By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
Sherri Jackson, who's been on the cusp of a record contract for quite some time, has finally signed on the line that is dotted. The company with which she'll be recording, however, is something of a surprise. Instead of going with a prominent major label, Jackson will be hooking up with Hybrid, a spinoff of New York's Metropolitan Entertainment Group. The firm isn't headed by nobodies: Its president, Michael Leon, served as head of A&M Records' East Coast branch for fourteen years, and distribution services are in the hands of the Velvel Records Group, fronted by industry legend Walter Yetnikov. Nonetheless, Hybrid is just climbing into the starting block: Jackson is its first signee. She admits that the imprint's fledgling nature initially gave her pause.
"If somebody had told me two years ago that I would sign with a brand-new company, I wouldn't have believed it," she says. "But the way things are going, with major labels dumping on so many people who haven't even gotten a chance to show what they can do, I'm glad I went the way I did. Besides, Metropolitan has done so well with promotions and management for a long time, and they've already helped me out a lot. They got me on a tour with Rusted Root, and they got me on some of the Further Festival shows, too.
"They've kind of spent the last year proving themselves to me," she goes on. "Other companies that were interested--some of them would disappear after a month or so, or a different A&R person than the one before would come out to see me. But Metropolitan was the most solid--and when I flew out to meet with Michael Leon, he made me feel really comfortable. He said his goal was to build me as a career artist. He'd like a hit, but he won't die if there's not one right away."
Ted Guggenheim, Jackson's manager, echoes that observation. "Major labels can really only work two bands of a particular genre effectively at the same time," he says. "And most of them have a lot more than that. But in Metropolitan's case, Sherri will not only be the only singer-songwriter, she'll be the only artist on the label for the next six to twelve months, period. That means they'll have nothing else to do but work on developing her career. And to say the least, we're not working with neophytes here. They know what they're doing." He acknowledges that there is "some risk" in going with an unproven organization but feels that "in this case, the artistic and creative control outweighs the lack of a track record."
Hybrid is certainly not sparing any expense on Jackson's label debut. Producing will be Los Lobos' Steve Berlin, who in addition to helming projects by his own band has been behind the boards for discs by the Crash Test Dummies, John Wesley Harding and Faith No More. Jackson, who met Berlin while playing the Further Festival, says, "I wasn't really sold on him at first, but when he came out to Colorado and talked about his ideas, I realized that he was really up to date. He definitely said some things that were in line with what Ted and I were thinking."
Jackson and her band--bassist Glenn Esparza and drummer Brian McRae--were scheduled to begin cutting at Bob Lange Studio in Seattle on November 19. The material earmarked for the disc is mainly new, but Jackson may also put together fresh versions of one or two numbers from her independently produced Moments in Denial package. With luck, Jackson and company will be finished recording by Christmas in anticipation of an early April release date. After that, Jackson expects to be on tour--but unlike many artists, she would initially prefer to open for a more established unit rather than headlining. "From my experience, if you go out on your own and play a club that holds 200 people, you might convince twenty of them that they should spend some money on your CD," she says. "But if you play in front of a Rusted Root crowd of 5,000, you're going to convince a lot more people and spread the word a lot faster. Besides, you get treated a lot better on the big tours. People will help you load in and load out, whereas if you're by yourself, you'll have to climb 20,000 steps carrying an amplifier, and you'll be lucky if you get any free drinks." She laughs. "It's a nightmare."
This prospect aside, Jackson is "psyched" by the Hybrid/Metropolitan signing. The deal is for two albums, with options for more, and while she declines to talk dollars and cents, she calls the advance "fair. It's not like I'm going to be buying a Rolls-Royce or anything, but I don't have to worry about paying the bills for a while, and that's all I wanted. If my career builds, the rest will come."
Rel, spokesman for Denver's Whores, Pigs and Ponies, admits that completing his group's self-titled debut disc, set for release November 21, was more difficult than expected, thanks to the spicy nature of the front-cover artwork. How spicy? "Well, there's full frontal nudity of both males and females," he says, "as well as assorted male parts--like there's a penis with legs. And the worst part of it is an ad from a West Coast swingers' magazine from the Eighties: It's a picture of this guy with a huge hard-on. I guess you could describe him as really ugly but hung like a horse." In Rel's opinion, these images are "juvenile, but certainly not obscene." This viewpoint was not universally shared, though; every CD company the group approached passed on the opportunity to manufacture the platter. ("Their biggest concern was that somebody on the assembly line would be offended by it and sue them for sexual harassment or something," Rel insists.) Finally, the players were able to reach an agreement with a California company that, according to Rel, "makes interactive, pornographic CD-Roms. They were used to stuff like this." Now that the disc is available, Rel is hoping to get Whores, Pigs and Ponies into some of Denver's finer original-music venues--particularly Seven South, where an October performance nearly led to disaster. "I usually do some flame-spitting when we play," he notes. "And on this one night, the torch that I was using wasn't burning like I wanted it to. So I poured this flammable liquid from a gas can I have straight onto the torch, and the thing went off like a goddamn rocket; the gas can burst a seam and crushed itself against the wall. The rug got kind of burned, too." Rel hasn't spoken to representatives of Seven South since the incident, but he wants them to know that he's awfully sorry. "Please let us play there again," he says. "Please."