," this week at No. 24 and climbing on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart, is a yearning, acoustic-based pop song injected with a rampant house beat. The odd twist is that it comes from their last album, released in August 1994, "Amplified Heart" album (on Atlantic).
"That album seems like ages ago," said guitarist-songwriter Ben Watt. He and vocalist Tracey Thorn had all but given up on their album last winter and were ready to move on to their next project.
"We came out and did about four or five months of touring when 'Amplified Heart' originally came out," Watt said in a recent interview, "and we got a lot of good reviews and we played a whole stack of club shows. We actually considered the album a real success because of that. It had been well received and enabled us to tour.
"But I suppose we did feel that it was finished. We were kind of struggling to find some new direction that would be relevant to us for the next record."
A contemporary beats remix of "Missing" by Todd Terry surfaced last year and saw a lot of action in Florida dance clubs, but it didn't go much beyond that stateside. Things were quiet until it appeared on import in Italy in February. Out of nowhere, it burst onto the chart there and was No. 1 for six weeks. It had a domino effect from there: Top 5 in Holland, then the rest of Europe; it entered the U.S. chart four months ago, and this week it's No. 3 in Britain.
"Yeah, we're a pop band. We have arrived," Watt said. "It's great. The strange thing is, I've only ever seen us as a pop band. It's all I've ever wanted to be. Obviously, we're against the grain of what is generally regarded as a pop group, but it's nice to be accepted.
"As a kid growing up, that's all I ever dreamed of, being on the 'Top of the Pops,' the U.K. program, and making records that were somewhat relevant to the generation that's buying it."
For Watt, the success of "Missing" is just another milestone in a personal comeback. In the summer of 1992, he was admitted to a hospital with a life-threatening illness. He was told he had Churg Strauss Syndrome, a rare disease that causes inflammation of the blood vessels. He had extensive abdominal surgery and was hospitalized for three months.
"My health is very good these days," Watt said. "Obviously, the illness is very serious, something which I live with in the background, in the sense that it could come back at some point. But basically the doctors are really happy with the way it's been contained, and I've been living a normal lifestyle for a couple years now.
"I have more energy than I used to, but I'm really skinny now. I seem to have this optimum body weight that kind of transports me across the ground at phenomenal speeds."
Watt said he has a big appetite for work, but there are moments when it all comes crashing down.
"One minute I have the energy of a kid," he said, "and the next I could be carried to bed. But I've never been happier. Life is good."
BWF (before we forget): "Missing" reached No. 2 in 1995 and spent more than 40 weeks on the chart, while "Amplified Heart" was certified gold. ... Check them out on the Web @ www.ebtg.com. ... Everything But the Girl's album discography - "Eden" (1983), "Everything But the Girl" (1984, U.S. compilation), "Love Not Money" (1985), "Baby, the Stars Shine Bright" (1986), "Idlewild" (1988), "The Language of Love" (1990), "Worldwide" (1991), "Acoustic" (1992, U.S. only), "Home Movies" (1993, retrospective album), "Amplified Heart" (1994); "Walking Wounded" (1996).
Extreme is 'Waiting For the Punchline'
(Jan. 12, 1995)
Losing a drummer, dumping management, battling an image problem and staring down the end of a loaded gun haven't fazed Extreme.
If anything, says bassist Pat Badger, the past 12 months have solidified the Boston-based rock quintet, fueling the angry, defiant tone of their new A&M; disc, "Waiting For the Punchline."
"The music is definitely a reflection of the mood you're in," Badger said recently. "With the creation of this record, like anything else, it's kind of a representation of the time in your life. I think over the last few years we've kind of had our ups and downs. It's definitely showing in the music."
Four and a half years ago, their second LP, "Pornograffitti," was a slow sell - that is, until a video of the acoustic cut "More Than Words" popped up on MTV and propelled the song to No. 1 on Billboard's pop chart. The album went on to sell more than 4-million copies worldwide, but it put Extreme in an awkward position, Badger said.
"We kind of got pigeonholed and labeled as a pop band," he said. "People thought Extreme was two guys who sat on stools and played acoustic guitars.
"It was a double-edged sword. Obviously, it opened a lot of doors for us and sold a lot of records, but it kind of created this misperception or confusion of what Extreme was all about. We're a rock band."
In 1992, Extreme experimented on its next release, "III Sides to Every Story," enlisting among things a 70-piece orchestra. It got a lukewarm reception but still sold 600,000 in the United States and 2-million overseas. Those figures didn't disappoint the band, Badger said, but the reaction was a letdown.
By the time it came to record "Waiting For the Punchline," internal problems within the band became more apparent, Badger said. The tension between drummer Paul Geary and guitarist-producer Nuno Bettencourt grew. After the sessions, Geary quit and began managing other bands. Enter newcomer Mike Mangini.
After a tour of Europe "that didn't make sense," Badger said, the band was unprepared for the fall release of "Waiting For the Punchline." For that, they fired their manager, and the release was rescheduled. Then they signed on with Ray Daniels of SRO, which manages Rush and Van Halen.
"And with (A&M;), there was also some misperception on where we were headed," Badger said. "They were waiting to hear something that was a bit more mainstream or along the lines of 'Hole Hearted' or 'More Than Words.' We delivered them a pretty heavy, hard-edged album. That's where we're at. ... We want people to realize what we were, or what we've always been, mainly a hard-rock band."
Oh, and how about that gun? Extreme chose Criteria studios in Miami to record the new album. They even got themselves apartments nearby.
"The first night we're there, I'm coming out of Paul's apartment and there's a big guy standing there in his underwear with a gun in his hand," Badger said. "I just gasped and he looked at me and said, 'Were you just out here a second ago?' I said, 'No, man, I just saw three guys go that way.' He said, 'Yeah, there were three guys out by my door,' and they had a gun and he goes chasing these other guys.
"Of course, the next day, we picked up and moved up to Fort Lauderdale. ... That was one of the biggest scares of my life."
BWF (before we forget): "Waiting For the Punchine" cracked the Top 40 but quickly faded. ... Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone replaced Sammy Hagar as lead singer of Van Halen. Hagar left the band in June 1996.